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Mabamba Swamp Uganda

Mabamba swamp Uganda : is a prime wetland birding site located on the northern fringes of Lake Victoria just 12 kilometers northwest of the Entebbe peninsula, Uganda. It covers 2424 ha with thick marshes of papyrus, water lilies and other wetland grasses. Mabamba swamp is famous for the shoebill with over 12 shoebill storks.  (locally called “Boolwe”) which is Uganda’s most sought-after bird by Uganda birding tourists as well as by nature lovers. The mysterious shoebill is known to occur in mainly four countries; Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Zambia but it is best seen at Mabamba swamp in Uganda. the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the shoebill as vulnerable. Mabamba swamp is an area of immense ecological importance. In 2006, the Ramsar Convention on the wetlands awarded Mabamba swamp the status of a wetland of international importance since it contains globally threatened species. The wetland is a Ramsar site and Important Bird Area (IBA) which hosts over 300 bird species that include many globally threatened species, 7 of Uganda’s 12 Lake Victoria biome restricted species and plenty of wetland specialties. The wetland also hosts huge flocks of Palearctic migrants every year from October to March. Birding in Mabamba swamp is done on a canoe by riding through a maze of trails cutting through the thick marshes in such for bird species such as the rare shoebill, white-winged warble, blue swallow, black-headed weaver, papyrus gonolek, swamp flycatcher, pallid harrier, pigmy goose, Carruthers cisticola, lesser jacana, grosbeak weaver, viellot’s weaver, northern brown-throated weaver, Clarke’s weaver, palm-nut vulture, papyrus yellow warbler, African purple swamp hen, African water rail, blue breasted bee-eater, winding cisticola, goliath Heron, African fish eagle, long tailed cormorant, yellow billed duck, malachite kingfisher, glossy ibis, white-winged tern, hamerkop, great cormorant, grey-headed gull, white-faced whistling-duck, knob-billed duck, little stint to mention a few.

You will meet the local fishermen and discover that there was a time when the local community used to be enemies with the birds as they competed for the same fish resource, but today many local people have been trained as tour guides who now strive to preserve both the birds and the swamp. These guides are now a part of the Mabamba Wetland Eco-Tourism Association and they share their knowledge of the swamp and part of the revenue from their tours is re-invested in conservation projects which protect the Shoebill. They are happy to tell you a story about how Mabamba Swamp got its name after a lungfish locally known as “Emamba” which inhabit its waters, and they form the staple of the shoebill’s diet. The swamp is rich with lungfish locally known as “emamba” which is the favorite food for the shoebill. However, the lungfish is also one of the most sought-after fish by the local fishermen, creating competition with the shoebill. These fishermen had long held a superstition that seeing a shoebill resulted in a poor catch that day so they hunted and killed them leading to the decline in their number and almost rendered them extinct in the wetland. The site supports a lucrative fisheries activity and a source of fish for home consumption and commercial use. It provides raw materials for local crafts, building materials, water for domestic and livestock use and non-wood products. Factors needing attention are the dry season incursion into the swamp by fishermen; hunting of the sitatunga by the local people; the proliferation of the Water Hyacinth and poaching of the Shoebill. The proliferation of flower farms along the shores of Lake Victoria and the use of agrochemicals is likely to have an impact. Nature Uganda spear headed the development of a National Important Bird Areas Conservation Strategy (NIBACS) that highlights measures and strategies for the conservation of the bay.

Best time to visit

This Mabamba swamp in Uganda is visited all year round but dry months are much preferred as the water levels are low and it gives much better feeding places and the grass is short. This is in the months of June to September and December to February.

How to get there

Mabamba swamp can be accessed by water and roads. From Kampala city or Entebbe town, but the easiest route is through Nakiwogo landing site in Entebbe where you take a motorized boat to the island and then meet the wetland guide to search for the elusive shoebill. If you drive from Kampala, you take a rough Kawuku-Nakawuka road and turn at Kasanje and the drive is approximately 2 hours from Kampala, then you will meet the wetland guide to search for the endangered shoebill stork.      

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