About 142 migratory birds fly through Rwanda annually. This number is however not static. According to Serge Nsengimana, Executive Director of Association for the Conservation of Nature in Rwanda (ASNR), birds are a tourist attraction both locally and internationally.
In Rwanda bird watching is not yet practiced on a large scale, despite the favourable circumstances. ACNR however is currently running bird watching excursions to attract people to the activity.
“We have identified bird watching as a possible major ecotourism attraction. Recently we carried out bird watching excursions with different groups of people, to educate them about migratory birds and the barriers to migration. This is just a start and we hope to do more in future.”
The excursions are mainly focused on the observation and identification of migratory birds. There are people who just like to observe birds and enjoy the natural setting; others keep a long list of the birds they have seen in a life time.
Bird watchers are provided with books that explain in details the different birds in a habitat. According to Nsengimana bird watching is just opening up in Rwanda and it is hoped that people in Rwanda and from outside can participate in bird watching days.
“As from June to December in collaboration with Rwanda Development Board, we will organise bird watching days so as to invite Rwandans to appreciate birds and develop the hobby of bird watching,” the Executive Director remarks.
It can be practiced by people from all ages, and with only a pair of binocular. It is a relaxing and easy-to-practice recreational activity. Bird watching does not require specific, off-road natural reserves; it can even be practiced within urban limits.
Bird watching is indeed a tourist attraction, and in Rwanda just like other countries it should be made accessible.
“We have identified Akagera, Buhanga, and Volcano as bird watching sites. We are still in the process of identifying more sites.”
He points out that after the sites have been identified, then ACNR will be organising bird watching excursions and tours to the parks.
During the World Bird Migratory day, observed over the weekend of 9-10 May, the world celebrated the birds of the world, while sensitising people about the human made barriers that affect birds’ migration.
“We are reaching out to the community in order to create awareness of the need to preserve our environments in order to protect these birds,” said the ardent bird watcher.
During migration birds are faced with many obstacles such as expanding deserts, seas, huge mountains, and other natural barriers.
“The greater threats however are human- made. It’s estimated that thousands of ‘bird strikes’ are a result of collision with man made structures,” remarks Nsegimana.
Wind turbines, sky scraping Radio, TV and cell phone transmission masts, reflecting plate windows, tall buildings and other structures are some of man made risks to migration of birds.
Placements of structures along wet lands, river valleys and coastal areas where large migratory birds congregate are avoidable risks to migratory birds.
At the bird watching excursion in Nyarutarama, RDB’s Peter Katanisa pointed out that in collaboration with ACNR they hoped to advocate for conservation of habitats in order to preserve migratory birds.
“Not so long ago many birds could be seen in Kigali but because of human interferences, the birds are no longer here. Some of these barriers to migrations are avoidable and that’s why it is important to sensitise people about their existence,” Katanisa explained.
Migratory birds are protected under treaties such as African Eurasian Migratory Water bird Agreement (AEWA) administered by United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP).
AEWA Executive Secretary Bert Laten says, “Human made barriers represent an increasing problem to migratory birds. My hope is that World Migratory Bird Day will raise awareness of these barriers and that actions will be taken to reduce them.”
Through sensitisation ACNR hopes to reduce the barriers to bird’s migration, while at the same time creating a new venture of bird watching tourism for the people of Rwanda and foreign tourists.
The development of bird watching as a tourist attraction will also encourage protection of natural reserves and important ecological habitats.