Close encounters of the wildlife kind

November 9, 2012

An update on a new behind-the-scenes tour of the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe, Uganda, from our General Manager Anne-Marie Weeden.

The python was cold and clammy – just as I had expected – but it turned out this was only because it had been immersed in a rock pool just moments before. The scales on this magnificent reptile glittered in the morning sunshine, and as we stroked her, she visibly relaxed. Warming to our touch, her previously iron grip released my forearm, and we were able to lift her up.

Suddenly I realised I was holding a 4 metre long African Rock Python and it was no longer that scary. The fact that Jimmy, the Head of Animal Rescue at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC), and our personal guide for the day, was right beside us may have had something to do with this. But it was still quite a buzz!

Holding a python - brave!

I was on a behind-the-scenes tour of UWEC with my colleagues – an exciting new half day excursion in Entebbe now available to all of our clients when visiting Uganda on safari. UWEC was formed in 1994, from what used to be the old Entebbe zoo. The centre seeks to educating visitors about the need for to conserve Uganda’s wildlife and habitats, and is also home to a population of rescued or orphaned animals from across Uganda.

The behind-the-scenes tour is part of a raft of new conservation activities available to visitors – including experiencing what it’s like to be ‘Keeper for a day’ or enjoying a ‘Chimpanzee Close Up’. In addition to holding pythons, our morning at UWEC involved plenty of up close and personal moments with all sorts of other exotic wildlife – so if you cannot overcome a fear of reptiles there is still plenty to enjoy. We joined the keepers in several different animal enclosures as they fed their various furred and feathered friends.

Feeding the giraffe at UWEC

One of the highlights of the tour was hand-feeding the Giraffe. These elegant creatures stooped to reach our up-stretched hands, eyelashes drooping languidly as they searched for the biggest chunks of carrot, long black tongues unfurling from their velvet muzzles to grasp the juicy treats before them.

We also walked with Shoebill (this was such an excellent and surreal experience it warrants its own blog post so more of this later), met the resident Rhino, tickled a Lioness, fed the Chimps, and, in a moment that will truly become a lifelong memory, met an orphaned baby Elephant named Charles.

Physical evidence of the rise in ivory poaching in Uganda, Charles was rescued by fishermen from an island in Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National Park, where he had lost his mother to poachers. He was brought to the wildlife centre in Entebbe at the tender age of three weeks old. Since then he has lived night and day with his personal keeper Bruce – and the two certainly seemed inseparable as Charles trotted around after his human friend.

Meeting Charles the Baby Elephant

Charles is only a year old,  but already comes up to our waists. We were nervous at first, and then delighted at his child-like curiousity as he felt our faces with his trunk and searched for carrots (clearly the healthy treat of choice at UWEC – one wonders quite how many kilos they go through per day). He even let me pick up a hind leg, like I was picking out a horse’s hoof, in order for his keeper to point out how soft the soles of elephant’s feet are.

Charles would not have been able to survive without the support of UWEC and the hard work of his keepers,  yet it is also unlikely he will ever be able to return to the wild. His is the saddest story, and meeting him is a poignant experience. Despite this, it’s also guaranteed to put the biggest smile on your face.

Meeting a baby elephant in Uganda

UWEC is based in Entebbe, not far from the international airport that serves all of Uganda. The behind-the-scenes tour is a great way to spend an afternoon or morning in Entebbe at the start or end of your Uganda safari. So remember, if you’re passing through on your way to meet the gorillas or chimps, don’t forget you can also meet a baby elephant too.

Posted by Anne-Marie Weeden

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