Six years ago, we (Elaine Henley, clinical animal behaviorist and Lori DeLeo, psychotherapist) made our first journey to Uganda with the hope of seeing Grey parrots in the wild. We booked a high-end tour that provided lovely meals and lodgings, but—alas—no Grey parrots were seen. Apart from the tour, we spent a few days on one of the Ssese Islands; and, it was there that we were able to spot and observe Grey parrots flying, foraging, and socializing much to our delight. Intrigued by what we saw and learned, we continued on to another island where we were confronted with evidence of the disturbing realities of poaching for the pet trade.
Our experiences during this trip inspired our desire to continue learning about the natural habits and behaviours of Greys in the wild so that we could apply this knowledge to improve the lives of those who live in captivity. Additionally, we wanted to research the attitudes of Ugandans toward the Grey parrots to learn whether or not they were interested in/could be inspired/motivated to protect this fragile species.
So, one year later, we returned to Uganda. For this journey, much homework was done to find the right guide; for, without a doubt, all tours and guides are not equal. However, it was our good fortune to select Johnnie Kamugisha as our guide, and he proved to be a perfect match. In fact, his professionalism, knowledge, and expertise exceeded our every expectation. Johnnie’s passion and knowledge of Uganda’s wildlife—especially birds—proved to be extraordinary, as is his commitment to the conservation of Uganda’s wildlife. Additionally, Johnnie speaks several languages, can spot wildlife as if his eyes were binoculars, and has enthusiasm for the special research we were conducting in this locale.
On this second trip, we visited yet another of the Ssese Islands, interviewed more than 70 locals—most of whom were happy to tell us of the joy they feel when they see the Grey parrots, despite their sadness about the Greys’ declining population due to deforestation and poaching. Sadly, we also learned of active poaching in the area. Johnnie had numerous conversations with locals about the Greys bringing ecotourism to their area and benefiting their economy, as the interest of tourists benefits them directly too.
While on this island, we discovered a gathering place of a small flock of Greys—an area where they forage and play daily. Elaine’s eyes welled with tears of joy as she steadied her camera to capture as many images as she could of their interactions with each other. We decided to call this area “Enkusu Village.” Enkusu is the common name locals use for the Grey parrot.
Six months later, during May —which is fruiting season for trees—Elaine returned to the island and Enkusu Village. The number of Greys had increased there, and two other flocks were discovered. On one day, 86 individual Greys were sighted — the largest flock numbering 18--and they flew together toward their roosting area. Johnnie and Elaine met a local woman whose garden regularly serves as a breeding and roosting area for the local Greys; and, “Mama” and her family welcome and protect their visiting feathered friends and human visitors, too.
Later in the trip, Kibale Forest proved to be another location for spotting Greys. Though fewer in number, they seem to gravitate to two specific locations for social time with each other. As there are few fruit trees in the area, and knowing that they are what most attract foraging Grey parrots, Elaine and Johnnie purchased some fruit trees in a local nursery and a local caretaker enthusiastically planted them on his property, committing to care for them with the knowledge that the parrots will be more likely to increase the time they spend there if such a food source is provided.
We have now many numerous trips to Uganda and would like to share the experience with others who have an interest in observing and learning more about the Grey parrot. Thus, we are organizing our third tour to Uganda in May of 2020. There will be a limited number of spaces available in order to keep the group small enough to successfully view the Greys and other wildlife. As this is also a trip for learning, Elaine will share her knowledge of the Greys’ ethology, behaviors and current conservation efforts.
Elaine Henley (Scotland) is a clinical animal behaviorist with a passion for parrots, in particular the Grey Parrot and Timneh. She regularly lectures and consults on parrot behavior challenges. She is caregiver for two Greys and one Timneh Parrot. Lori DeLeo is a licensed psychotherapist from the U.S. She is caregiver for two Greys and one yellow naped Amazon parrot and utilizes them for psychoeducation with clients.
For further details about the trip, click here.