This week our columnist GERALD KITABU interviewed the Head of Katavi National Park’s Tourism Department, COSTANCIA MAFFA on Jacana birds which lay eggs and leave them for the males to incubate and parent the new borns. These birds are found in Katavi national park. EXCERPTS:
QUESTION: Katavi National Park has plenty of birds known as Jacanas. Kindly tell us about these birds.
ANSWER: Unlike other birds, these are very interesting birds because the females lay eggs and leave them for the males to incubate them. In fact they are sometimes called Jesus because they are able to walk across floating vegetation. They are colorful birds with long legs and incredibly long toes and claws. The super-long toes spread the bird’s weight over a large area. This allows them to walk across floating vegetation, especially lily pads. They are called Jesus because they can walk on the water and are very good swimmers and divers. As they swim from one point to another, they go on looking for food and protect themselves from predators. We have plenty of them here in Katavi National Park. Male Jacanas do most of the nest building, and as I said earlier, after the female has laid a clutch of four eggs, the male takes over the parenting responsibilities. The males incubate the eggs and protect them from danger.
Q: Where exactly do the females lay eggs?
A: Normally, the females lay eggs in the nests. The nests are built on mostly submerged plants. If the nest starts to sink, or the eggs are otherwise endangered, the males may pick them up and carry them under their wings to a new site. Meanwhile, the female leaves the male to find more males to breed with. Unlike other birds, the females do not participate in raising chicks. If, however, the eggs or chicks are lost, the females return to breed and produce a replacement clutch with the first male.
Q: Where are they found in the national park?
A: These are water birds. They are plenty in and along Katavi and Chada lakes in the national park. If you go along these two Lakes and many other water points you will find them along pads and others in floating vegetation in swamps and marshes, searching fish and insects to eat. Furthermore, these Jacanas are carnivores that use their bills to turn over lily pads or other aquatic vegetation. They can also grasp the edges of these plants with their toes to partially turn them over in search of food. These water birds often send out noisy alarms when they think predators are near.
Q: Apart from the Jacanas, what are other unique animals and birds?
A: Katavi National Park has tree climbing lions and white giraffes which are not found anywhere in our national parks. Many tourists would travel all they way from abroad to learn more on these unique animals and experience their beauty. If we go along you might be lucky to see some prides of lions sprawled out on the stout branches of flat-topped acacia trees. The white giraffes are sometimes called Albino. We do receive many requests from international tourists abroad asking if they could come and see these unique animals.
Q: What is the entry fee to the park?
A: The national park has made entry fee for the locals as lower as possible to give chance for more people including students to come and learn more about their park. For example, the park’s entry fee per person for 24 hours is only 1,000/- for locals over 16 years, and 500/- for those aged between 5 to 16 years. Below 5 years, it is free. However, the entry fee for foreigners is only 20 USD.
Q: Are there adequate living facilities for the tourists?
A: There are many. For example, we have a rest house and six tourist Bandas at the headquarters. There are also public and special campsites close to the park’s headquarters. Apart from these campsites, there are privately owned facilities inside and outside the park where any local or international tourists can stay comfortably.
Q: How many tourists visit the national park per year?
A: The number of tourists visiting the park is encouraging, although its not that much rosy. In recent years, the number for both local and international tourists has been on the increase compared to the past. For example, last year in 2012, the park received a total of 2,800 tourists and in 2011, we received a total of 2,685, whereas in 2010, we received 2,368 tourists. The number of local tourism is increasing compared to the past but we still need more local tourists because this is their park.
Q: Any call to government?
A: My call is for the government to open up Katavi region to the outside world by constructing new tarmac roads that will connect the region with neighbouring regions of Tabora, Kigoma, Rukwa and Mbeya in order to boost the tourism sector and the region’s development. I believe if we get better roads, tourism would increase because some tourists are discouraged by dilapidated road infrastructure. However, the general public must build a culture of visiting our park.