Uganda’s wildlife to feature on Animal Planet

It seems the world has finally found a perfect replacement for the fallen Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin.

Animal Planet (DStv channel 183) has introduced a young biologist-aenturer, Niall McCann, and his job is to dare the world’s “biggest and baddest” creatures in a manner that will send shivers down your spine.

The UK-based Canadian biologist trots the globe using every mode of transport available in search of content for his programme, Biggest and Baddest.

The 33-year-old has wrestled ferocious Nile crocodiles, angled giant anacondas and shared sleeping space with rapacious hyenas.

He pushes the boundaries of expedition while delivering important conservation messages, as he discovers areas of human conflict, habitat destruction and other critical issues that threaten these magnificent animals.

Filming in Uganda

In Biggest and Baddest Season Two, McCann travels to Uganda to film three of the five new episodes.

In one of the episodes sub-titled Man-Eating Crocodiles, McCann joins the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers to capture and relocate the man-eaters from a lagoon near human populations in Apac to Murchison Falls National Park.

McCann opens the show by telling his audience about the escalating conflict between humans and crocodiles in Uganda. His story is cinched with chilling tales of crocodile attack victims, who are glad to give their close-to-death accounts.

Peninah, a young girl, tells of how she had taken her calves to water when a huge crocodile came within just inches of snatching her but luckily snatched one of the calves instead. She was devastated by the loss of her animal, but at the same time felt lucky to have escaped the deadly jaws of a crocodile that had already eaten three grown-ups in a space of just three months.

But while it is just natural that people would choose to kill the killer crocodiles in retaliation, McCann reminds them that it is very important to devise a solution that balances conservation with public safety.

Speaking to the locals on camera, he encourages them to live in harmony with nature but always calls in officials to handle problematic animals.

UWA usually intervenes and relocate the animals.

In Peter Ogwang, a senior UWA ranger, Uganda has one of the best crocodile handlers in Africa. Ogwang has worked with top conservationists, including National Geographic’s Dr Brady Barr, who is the first scientist ever to capture and study all 23 species of crocodiles.

In fact, it is Ogwang who supervised the group that captured the crocodiles on Biggest and Baddest Season Two. He has also trained many other crocodile handlers in the country too.

In another episode of Biggest and Baddest sub-titled Gorilla Doctors, McCann joins a group of doctors out to perform a medical intervention on an injured Silverback gorilla deep in the magnificent Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This is when he realises that the road to see these gentle giants is more challenging than most expeditions he has been to.

“This under-growth makes moving up and down this steep terrain as challenging as anything I have been to before,” McCann whispers in the microphone. “But the prize that awaits me down there is simply breathtaking – mountain gorillas.”

McCann says the legendary mountain gorillas of Bwindi are his favourite animals on the entire Biggest and Baddest Season Two, which also includes some of the most naturally-endowed places like Venezuela.

“Although I am a passionate lover of crocodiles, and our work on Nile crocodiles was the most exciting part, my favourite animal featured in this season has to be the Mountain gorilla,” McCann told Animal Planet. “They are so terribly threatened as a species, numbering under 900 individuals in total, which is a tragedy entirely of our own making. Working with gorillas was a life-long dream, and the experiences we had exceeded all expectations I had of working with them. They are truly the most serene and dignified of all primates, ourselves included.”

The aantages

The business opportunities brought by tourism have helped in calming the gorilla-human conflict.

The message is simple: gorillas are a treasure that Uganda should guard and protect with envy. Together with the few found in Rwanda and Congo, these are the only mountain gorillas left on the face of the earth and Africa’s best safari offer.

Gorilla trekking contributes about 60 per cent of the more than $1.5 billion (about Shs5 trillion) that tourism garners.

McCann, however, encounters an even bigger problem in his quest to highlight and settle the conflict between the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the people who live around the game park.

On the third episode, Tree-Climbing Lions, McCann and doctors from the Wildlife Conservation Society seek to establish the main causes of lion deaths in the park.

It turns out that many of them are being poisoned by livestock owners, who claim the lions eat their cattle.

Through reconstructions and narration, however, Biggest and Baddest also shows how the cattle keepers have often gone past the marked boundaries, driving their herds into the game park in search of pasture and water.

McCann then cheekily suggests that since lions bring in more money through tourism than the long-horned cattle, the locals would be better off getting rid of the livestock and instead protect the lions.

Reuniting humans and animals

Everywhere he goes, McCann preaches the gospel of conservation to the locals. And at the end of every episode, there are smiling faces, perhaps as a sign that he has gone a distance in positively changing the human attitude towards these animals.

If you are an ardent fan of extreme aenture, you surely must see this bona fide explorer scientist go after his business in the Pearl of Africa.



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