Friday, 9 May 2014

NatureUganda Visits Paradise Island

Don’t forget to wear a hat! That should have been my first thoughts to my companions when we visited Paradise Island. I fortunately did but my colleagues didn't and got a good smattering of guano for their troubles!

Situated seven kilometers off shore from Lutembe or five from the landing site at Ben’s Beach, which is reached by turning off the Entebbe road at Kawuku. The inhabitants of the small fishing village that our boat departed from looked on in amazement as five Muzungu took their places for our trip to Paradise. The journey took forty long minutes; Lake Victoria was quite choppy with overcast skies and occasional drizzle. While our boat had numerous leaks which Kaj our Danish host spent the journey trying to fill with various pieces of flotsam found lying around the bottom of the boat.

Although called Paradise Island, presumably when President Idi Amin was in power and he had constructed a small resort, it was now overgrown with low shrubs and grass with a smattering of white-washed trees. It has a distinct ammonia smell and the last thing it could be described as is paradise, unless of course you are a bird. Each tree was decorated with the nests of Cattle and Little Egrets, Long-tailed Cormorants, Great Cormorants and Sacred Ibis. Although difficult to accurately count it was estimated that this small island of four hectares contained 3,100 nests.

These were proportioned into 1000 each of Long-tailed Cormorant, Cattle and Little Egret, with 80 of Sacred Ibis and 20 of Great Cormorant. The three majority breeders all were having well grown chicks. Also on the island were about 30 Pink-backed Pelican which probably breed at a different time of the year, while other interest was provided by Swamp Flycatcher, Water Thicknee, Orange Weaver and Malachite Kingfisher from over thirty species recorded.

Also present where at least five large Monitor Lizards presumably feeding on the hapless chicks which fall from their nests. These Lizards were remarkably tame and could be approached to within three meters!

Utilising the derelict chalets are a few fishermen who supplement their diet with small numbers of Goats and Pigs while in one corner of the island an area of about an acre has been cleared and planted with Tomatoes. While we were there they were spraying the Tomatoes using the chemical Dimethoate, this chemical is highly toxic but here in Africa, no problem! Google it and get the full facts suffice to say it is pretty lethal
Effects on wildlife
The toxicity of dimethoate for aquatic organisms and birds is moderate to high. One study found that it causes temporary rhythm alterations in some bird seed-eating species. Whilst these effects may not be fatal, they may be critical for the birds’ food-finding ability and in making them more vulnerable to predators. Dimethoate has also been found to affect wood mice behaviour and to cause jumping, erratic movement imbalance and death in fish.
Dimethoate is highly toxic to bees on an acute contact basis; particular concern has been expressed over this. The LD50 (oral and topical) for bees is 0.1-0.2 µg/bee. Products containing dimethoate are warned not to apply to crops in open flower nor when flowering weeds are present. 

The above paragraph gives a good idea of the potential hazards; we did notice that the closest tree to the crop spraying had large number of nestling Long-tailed Cormorant on the ground which had not been removed by the resident Monitors! Suffice to say we tried not to breath in too much. The runoff chemicals into Lake Victoria must affect the local aquatic fauna.

After a couple of hours on this small but interesting wildlife paradise we departed on our rickety boat and returned to Bens Beach landing site glad to be on solid ground once more.

Roger Skeen

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