Harriet Kemigisha champions wildlife guiding and birding in Uganda. Learn more about this fascinating woman and her choice of equipment.
Harriet Kemigisha and her fellow guides from the Uganda Women Birders Club show this natural splendor to international guests. Their knowledge, passion, welcoming smile, and ability to get people excited about wildlife and conservation pushes tourism and the wildlife-watching sector forward, thus creating revenue for their families and communities.
We talked to Harriet Kemigisha about wildlife tourism as an important source of income and incentive for conservation.
Hero Image © Rick Bateman
Harriet: I started birding and wildlife watching when I was little, growing up near Kibale National Park. I was inspired by Wilson Malcolm, who started a bird observatory in Kibale National Park and by Herbert Byaruhanga, the president of the Uganda Bird Guides Club, who started guide training in Uganda focusing on empowering women in tourism and conservation.
I finished my training and started working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, a government agency responsible for managing and protecting national parks as well as wildlife activities. It was my job to conduct patrols to prevent poaching activities. After that, I began to work as a ranger guide specializing in birds and primates.
Harriet: Uganda – the pearl of Africa – a name that Ugandans are confidently proud of. The country holds an incredible natural abundance that comes from being in the transition zones. It also has a wide range of habitats, from savannas to rainforests, swamps to lakes. Uganda has a great altitudinal range, spanning the 5,100+ meters (16,750+ feet) of the Rwenzori Mountains to the lowlands of Lake Albert at 600 meters (2,000 feet) above sea level. Because of this high diversity, Uganda is ranked the richest country in birdlife in Africa, boasting over 1,000 different species, and has the highest density of primates.
Harriet: My favorite birding spot is Semuliki Valley National Park. This park is an extension of the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As the DRC is not always safe, we only have a chance to see the Congo species in this lowland forest of Semuliki. This is the only place in Uganda where I go and expect to add something new to the Uganda list or to see very rare animals. In December 2020, I re-discovered a species of red colobus monkey, the Semuliki red colobus (Piliocolobus semlikiensis). That species had not been recorded in Uganda in this forest for a long time. Plus, I keep adding new bird species to our Uganda list.
Harriet: I think that this is a great opportunity that can transform society, not only in terms of tourism but conservation as well. Birding is so demanding that once women concentrate on it, they become a source of information for society and their families. When a woman becomes successful, it means that the entire family and society will have success. I have done a lot for my family and community. I have contributed to schools, churches, and conservation organizations, opening roads where they never existed for farmers to be able to transport their produce to the market. And we women are the most reliable agents for conservation. I think that tourism and conservation have a bright future with many women getting involved, because we have a strong voice when it comes to preserving natural resources.
Harriet: My greatest wish in birding and wildlife watching is to have many young children and young adults involved in watching birds and wildlife as well as in conservation. I have seen almost all the birds of Uganda. So, my next plan is to start nocturnal mammal watching because there is still so much to discover.
Harriet: So far, we have many women involved in conservation work, guiding, and driving. There are also young female birders coming up. My tour company, Harrier Tours, works with a women’s project in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park that I have personally supported: RIDE 4 A WOMAN. Today, it is one of the most successful programs in the country, helping women struggling at home with issues associated with HIV, domestic violence, and poverty. We support them by staying with our guests in their beautiful facility. Additionally, visitors have the possibility to buy their colorful fabric products or woven objects. Many of my fellow guides who see what I am doing (like turning my house into a lodge, the Kibale Forest Lodge, which brings employment and income to my family) are inspired by my entrepreneurship and take these ideas back to their communities. That is one of the nice things about being a guide: you meet different people with lots of ideas on how to develop and improve the service. The most important thing I like to teach my students or other guides is to be passionate, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. That has been my key to success.
Harriet: To me, sustainability means passing on the knowledge and experience that I have gained to other female birders in Uganda and abroad. It means being able to train and provide other necessary support to young birders so that the love and skill for birding, wildlife in general, and conservation can continue to prevail. I also look after the habitat (forests, savannas, lakes, swamps, etc.), because species need to survive for birding and wildlife watching to continue through generations. The other important part of sustainability is economic viability. There are many incentives coming from birding and wildlife tourism. When we welcome guests who love birds and wildlife, guides can earn a decent income from their profession and, thus, continue to love nature and protect it.
Harriet: SWAROVSKI OPTIK has the best vision. When you’re looking at birds with any SWAROVSKI OPTIK device, you feel like you want to keep going because the views are 100% clear. They show you precious details of a bird, so you never get bored when you go out birding time and time again.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your story.
Harriet is not only a professional guide and fierce conservation advocate, but she also understands that we are stronger together. She strives to bring female guides from Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda together to learn from each other, support one another and, thus, boost the tourism industry in the entire region.
Get to know her fellow guides:
Born in 1982, Harriet Kemigisha grew up in the small village of Bigodi near Kibale National Park. Her grandfather taught her to understand the forest. He opened her eyes, ears, and heart to the wonders and wisdom of nature.
Today, Harriet works as the director and lead guide at Harrier Tours Ltd. Her specialties are the birds and primates of Uganda and Rwanda. She is passionate about introducing young children to nature and supports various education and women empowerment projects. Her network of dedicated wildlife guides spreads over Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda. On her outdoor adventures, Harriet gets closer to nature with the ATS 80 HD with 25–50x eyepiece. When it comes to binoculars, she either goes for the NL Pure 8x32 or her long-time favorite, the EL 8.5x42.
In 2009, Harriet Kemigisha founded Harrier Tours. The professional tour company based in Uganda specializes in birding and mammal-watching tours. Their mission is to empower women in conservation and guiding. The team of dedicated nature lovers from all parts of the country were all trained by the Uganda Safari Guides Association. They love to bring people closer to Uganda’s diverse fauna. The name of the company pays tribute to Harriet’s favorite bird of prey: the Harrier.