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Kim Colavito Markesich
University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Journal Winter 2007

           

By any standard, at the age of 29, Musa Lubega has already led an extraordinary life.

Lubega, a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering, was born and raised in Queen Elisabeth National Park in Uganda, East Africa. As a child, he used to walk in the jungle with his father, then return home to share his tales of his adventures with eleven siblings, none of whom enjoyed the park as he did.

Says Lubega, “It was very wonderful but very risky. As young kids, my friends and I would get really close to dangerous animals.”“Uganda is a beautiful country,” he continues. “We have ten national parks, and all kinds of animals.”

Lubega thought nothing of exploring the jungle by himself, trying to touch a hippopotamus or lion. “My father was very supportive of my working with wildlife. But my mother worried. I’d be off by myself on a tiny bicycle, and my mother was never too sure I’d make it out.”
“I never had a toy. We played with wild animals. I had a friend killed by a hippo. Hippos are the number one killer in Africa. Another friend was bitten by a snake and lost his arm. We took that as part of the play of the day.”

Underneath Lubega’s fun-loving attitude is a deep commitment to animal conservation. “At a tender age, I had a love for wildlife, as I was fascinated and enthralled by their behavior patterns. If I could manage, I would have them all as pets at home,” he says. His childhood pets included a monkey and a python.

Lubega received a degree in civil engineering, then went to Utali College of Wildlife for a diploma in tourism, and became certified in bird watching. He spent time as a military park ranger but quickly became disillusioned by the management’s indifference toward animal poachers.

Lubega then worked as a field research assistant before starting a career as a tour guide. He says, “I loved taking tourists around my country, and of course retelling old tales about the animals as learned from my father. I would encourage everyone to come see our country.”

He also volunteered with the Jane Goodall Institute and the Uganda Wildlife Education Center. “My passion is gorillas and chimpanzees. I see how the forest is being cut on a daily basis. I want to save these creatures by stopping forest destruction.”

It is estimated that only 700 wild mountain gorillas remain; they live in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. Lubega hopes to work at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, also known as Gorilla National Park.

Although he enjoyed working as a tour guide, Lubega understood that he needed to continue his education to fulfill his dream of becoming a park manager. He says, “To gain the respect of the government and be considered for a management position, I needed to return to school, but the highest degree available at my university was a bachelor’s degree.”

Lubega found his way to UConn with the assistance of a friend who was touched by the gorillas’ plight and asked how he might help.“This is my first time out of Africa,” Lubega explains. “When I stepped off the plane at JFK, I was shocked. There were people and planes everywhere. When a plane flies over us in Uganda, we know it is the president’s plane.”

Lubega says he finds everyone at the College very helpful, and he is enjoying his time at the Storrs campus. He says, “After my graduate studies at UConn, I promise to make UConn shine as I work on wildlife management issues in Africa. With the help of my advisor, I plan to connect Uganda’s wildlife authority with the University so students at UConn can always come and do research in Uganda.”

Lubega expects to be at UConn for two years. He misses his family, especially his two little boys, who are five and three. He lost their mom eighteen months ago, so his own mother is caring for his young sons while he continues his studies. He says that his boys have already discovered a love for the wild. He will support them if they choose to work with animals, especially his beloved gorillas.

“Gorillas are by nature the most gentle animals. Animals have a sense about people,” he says. He tells the story of how he tended an injured silverback gorilla he spotted while guiding a tour in the Bwindi forest.

“I came back with a doctor who showed me how to use a spray for the gorilla’s wound. He told me the spray would itch after at least five seconds. I knew I was putting my life in danger, but I planned out an escape route. I was at least ten meters away from the gorilla when he turned towards me. I am a very happy man for getting that opportunity to treat one of the most endangered creatures on earth.”