Deep in my desk drawer I have a thick swatch of business cards given to me during a visit to South Africa in 2008 to attend at the 12th Pan-African Ornithological Congress at Rawsonville in the Western Cape. Most are from the usual academics and bird-conservation workers from across the African continent and beyond. Other cards came from a disparate group of bird-guides from a long list of countries–Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Burundi and Uganda among others.

I was at the PAOC meeting to co-chair a day-long session on ethno-ornithology that spilled over into a round-table session and many long after-hours yarns with fellow presenters and congress participants. One of the cards in my drawer was given to me by Herbert Byaruhanga, a keen birder and expert wildlife guide from Uganda who was very interested in the added value that local bird knowledge could do to enhance his business and that of his fellow bird guides.

I’d had similar conversations with local bird guides in Kenya the previous year and take some small measure of pleasure in seeing that, as best I can tell from northern Australia, local cultural knowledge of birds has now become an integral part of bird-guiding, at least in the east African states.

Since that time I’ve tracked Herbert and his colleagues at the Uganda Tourism Association and his company Bird Uganda Safaris through social media. Herbert is a tireless promoter of Uganda in particular and east Africa generally as destinations of choice for birding and wildlife tourism.

He and others have long recognised the value of  wildlife guiding as a means to foster local economic development and of the need for professional training and development for guides, working particularly through the Uganda Safari Guides Association and the Uganda Tourism Association.

But for mine the greatest achievement of Herbert and his colleagues is the encouragement of young birders and women–like Martha Nzisa above–as bird guides through the Uganda Women Birders and the Uganda Young Birders groups.

For mine Herbert and the keen young birders of Uganda and elsewhere in east Africa and beyond deserve all the support that we can give them, whether it be by using their services when we travel to their part of the world or by providing in-kind assistance–like sending our used binoculars for the young birders to use after we’ve moved onto something better.

One of the methods that Herbert and his colleagues use to spread the word about birding and wildlife tourism is to travel to ornithology conferences–like the PAOC–and events like the American Birding Expo and the UK’s BirdFair, which was where Herbert was headed last week to present his paper Ecotourism Development in Uganda – Birds and Birding this coming Saturday.

The abstract for Herbert’s well-anticipated paper reads:

Birding increasingly contributes to ecotourism in Uganda, especially in communities neighbouring tourism areas. The number of bird guides has grown exponentially and communities that once destroyed habitats, now cherish them.

All well and good, except there was a problem. On Friday last week Herbert posted a short note on his Facebook page:

No visa for my UK trip to attend the British Birdwatching Fair. I have been to UK many times. I have no interest of staying in UK. I was going for less than 7 days. UTB made it clear to them that I am a bird guide who will be at the Uganda Stand and will make a talk about Birding in Uganda.

The first time I went to UK in 2001 I did not even have an account in the bank. But the consul in South Africa thinks that I am likely not to come back to Uganda.

Oooops! It is unfortunate that our passports have to go to South African to be granted a visa to go to UK. I have a lot more to do in Uganda than in UK.

Very annoying! Sorry to all my friends who were ready to meet me. Those who will be at the Rio Grand Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, Eastern Shore Birding & Wildlife Festival, we shall meet there.

Somehow I don’t think that Herbert’s disappointment at the rather curious visa decision will diminish his enthusiasm for birding and guiding or his support for other birders and guides.

Or that of his colleagues …

If you have a story of similar treatment at the hands of immigration bureaucrats–whether in the UK or elsewhere–feel free to post a comment below.

If you have any suggestions (or friends) that may be able to assist Herbert please post a note below or track down Herbert Byaruhanga at his Facebook page or through the links above.