Cycads Do Still Exist.

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CYCADS DO STILL EXIST.

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Joanne Ainabyona

Yay you read that right. Cycads are an ancient plant that has existed for at least 300 million years and it’s considered to be one of the oldest plants in the world, for it outlived the dinosaurs. They first appeared in the Pennsylvanian and so and they come in several types, appearing before there were dinosaurs, existing alongside them, and perhaps being eaten by them, currently they are close to extinct and the pearl of Africa Uganda is blessed to be the only country that has the very last of the species Encephalartos Whitelocki in the entire world.
11th September 2019, 330km from the capital’s city Kampala in the west of Uganda together with the CEO of the Uganda Tourism Board Ms Lily Ajarova, Public Relations In charge Ms Sandra Natukunda and the rest of the Uganda Tourism Board team and a few environmental and travel bloggers set off to mark history. Enduring long cold evening drives and heavy rain graces as we sieved through the thick parts of Kyegegwa and Kyenjojo districts. Crisp, cold and quiet nights at Rweteera Safari Park in Fortportal as we awaited the start of the next new day.

12th September, by 7:40AM in the morning we were on the Fort portal – Kamwenge road from Fort portal town headed for the big prize, cycads. Sieving through Kibale National Park thick bushes with the welcoming views of baboons on the road side, the cheery voices of the village children who waved on to cycad expert from United Kingdom Edward Charlton who had actually been in the area doing research on cycad community tourism among others.
Mackay Mwebingwa a cycad expert and tour guide welcomed and ushered us through the trek, which had us stationed at Karubuguma2 village, Ntara sub county Kitagwenda district, we had to move around large pieces of land that belonged to a local named Gonzaga. We arrived to the sight of the famous cycads. Well composed with fresh leaves that from a far looked like palm trees and firmly tucked roots in the semiarid soils of Kitagwenda.

A beetle inside a female cone of a cycad tree.

Cycads do exist in several types or categories and as all living things, cycads too do come in twos, male and female. The female cycad cone is usually bigger than the male in size. It also bears seeds and these are the ones spring open after a period of 6 months and then stay open for 10 to 14 days waiting for pollination from the male cone. The pollination process is done by a beetle which later moves on to the next female cone.

 

The male cycad is smaller in size compared to the female cone.

Speaking to experts from the SOS Save our Species a non-governmental organization that aims at the long term survival of threatened species and their habitats while supporting the people that live around them., they highlighted the possible threats to cycads saying that the people who are settling in have burnt down some trees to acquire land for settling and farming. Another problem is that while trying to expand the cycad species, one cannot tell the difference between the male and female seeds. Plus the period of time it takes to grow one successful grown cycad tree is too long altogether.

While giving a speech at the Kyotamusana subcounty the CEO Ms Lily said that the whole intension of this visit was aimed at reviewing and assessing the various opportunities for product development of one of the world’s most prehistoric species, the cycads. Ms Lily officially flagged off the development of cycads as a tourist attraction center that can create a lot of investment opportunities ranging from rafting, canoeing, coffee planting amongst others, she also planted a tree in Kyotamusana,Kitagwenda district and this marked history that the Uganda Tourism Board has reached a great level in product development and diversification of Uganda’s tourism offerings.


At the end of a long tiresome adventurous day that had the entire team thirsty and drained while we climbed the hilly parts of Kitagwenda where the cycads lay in admiration, Mr Mackay the cycad expert gave each one of us a cycad tree as a reward to go and plant and expand the species.

UTB CEO Ms Lily Ajarova receives the cycad trees.

 

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