THE VICE-CHANCELLOR’S VISIT

On May 24th 2014, the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) was crowned with a visit from the vice chancellor (VC) of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Professor Frederick Kayanja. The ITFC staff led by the director Dr. Robert Bitariho and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Bwindi officials cordially received the VC. The UWA officials present were Mr. John Justice Tibesigwa (senior warden in charge Bwindi) and Mr. James Busiku (warden Ruhija sector).

During his one-day visit, the ITFC and UWA staff were honored to informal discussions with the VC. The VC stated that since its inception 23 years ago, ITFC has been on the front line of bringing attention to the otherwise ignored conservation and social aspects of research within communities and the national park. ITFC has continuously and thoroughly delivered research output to UWA and other policy makers to guide them in sustainable conservation and management of Bwindi and Mgahinga National parks.

The VC appreciated the good work done and described ITFC as a ‘reliable friend’. He encouraged continued partnerships with other institutions such as the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and UWA in order to achieve its set goals. He emphasized that partnerships speed up realization of more research work and paves way for new development agendas. He also informed the attentive crowd of MUST’s full support to ITFC and its staff. The VC  later  made a short-guided tour around the ITFC campus. The tour was closed with a warmly served lunch at the director’s residence. Below are the pictorial highlights of the VC’s visit to ITFC.

The ITFC director shows the VC a selection of published researches from Bwindi and ITFC.

The ITFC director shows the VC a selection of peer-reviewed published researches from Bwindi and ITFC.

The VC on a guided tour to the ethno-botanical garden

The VC on a guided tour to the ethno-botanical garden

ITFC  and UWA staff pose for a group photo with the VC

The ITFC and UWA staff pose for a group photo with the VC

Duncan and Badru

 

HIGH POWERED DELEGATION FROM MINISTRY OF TOURISM VISITS ITFC

This is not an April fool’s day joke! The day was on the 3rd April 2014, a day that will always remain memorable for the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC). ITFC was honoured to host a high powered delegation from the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities. The delegation was led by none other than the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon. Dr. Maria Mutagamba and comprised of the Permanent secretary, Ambassador Patrick Mugoya, Commissioner Mrs Grace Aulo Mbabazi, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) board chairman,  Mr. Benjamin Otto and the Executive Director of UWA Dr Andrew Seguya. Other high ranking officials from the ministry of tourism also attended including all members of the UWA board and staff. The delegation was on a tour of the Bwindi Mgahinga conservation Area (BMCA) and was later scheduled to launch the BMCA management plan (2013-2023) that ITFC played a crucial role in formulating. The management plan is scheduled to be launched on the 4th of April 2014.

The ITFC director  explaining to the minister how ITFC works

The ITFC director explaining to the minister how ITFC works

The delegation was welcomed to ITFC by the director Dr Robert Bitariho and staff. The director then introduced ITFC staff to the delegation and gave the visitors a tour of ITFC offices and facilities.  In his address to the delegation, the director gave a brief background of how ITFC started as a project in 1987 researching on Mt Gorillas, the Impenetrable Forest Conservation Project (IFCP).  He mentioned that the IFCP project was led then by a researcher from the New York Zoological Society Dr Tom Butynsky. The project was later to be established as a research station of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) as ITFC with the help of Professor Fredrick Kayanja. The director stressed that because of research on the Mt gorillas, ITFC influenced together with Prof. Kayanja the creation of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1991. He mentioned some of ITFC donors as Uganda Government (through MUST), WWF, WCS, USAID and other partners. The director mentioned that ITFC works very closely with UWA in answering park management questions. The director talked about the accomplishments of ITFC since it was started and the challenges it faces. The main challenge mentioned was sustainable funding of ITFC activities.  He also talked about ongoing programmes and ITFC’s plans for the future.

 The Director addressing the delegation

The Director addressing the delegation

The delegation was impressed with the work ITFC carries out and was very enthusiastic with questions and suggestions for sustainable funding of research. To bluntly put it, the minister jokingly said that when she retires, she will have to come to ITFC for research since the facilities available were conducive for research and writing. She cracked the joke in good humour, and asked the director to let her come back for research in future. The Minister playfully stated that this would be on condition that she would be exempted from paying park entry fees. The director jokingly responded to her banter by asking her to be friendly with the Executive Director UWA if she wants free entry to the park. Dr Seguya shyly brushed off the joke.

Dr Andrew Seguya (UWA, ED) put the “icing on the cake” he commended ITFC’s work in research and training that facilitates UWA in managing Bwndi and Mgahinga National parks. He stressed that ITFC has been and continues to be an important partner with UWA more especially in Ecological and socio-economical research and monitoring.  Dr Seguya was enthusiastic for more and expansive work between UWA and ITFC in the future.

The minister signs the visitors’ book as the Executive Director of UWA look on.

The minister signs the visitors’ book as the Executive Director of UWA looks on.

The minister thanked ITFC staff for their commitment to conservation in the Albertine region and Uganda at large.  She also thanked MUST and other funding partners to ITFC for their support. The overall feeling of the delegation about ITFC was overwhelming, with praises of ITFC work and all of them promised to come back for a longer visit.  In the words of our beloved ITFC accountant, Mr Desi: “This visit strengthens ITFC’s partnership with government in conservation and sustainable development”.

The full list of delegatation is included here:

Name                                                                      Title

Hon Dr Maria Mutagamba                               Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities

Ambassador Patrick Mugoya                           Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Tourism

Mr Benjamin Otto                                            Chairman board of Directors UWA

Dr Cladys Kalema Zikusoka                            UWA board Member

Mr Mani Khan                                                  UWA board Member

Captain John Emily Otekat                               UWA board member

Mrs Crace Aulo Mbabazi                                  UWA board member

Mr Boniface Byamukama                                 UWA board member

Dr Andrew Seguya                                            Executive Director UWA

Mr John Makombo                                            Director Conservation UWA

Mr Charles Tumwesigye                                   Deputy Director Conservation UWA

Mr Chemonges                                                  Director Legal UWA

Mr Edgar Buhunga                                            Director Planning and EIA UWA

Mr Pontius Ezuma                                             Conservation Area Manger BMCA

Mr Christopher Masaba                                     Senior Warden in Charge of Mgahinga

Emmanuel Akampurila and Robert Bitariho

ITFC END OF YEAR 2013 PARTY!

On the 7th March 2014, the ITFC soared into heaven. Despite previously being drawn upon on popular culture where society just pokes fun at traditional, the Horn bills (ITFC staff) broke through that culture to an elite where thy kingdom come! They did not catch tigers; it was just nothing to argue about ITFC end of year party 2013. Anything less than that defied definition and all they had to do is recount the day’s blindness to issues of fate.

By 4pm, the smartness was volted with delight and dressing was extremely imperialist – it won! However Africans are so far from perfect, they still have many lessons on time to learn. Dj Mozey and I learnt how to be patient, so we patiently waited for 2 hours enjoying the lyrics.

At 6pm, the ITFC staff made an experimental arrival in the hall and immediately dinner was served in a neatly arranged hall. Thereafter speeches were next on the agenda from various invited guests from UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority), Max Planck Institute, LCIII chairperson of the county together with Assistant Inspector Cosmos not “Inspector General” as he emphasized. From the speeches, the director Dr. Robert Bitariho is so instrumental in making the institute collaborate with partner organizations. In his humble way, you cannot imagine how many tittles he holds yet when addressing you would imagine he belongs to the swag generation. To the staff he can only be described by one word “Inspirational”

After the speeches, Dj Mozey practiced his profession – mixing noise. He set the dynamic part of the party in progress as the music winded. The ITFC executive introduced dance with strokes we hardly understood but later on, they assigned the profession of Dj to the director and he became the guardian of the day. He blessed it with a good romance of rhythms that were frank and direct, almost challenging till the late hours of the night.

Let's go Bakiiga dance

Let’s go Bakiiga dance

Party time

Party time

Always the best things happen in a moment, so fun and fulfilled – no regrets! “It was well spent”

Duncan Bwanika

ITFC hosts a successful an eight-day international summer field school

Three months of intense preparations by ITFC pulled- off a fantastic first-ever-international summer school to be hosted on its campus. The Volkswagen Foundation financed summer school attracted over thirty participants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Germany, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) jointly organized the summer school with the Universities of Frankfurt and Giessen from Germany.

Participants were trained in practical research methods and techniques of freshwater ecology assessment. Participants also enjoyed several guided walks through the dense and rugged terrain of the beautiful Bwindi. Notable was a steep and a very wet walk to the Mubwindi swamp, where participants got soaked from an afternoon heavy downpour. Other visited sites included River Munyaga, which is located in the northern part of the park; only a few minutes walk from the national park headquarters. Participants collected water samples, which they carried back to the ITFC for laboratory analysis.

The international summer school was closed off in a fun style on Sunday, 8th December 2013 with entertainment from the Batwa cultural dance and drama group. The renown ITFC DJ, then wrapped up the evening with a variety of dance music that kept many glued on the dance floor till late. No wonder, several of the summer school participants described their eight-day stay at ITFC as “memorable”. Below is a pictorial highlight of the summer school events.

Participants preparing water samples for laboratory analysis

Participants preparing water samples for laboratory analysis

A participant at work in the ITFC laboratory

A participant at work in the ITFC laboratory

The Batwa cultural dance and drama group entertaining participants

The Batwa cultural dance and drama group entertaining participants.

Yey, party time!!

Yey, party time!!

Cheers,

Badru

 

 

Responding to Human Wildlife Conflict: The Planning progression of Nkuringo Buffer zone Management Plan (NBZMP) on board again!

The raison d’être why Gorillas are spilling over to community land are not yet known despite the rich diversity of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi). In rejoinder to human wildlife conflict between the communities of Nkuringo and the Mountain Gorillas and other fauna in Bwindi, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) together with its partners including the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), ITFC, Nkuringo Community Conservation Development Fund (NCCDF), Kisoro District Local Government (KLG) came together to generate yet another strategic management plan for the next five years (2014-2018).

ITFC’s very own Medard Twinamatsiko who is a member of the planning committee fully participated in a week closed door planning session in Kisoro. The UWA’s Senior Planning Officer –Richard Kapere and the Senior Warden Southern Sector John Justice Tibesigwa facilitated the sessions. Other members included; Stephen Asuma- Country Representative IGCP, Olivia Biira (Community Conservation Warden-UWA),Raymond Kato-Ecological Monitoring Warden- UWA, Richard Munezero (KDLG), Innocent and Auleria from NCCDF.

The seven days interface was not an easy one but greatly successful. It involved desk reviews and evaluations as well reconnaissance visits to the Nkuringo Buffer zone. The two days of field work were too enjoyable in the beginning but hectic and kawa in the afternoon epoch. It rained cats and dogs with most of the planning team members caught unaware of the somber dropdowns in the hills of Nkuringo. There was hardly any sanctuary for the planning squad and therefore had to succumb to the nature vagaries. Medard and Richard had no choice but to succumb to the heavy down pours since they had not carried water proof jackets. This was a good lesson for the next field day.

Many events were observed by the planning team. These included; the regeneration of the inner zone, the emergency of exotic plant species and poor maintenance of the Mauritius hedge fence by the local communities. Interesting to note was that tea planting has taken a serious route in the outer zone with almost ¾ of the land planted. This activity is being undertaken by National Agriculture Advisory Services through its sub contract- Kigezi Tea Company- a local company. Many local community members have tested on the syrupy dime being offered to plant tea. It was also witnessed that a road is being constructed by the local people to connect to the tea area. Such developments are highly welcomed by the local residents of Nkuringo and are optimistic of future prospects! IGCP is acknowledged for facilitating the planning process with the required logistics. Keep watch on this space!

Reconnaissance field discussions in the outer buffer zone

Reconnaissance field discussions in the outer buffer zone

 

Raining cats and dogs on the planning team in the outer cleared bufferzone

Raining cats and dogs on the planning team in the outer cleared buffer zone

A tired but  not retired team in the newly constructed road down to the buffer zone in Nteko

A tired but not retired team in the newly constructed road down to the buffer zone in Nteko

My warm regards,

Medard

An international Field school comes to ITFC

The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation will again be at the center stage later this year when it hosts an international summer field school. The summer school is jointly organized by Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), and the Universities of Frankfurt and Giessen from Germany. The Volkswagen Foundation finances the summer school.

Themed “Understanding Freshwater Ecology as the Basis for Sustainable Ecosystem Management”, the summer school will train graduate students in practical research methods and techniques of freshwater ecology assessment. The students will visit different aquatic sites in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi). The summer school participants will also visit the different Batwa communities around Bwindi.

Thirty-five participants including students and lecturers from Uganda, Germany, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania will take part in the summer school. The school, second of its kind, to be hosted at ITFC will take place from 01-09 December 2013. Below are pictures of some of the ITFC facilities which will be used by the summer school.

The student's dormitory at ITFC

The student’s dormitory at ITFC

A well stocked library at ITFC

A well stocked library at ITFC

The ITFC herbarium

The ITFC herbarium

I will be following the summer school events very closely. Please keep visiting http://bwindiresearchers.wildlifedirect.org for real-time updates from the summer school.

Best wishes,

Badru

Women in conservation

In Uganda, the number of women working in conservation-based organizations is far much smaller compared to that of men. Many women are reluctant to partake in conservation work because they are discouraged by the stereotypes that conservation work is for men. More interesting, those already “leaning in” drop out once they get a few challenges or even family commitments.

 My volunteership at ITFC for the past few months has disproved these stereotypes. For example, participating on the phenology data collection has given me the opportunity to acquire a reasonable understanding of the forest tree phenological events in Bwindi. ITFC is currently running several multi-disciplinary conservation projects. This provides is a unique opportunity to girls and women to gain hands on experience in conservation. I call upon my fellow girls and women to optimize these opportunities and enjoy the myriad benefits of working for a conservation research organization like ITFC. Below I share a pictorial of my experience at ITFC.

Janine checking out the canopy for fruits as Savio watches

Janine checking out the tree canopy for fruits as Savio watches

Janine on one of the field days

Janine on one of the field days

Janine and Marion relax after a long days walk

Janine and Marion relax after a long days walk

Best wishes,

Janine and Badru

ITFC hosts the Annual Ranger Based Monitoring workshop

From 11 to 13 September 2013, ITFC hosted an annual Ranger Based Monitoring (RBM) workshop in Ruhija. The workshop was organized and funded by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). The aim was to share experiences with the RBM system in the Greater Virunga Massif and Bwindi protected areas. The RBM system employs field rangers to collect data crucial for protected area management. The RBM is thus, a basic management tool for ecosystem monitoring in the Virunga and Bwindi ecosystems. The RBM has been running in the massif for 15 years since 1998. The two-day workshop attracted several wildlife park managers, veterinary doctors and researchers from Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Below, I gladly share some of the workshop highlights.

UWA Senior Warden John Justice Tibesgwa officially opening the workshop.

The UWA Senior Warden John Justice Tibesigwa officially opening the workshop.

What an attentive audience?

What an attentive audience?

Anna Behm Masozera (IGCP director) giving a plenary at the workshop

The IGCP director, Anna Behm Masozera  giving a plenary at the workshop

Best wishes,

Badru

My first camera trap experience in Bwindi

Ever wondered how possible it is to take pictures of animals in their most concealed habitat, well thanks to the latest camera trap technology mission impossible is declared possible. I took a trip down the Bwindi impenetrable forest with Badru, ITFC’s TEAM Network site manager together with four other field assistants to practically go witness this mission in the making.

We traversed some of the craziest vegetation I have ever encountered in life, the true definition of penetrating the impenetrable, but we eventually made it to the permanent camera trap sites. It was all a bee of activities and all I did was sit and watch very attentively. These guys knew exactly what they were doing and they must have done this so many times so I asked Badru to walk me through the process.

For a moment I thought I was listening to a lecture, only this time it wasn’t in a lecture hall, but in the middle of the forest. The terminologies used were not the kind I could comprehend immediately so I asked for what I normally understand best, practicals! Badru was more than willing to demonstrate to me the whole concept like a two year old and alas, I got it.

So, apparently we had to navigate to the location, thanks to the GPS we didn’t get lost. Once there, we looked around for any animal signs or droppings to determine an active trail which would be a good location to set up the camera traps. The camera is fixed on a tree approximately 50 cm from the ground, low enough to capture the whole body of the animal and not just its ears or sections of its body. Apparently the camera is set facing the trail so as to record as many pictures of the animals as many as possible.

As I watch all this happening, am thinking to myself at how complex the process is. The moment I asked what kind of cameras were being used I guess I lost track of information. Requi…what? I ask again… Badru smiles and displays the camera to me, explaining that it’s a Reconyx HC500 hyper fire semi covert infrared camera trap. They’ve only got two of these, their latest design and model. I understand it’s a semi covert hence can take colored pictures during the day while using normal flash, and black and white pictures in the night using infrared.

The other cameras we used in the remaining sites were all Reconyx too, but different models. They were the RM 45. These use infrared both in the day and night hence only produces black and white pictures. He goes through the settings, switches it on, and checks battery and card. The card is erased to make sure it’s totally blank so that pictures taken are only for this day until they return to collect them after a period of thirty days.

My most favorite section was when Badru had to go on all his fours to demonstrate a walk test. This he did after arming the camera to see how far a camera can record a moving animal after identifying a potential location. When we were all done, I had learnt so much in just such a short time and had a clear understanding of the camera traps project. We hiked out the forest and I thought to myself, how amazing! I am more than looking forward to the next field experience…only this time I’ll be a pro too!

Badru and Avetino setting a camera trap.

Badru and Avetino setting a camera trap.

Camera trap well set...ready to get those shy animals on record.

Camera trap well set…ready to get those shy animals on record.

Veryl

 

My Bwindi experiance

Today marks my 16th day in Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (famously known as ‘Bwindi’). This is the land of the mountain gorillas that am yet to see and cross off my bucket list of 100 things I want to do in life. Just when I thought I had had enough of the Seattle rains and the cold weather, Bwindi sits at an elevation of almost close to 3000 feet, way colder than I had imagined, and feels to me like winter…only this time there’s no snow present. Apparently am told this is the hot/dry weather season…I can only imagine what is in store for the cold season! The dry season I know of in Kenya actually  means drought…the hot sun shining through the open grassland savannas and the strong winds blowing through virtually any vegetation cover spared by the scorching sun. I look around and the place is lush green and full of life with no indication of dry visible…maybe except for the white dust on the roads.

As I write I have actually lost track of dates and days. Everyday feels the same since you cannot tell the difference between a week day and a weekend.  Everyone seems to get the hang of it except me. At least I know it’s Friday today because it’s ‘movie’ night, a tradition that has been practiced at ITFC for God knows how long. Am amazed at the excitement all around, and Badru, the well re-known master DJ is busy setting up all the gear in place.

Well, one thing is for sure…this is a tea drinking zone. With temperatures as cold as this, I have succumbed to taking refuge in the Ugandan tea and the very famous ground nuts to keep me sane. I love the foods here, Valentino Sigirenda; one of the camp-keepers has ensured that I add an extra kilogram because his meals are way too irresistible. He makes the best chapatis and I have fallen victim to his delicious meals, especially the peanut sauce.

The kind of hospitality I have received here is one that I will always appreciate for sure. I have made new sets of friends and have received so much love and support and I trust the next two months will be no different. Am all settled in and ready to start working on a project that I will be assisting with. A simple monitoring tool for local community use in Bwindi’s Multiple use zones. I am excited about the project and hopefully I’ll get to learn a bit of the local language somewhere along the way as I interact with the local community members.

Veryl and friends from a walk

Exploring Bwindi thanks to the new friends.

If they make me love the place, I will hopefully return to pursue my Msc research and hopefully  make new friends with the gorillas :-)

Veryl