Category Archives: baboons

Bwindi’s wild bananas

It’s one of those times of year at ITFC when everyone is busy analyzing and writing up their completed research and we chose this opportunity to talk to Frederick Ssasli about his interesting study conducted on the little known wild banana species (Ensete venticosum) in Bwindi.

The objective of his study  was to investigate the ecology of the wild banana by recording the animals that visited and utilised the plant’s fruit and flowers. Most fruiting plants in Bwindi are seasonal, however these wild bananas are special as they fruit and flower all year round, possibly providing a reliable ‘fall back’ food source for animals. Little is known about wild bananas and even less in Bwindi, so Frederick expected some exciting results.

A convenient site was chosen less than a kilometre from ITFC’s premises. Ten camera traps were set up, each on a different tree, five focusing on the flowers and the rest on the fruit. The study ran from 2011 to 2012 in the months of November to April and has just come to an end. 

Now for the results, what everyone had been waiting for! The most frequent visitors to the fruit included L’hoste monkeys, baboons, squirrels and mice which were viewed feeding on the ripe bananas, or in the L’Hoeste’s case, humorously squabbling over them (as they often do). The flowers’ visitors included some nectarivorous birds in the day and lots of bats (which are yet to be identified to the species level) and mice during the night. Even more interesting was the presence of the predatory two-tailed palm civet (Nandinia binotata) which was captured on several occasions visiting the flowers and in one case with a mouse in its mouth!

Two-spotted palm civet after catching a mouse

Two-spotted palm civet after catching a mouse

Bat on banana flower

Bat on banana flower

L’Hoest’s monkey on banana fruit

This study has set the stage for further research at Bwindi to find out more about these inter-specific relationships and to test the list of hypotheses stimulated by each camera picture. There are also some interesting implications for crop raiding. Could the conservation of wild bananas help in preventing increased crop-raiding incidents by providing an alternative food source in the low fruiting season? Could the wild banana be a new keystone species (a species which has a large effect its environment and that many species rely on)?

We hope to see some interesting papers in the near future!

On a side note this is our (Lucy and Andrew’s) last blog. We hope you enjoyed them!

squirrel on wild banana

squirrel on wild banana

ITFC receives funds for compiling a lessons learnt report on Human Wildlife Conflicts in the Greater Virunga Landscape from GVTC

The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) is happy to announce acquisition of a grant from the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) for compiling a report on lessons learnt on Human wildlife Conflicts (HWC) in the Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL).

HWCs occur when the needs and behavior of wildlife impact negatively on the goals of humans and vice versa, resulting into conflicts and animosity between wildlife and the local people. ITFC has previously done research on HWC mitigation measures around Bwindi and Mgahinga National parks including learning experiences elsewhere from Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori and Semuliki National Parks under the USAID funded Wildwest Project.

A mountain gorilla in a banana plantation around Bwindi

Our previous blogs written on HWC around Bwindi and other protected areas in Uganda have included; who am I conserving for?, Raiding baboons and disease risks, Who pays the price? among others. It was from this experience that ITFC was contracted by the GVTC to compile a lessons learnt report on HWC in the GVL. ITFC is a member of the research, monitoring and Landscape committee of the GVTC and is happy to undertake such an important task.

The Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL) is Africa’s most biologically rich containing a variety of wildlife including elephants, hippos, lions, birds and the only population of the mountain gorillas. The high human population settlement in this region is a recipe for clear-cut conflicts between humans and wildlife. HWCs have been one of the biggest conservation challenges in the GVL for over two decades, posing a serious threat to wildlife, human livelihood and conservation.

Several mitigation methods against HWCs are being implemented in the GVL (see photos below). It is therefore important to document and recommend such mitigation measures to protected area managers. Along these lines, ITFC continues to be at a forefront of conducting research geared towards availing information needed to address this conservation challenge. Your thoughts on managing HWCs will be appreciated. We look forward to hearing from you.

The stonewall is used against Buffaloes in Mgahinga National Park (Uganda), Virunga National Park (Congo) and Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda)

Baboon traps have been used around Bwindi to control baboon raids on crop gardens

Our best regards,

Badru and Robert

A Date with Rare Guests – a Big Cat, Cobra, Chameleons, Baboons

Recently a number of visitors have unexpectedly been showing up at ITFC offices. Could this be due to the rainy season? Just the other day I had a date with a chameleon right in MY OFFICE! How it had gate-crashed into a closed room, no one could explain. In fact one of our staff secretly suggested that someone was trying to bewitch me.

Douglas leading away the chameleon back to the forest

Douglas leading the chameleon back to the forest

But just as Bwindi’s mist was clearing out for us to have a better understanding of this, another date was being scheduled. At about 9 PM on a dark and silent evening (typical of Bwindi), I heard someone knock. I was comfortably going on with my duties in the toilet when I started hearing disturbing noises from the forest. First, I thought it was a small crawling creature like a rat or lizard, then it sounded like something chewing on a bone, something bigger and stronger… “This is the end of you Ivan, fight or flee”, I heard my mind whisper. The noise was getting closer now. I adjusted my posture, literary for a fight this time, or at least to die fighting. As if totally ignoring me,  the creature was now aiming for the toilet. I immediately flashed my torchlight and he in turn flashed his eyes. We were now face to face, eye to eye. A very big cat, bigger than any I had ever seen! Bwindi’s Golden Cat (see earlier blog for photos). The (flashlight) tactic worked, I managed to scare him off. In a second he had launched off into the dark. Not even waiting for a photo session with his host.

As I was regretting the missed photo opportunity – I mean me posing with a Golden Cat- we had another quite stubborn visitor. The “celebrity of destruction” had made his way to the station with so many of his relatives and friends. On his account farmers have lost acres of food crops, he exhumes seeds before their germination, eats seedlings, mature fruits, stems, and just everything. He was once reported to have raided tourist cars for hamburgers. Someone here has even accused him of rape! You guessed right: he is Mr. Olive Baboon. Already our secretary had been scared off and failed to make it to the office. There were over 30 baboons all over the station, satisfying their desire for the tender Giant Lobelia plants. It was total destruction, as if the troupe had been sent to exterminate the plant from the station.

A baboon's job!

A baboon's job!

An olive baboon resting unbathored by my presence

Resting after work: An olive baboon not bothored by my presence a few meters away

Destructive and stubborn as they were, someone gentle and fast managed to escape the scene… I almost stepped on his (or her?) tail but he had not a minute for exchanging pleasantries: a diamond black house cobra (about 5 ft long) was crossing the road. Majestic! How relieved I was with his speed.

Impressed by my hospitality, the three-horned chameleon also passed-by, just to say hi. We interacted briefly before I gave him a lift back to his home – the forest.

A three horned in Bwindi (photo by Julie Larsen Maher)

A three horned chameleon in Bwindi (photo by Julie Larsen Maher)

Would you like a date with my guests, or has any of them visited you lately? Let us know  about your experience.

Cheers,

Ivan

Raiding baboons and disease risks

I am doing my MSc research with support from ITFC.  My study considers whether any health risks are posed by the movement and behaviour of Baboons (Papio anubis) around Bwindi and what might be done about it.

Baboons are adaptable and can live in various habitats. Even when humans clear away the baboon’s forest habitats for cultivation, settlement and other developments, baboons can exploite the resulting gardens.

Such resilience to habitat changes and the sharing of food sources with humans has however exposed baboons to a risk of contracting or transmitting a number of diseases. These in turn threaten other primates within their range.

Many field and experimental studies show that baboons have highly analogous reactions to diseases such as Tuberculosis, Shigella, Salmonella; many viruses (with recently HIV-2) of anthropoid primates including humans and great apes. Baboons belong to the class of old world monkeys that has been implicated in emerging hemorrhagic viruses. So it is well established that baboons can carry quite a diverse array of pathogens and potentially transmit these to other primate species.

Baboons spend much time along roads where they can easily acquire pathogens from humans.

Around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, baboons are known to frequently raid outside the forest, into human communities, more than any other wild species causing considerable damage especially to crops. This presents a significant threat – disease transmission – across the park boundary that creates danger to community public health in terms of disease. It also increases the chance that these animals may transmit human pathogens to forest primate species.

Such diseases pose a particular threat to the conservation of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) which is a critically endangered species (according to the IUCN) with almost half of its global population living in the Bwindi forests.  We know that gorillas are susceptible to many of the same diseases as humans.  Other primate species in Bwindi may also be threatened by such potential disease transmission include the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis), l’hoest’s monkey (Cercopithecus l’hoesti), red-tailed monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius), black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and
vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops).

Collecting baboon fecal samples non-invasively for laboratory analysis

In this study, I examine the role of baboons as potential carriers of micro-organisms including pathogens across the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (or Bwindi) among forest fauna and the contiguous human community.

Each day, I ascend the hills of Bwindi to determine baboon spatial and temporal patterns and their epidemiological (disease cause, transmission, spread pattern) impact. I also collect baboon fecal samples for use in DNA based methods to detect microbial exchange between baboons and the community. This should also be vital in detecting zoonotic pathogens that have been found in other species around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

A bite can be really harmful and spread disease such as viral encephalitis

A bite can be really harmful and spread disease such as viral encephalitis

The results from this study shall go a long way in evaluating role of baboons as potential carriers of micro-organisms, including pathogens across the Bwindi park boundary. The recommendations shall not only be applicable to Bwindi but also other protected areas with baboons.

A baboon seems to wonder why locals keep chasing them. Crop raiding could be one of the most significant drivers of pathogens transmission.

Keep tuned up for the study results and recommendations and let me hear what you think.

Agaba Hillary Kumanya
MSc. Student, Makerere University Kampala.