Category Archives: creatures

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 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

Bwindi Mountain gorillas at 400

The results for the fourth Bwindi Mountain gorilla census were announced yesterday by the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). It is now official that Bwindi is a home to 400 gorillas, close to half of the world’s population that is estimated at 880 individuals. This result has taken a staggering twenty months of intensive gorilla search, counting and genetic analysis. Pictures generously provided by Theresa Laverty, MPI-EVA research assistant.

Rukina from the Kyagurilo research group, Bwindi-Ruhija

Conducted by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the 2011 Bwindi Mountain gorilla census was an effort of a big collaboration involving many organizations that work in Mountain gorilla conservation including; l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Rwanda Development Board, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. WWF-Sweden funded the census with more support from Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V., the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Earlier today, I had a privilege to chat with the director of the Bwindi Mountain gorilla project, Dr. Martha Robbins. Ladies and gentlemen, lets hear from the horse’s mouth (the lead scientist) for the 2011 Bwindi Mountain gorilla census. Please find the details of our Q&A chat in BM and MR below:

BM: Thanks a lot Martha for allowing talking to me after a very short notice.

MR: Sure

 

BM: May you please tell our readers what Mountain gorillas are? What makes them different from other primates, and great apes in general?

MR: The Mountain gorillas are one of the two and four gorilla species and sub-species respectively. They have many differences compared to chimpanzees and Bonobos. Their bodies are much bigger…actually they are the biggest apes.

 

BM: Bwindi is a home to 400 Mountain gorillas, close to half of the World’s population. This is the highest number of gorillas ever recorded in Bwindi. Why the big difference in numbers compared to the previous census?

MR: We count gorillas using the sweep method, where teams intensively walk through the forest in a dense network of trails searching for gorillas. Analyzing for the genetic make-up (genetic analysis) of feces allows us to differentiate if the gorilla groups encountered during the sweeps are the same or different. Genetic analysis creates a genetic identification for every gorilla that we find feces from, and this helps us not to over or under count the gorillas.

One limitation of the single sweep means that we can only count or do genetic analysis on the gorillas we find. The assumption that we find all the gorillas in a single sweep is not necessarily accurate. This time around we did two sweeps, meaning that there are some groups we found only during the 1st sweep and some groups only during the 2nd sweep. Genetic analysis was later done for both sweeps. This is the only way that we can know for sure that the groups from both sweeps are the same or different.

 

BM: What does this result mean to the conservation world, and mountain gorilla conservation in particular.

MR: This result means several things. First of all, the Mountain gorillas are the only sub-species of the great ape where we see the population actually increasing, and that provides some hope for conservation not only for the Mountain gorillas but of other endangered great apes and other primates. The increase and the hope that this population is sustainable depends only on the continuation of extremely intensive conservation efforts both inside the park and also with the neighboring communities living outside the park, Uganda as a country and in terms of international support at all levels.

 

BM: Any additional remarks for our readers?

MR: Lastly I want to say that the end result from a census is one number so it may seem easy to determine, but the censuses are only possible through a very big collaboration among many organizations, involving many individuals. Some where between 80-100 people were involved in last census.  These censuses are a way to really bring together all organizations that work in Mountain gorilla conservation, and this one has resulted in some very good news about how all the efforts of all these organizations are paying off. I thank all the organizations mentioned above for their efforts that made this census a great success.

Kanywani and Twijykye of the Kyagurilo group, Bwindi-Ruhija

Best regards,

Badru Mugerwa

Publish or perish

Science is incomplete if the findings are not communicated. Collecting biological data from the forest is one part, and communicating the science is the other.  My career as a scientist can be made or broken according to how much I publish, this is supported by the “publish or perish” catchphrase.

A 2012 publication by ITFC and UWA staff

I therefore take publishing of my research findings  very seriously. More recently, my colleagues at the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) and I published a scientific paper in the African Journal of Ecology.  This paper reported the first large scale, systematic camera trap based evaluation of Bwindi’s  ground dwelling animal’s distribution with relation to distance to park edge and elevation.  The implications of these results on habitat protection and animal conservation in Bwindi were also discussed.

Badru setting a camera trap

We placed automatic cameras (camera traps) at sixty locations for a month each. Locations where each species was and was not detected were compared to determine the influence of distance to park edge and changes in elevation.

The 15,912 images recorded had a lot to tell. Twenty mammal and four bird species were identified. The Black-fronted duiker (a forest antelope) was captured the most times. The images also included over 600 images of the elusive, rare and poorly known African golden cat from fifteen different locations. More surprising images included the Sitatunga (an antelope common in swamps), which was recorded in Bwindi for the first time. The Yellow-backed duiker (a forest antelope) and Handsome Francolin (a bird) were more common in the forest interior. On the other hand, the L’hoesti monkey was more common at the park edge. Images of illegal hunters (poachers) were also captured.

The Black fronted duiker was captured most times

The world’s second and Africa’s most poorly known cat – the African golden cat in Bwindi

These results highlight the significance of the TEAM Network activities in Bwindi. These activities not only inform management decisions, but also highlight conservation challenges . For instance, the L’hoesti monkey  (categorized as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is associated with community land close to the park edge where it damages food crops. This is a recipe for conflicts between humans and wildlife. At the same time, species that avoid the edge of the forest may already be indicating their vulnerability to human activities. Furthermore, interior species, like Handsome Francolin is typically restricted to high-altitude undisturbed forest, which is declining elsewhere in Uganda.

Handsome Francolin is restricted to high elevations in Bwindi, where it is threatened by hunting for food and cultural values. High altitude forest is declining else where in Uganda.

The camera trapping started by ITFC/Uganda Wildlife Authority with the support of the TEAM Network of Conservation International (CI) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) offers significant progress in monitoring terrestrial vertebrates in Bwindi. We anticipate more fascinating scientific discoveries from this activity.

Till then, I will let you know when we publish our next paper.

With best regards,

Badru Mugerwa

Why Stripe Breasted Tits get their toenails painted

I did not know about this until I saw it. Young birds get their toenails painted by researchers. Strange indeed but there is a reason.

The other day coming back from visiting the mountain gorillas we saw one of our staff, Narsis, up a ladder. He was looking into one of the nest-boxes that are scattered around the forest here. He had plugged the opening to the box and was looking inside. We stopped to watch.

Here are a few pictures.

Stripe Breasted Tits Bwindi ITFC Douglas Sheil

Stripe Breasted Tits being removed from their nest box — the opening is blocked to stop the adults finding the young have gone

Stripe Breasted Tits being weighed and marked Bwindi ITFC Douglas Sheil

Each bird is weighed (watched here by UWA ranger Silver who was with us)

Stripe Breasted Tits Bwindi ITFC Douglas Sheil

Recording the data

Stripe Breasted Tits being weighed and marked Bwindi ITFC Douglas Sheil

Birds are marked to allow them to be individually identified

Stripe Breasted Tits being replaced to their nest box Bwindi ITFC Douglas Sheil

The chicks are carefully replaced to their nest box and the parent birds will find them unharmed

So what was happening?

The brood had been discovered just the day before. Phil Shaw who coordinates the Stripe Breasted Tit (Parus fasciiventer) work (by email from Scotland ) asked Narsis to weigh the chicks in order to estimate their age. Marking the claws with coloured polish helps tell the individuals apart in future assessments — when they are bigger they will be ringed instead.

Why do they plug the box? If the parent birds find the nest-box empty they may not come back again thinking their chicks are gone for good. By plugging the box until we are ready for them we can be sure the adult birds don’t see inside the box until they can find their chicks unharmed.

These birds are only found in Bwindi and a few other forests in the region.  If you are interested to know more about them you can find out more at our web site here.

All part of the research in Bwindi.

Best wishes

Douglas

98.25% – the gorilla in our genes and the human in theirs

The site has been having a few problems the last few weeks. When I last put this up a few weeks ago it got lost. Let’s try again (again) and hope ….

Have you heard that the gorilla genome has just been sequenced? There has been some news coverage. Technical stuff certainly, but it offers interesting general insights too.

Mountain gorilla - Virungas, Rwanda Douglas Sheil

Closer than they look? Mountain gorillas in the Virungas.

The researchers sequenced the DNA from four animals including three western lowland gorillas and one eastern lowland gorilla. These animals are the last great-apes to have had this treatment and join humans, orang-utans, chimpanzees and bonobos.

Based on the genetic sequence data the human genome is closest to that of the chimpanzees and bonobos (these animals are closer to each other than to humans): the difference is only 1.37% in the raw genetic information. The orang-utan is almost twice as distinct with a 3.4% difference to humans. The new data places the gorilla in-between these other great apes with a 1.75% difference to humans.

Any surprises from the new gorilla data? Well, while the chimpanzees and bonobos are closer overall, it appears that whole tracts of our genomes, about 15%, are more similar to those of the gorilla than to any of the other great apes.

Mountain gorilla - Virungas, Rwanda Douglas Sheil

Only 1.75% divides us: a Mountain gorilla family in the Virungas.

The new gorilla data also suggest that ancestral people (and chimps) separated from ancestral gorillas about 10 million years ago. (Genetic data suggests humans and chimps separated more recently, perhaps less than 5 million years ago). Ancestral eastern and western lowland gorillas likely parted ways from each other much more recently: perhaps less than 500,000 years ago.

Its worth pointing out that these % numbers are based on very simple summary measures: they tell us nothing about just what the differences and similarities are, mean or imply … but methods to do that are improving. The new study offers some initial results. For example the researchers have identified evidence of unusually rapid evolution in several gorilla genes. These include genes involved in generating tough skin and possibly related to the hard knuckle pads that gorillas use for walking. Genes involved in hearing and brain development are also reported to have undergone rapid change in gorillas – we used to flatter ourselves that the similar changes observed in us were somehow unique to humans and reflected our language and cognitive skills, but we were wrong.

Perhaps we’re not so special after all. Our cousin gorillas wouldn’t think so.

Best wishes

Douglas

Night of the ants

They came in the night. I woke with my hair full of crawling creatures. Ants. After that we didn’t get much sleep.

Army ants are swarming arount the ITFC station. Not a good idea to get too close.

We hopped about. We swept. We put down barriers. Paraffin and ashes work as repellents. Water can also be an effective obstacle. We improvised what we could.

There are estimated to be about 11,000 ant species. Most of these occur in tropical forests. But here in Bwindi, in the cool climate of 2,300 m above sea level, we lack the vast diversity of ants that characterise much of the warmer lowlands tropics.

Generally we dont have to worry about ants. We don’t have to protect all sweet foods in closed containers for fear of the ants you would expect elsewhere.

We only see one type on a regular basis: the aggressive columns of army ants that we often pass in the forest. We seldom linger. You learn not to stop until you are past.

Residues from a bad night

Sweeping out the dead and stunned ants. You have to be quick or they scatter.

There are hundreds of thousands more where these came from.

Nomadic “army” and “driver” ants occur in Africa and the Americas. The African Gorylus ants have among the largest colonies of any ant species with some having over a million individuals. Despite their large size, these colonies possess only a single queen that lays several hundred thousand eggs each month.

As we know from our experiences these ants are active both day and night. While they don’t sting the larger soldiers pack a vicious bite. Pull a biting ant off your body and you may leave its head imbedded in your flesh or clothes.

Army ants come in different sizes. The large headed soldiers are not bluffing: they bite.

Ants may be small but colonies of army ants are major predators. These colonies forage in an aggressive swarm overpowering animals in their wake. They are often followed by birds that feed on the cloud of fleeing insects that precede the invading hoards.

Army ants prey on and control other ant species so it is possible that our local dominance of army ants is, along with altitude, one of the reasons we can normally leave out sugar without it being overrun. The price for that is the occasional disturbed night.

Best wishes

Douglas

Bwindi’s Flying Jewels

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is believed to hold the richest fauna community in East Africa, due in part to its provision of an extensive lowland-montane forest continuum (Afromontane forest is recognized as the rarest vegetation type in Africa) and exceptional species diversity, including many Albertine Rift endemics and 9 globally threatened species.

The park is also an ideal habitat for a wide variety of rare and endemic butterfly and moth species. At least 310 species of butterflies (Davenport 1995) have found home here and one can identify 50 species on a walk through the forest in a day. Eight of these are Albertine Rift endemics and yet 3 of these have only been sighted in Bwindi (or utmost the nearby forest in Congo). The three are Papilio leucotaenia, Graphium gudenusi and Charaxes fournierae.

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Numerous studies from ITFC’s two decades of existence have clearly brought out the fact that these delicate creatures are in fact highly specialized and each species has a range and unique flight pattern. Caterpillars belonging to different species feed on a diversity of plant species and more often specialize on the plant parts they eat, e.g. young or old leaves.

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Butterflies and moths are some of the most fascinating and eye catching flying insects in the world. A vast majority is brightly colored and is found all over the world, except in the Antarctica region. They are indeed one of the planet’s most beautiful creatures. People from all walks of life, irrespective of race, color or religion enjoy these beautiful winged flying jewels for their delicate beauty. Uganda has about 1200 butterfly species mostly found associated with tropical rainforests.

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The word butterfly has curious origins. Butterflies get their name from the yellow brimstone butterfly of Europe that is first seen in the early spring or “butter” season? The Anglo- Saxons used the word BUTTERFLOEGE because their most common butterfly was the yellow brimstone butterfly.

The Russians call them BABOCHKA, meaning little soul. Ancient civilizations have depicted butterflies as little angels or souls, such that when people die, their souls go to heaven as butterflies. The importance of butterflies in many early civilizations is recorded in prehistoric caves and their depiction in pottery and fresco paintings. The best known example is the representation of the goddess Xochiquetzal in the form of a two tailed swallow tailed butterfly. In all, irrespective of age, people from all walks of life associate butterflies as friendly and soothing to the eyes, mind. body and soul.

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Biologists estimate that worldwide there are about 150,000 different species of butterflies and moths, in which approximately 30,000 belong to the butterfly species. The sizes of a few species of butterflies range from less than an inch in size to a wing span of about 10 inches. The smallest species are no bigger than a fingernail and the largest swallowtails are larger than the smallest birds.

The world’s tiniest known species, the blue pygmy (Brephidium exilis), is found in Southern California and has a wing span of just over half an inch. Both the world’s smallest butterflies occur in peninsular India. The largest species, the New Guineas Queen Alexandria’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) can measure up to twelve inches from wingtip to wingtip.

Butterflies provide aesthetic appeal and are connected with all plants and crops at all stages of their life cycle. Few are aware of the crucial role the butterfly plays in pollination of a large portion of economically important crops and flowering plants, which is second only to the honeybee. They pollinate about 75 per cent of staple crops in the world and 80 per cent of all flowering plants. The economic value of pollination is about $ 200 billion. Scientific studies have proved beyond doubt that pollinators account for 12% of the value of world wide agricultural production.

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BENEFICIAL ASPECTS OF BUTTERFLIES

Butterflies are categorized as keystone species, which enable many smaller species of insects to thrive and reproduce in an ecosystem. In simple terms, it denotes that conservation of butterflies also conserves other species of insects. In fact, the basic health of our ecosystem is directly dependent on the number of butterfly species.

  • Butterflies act as indicators in monitoring environmental health.
  • Play an important role in food chains and food webs.
  • Excellent pollinators
  • Bio control of weeds
  • Butterflies are very sensitive to pollution and have been used as bioindicators to detect the pollution levels.

FACTS

  • The fact of the matter is that most butterfly species have an average lifespan ranging from 20 to 40 days. A few species may live up to nine months.
  • Butterflies are found world wide except on the continent of Antarctica.
  • Butterflies can only see the colors red, green and yellow.
  • Most butterfly species are dark colored because they need to absorb heat from the surrounding environment.DSC01770
  • Caterpillars spend most of their time eating leaves using strong mandibles (jaws). A caterpillar’s first meal however is its own eggshell. A few caterpillars are meat-eaters – e.g. the larva of the carnivorous Harvester butterfly eats woolly aphids.DSC09309
  • Butterflies do not have any chewing mouth parts. They are gifted with a tubular straw like appendage known as proboscis which enables them to sip nectar. Butterflies “smell” with their antennae and taste with their feet.
  • Butterflies are one of the few creatures on earth that can orient themselves both in latitude and longitude
  • Male butterflies attract females by releasing pheromone chemicals (scent) from their abdomen.
  • Butterflies and moths are picky in choosing leaves for egg laying.
  • Butterflies and moths are picky in choosing leaves for their diet.
  • When folded, a butterfly’s wings are usually much less colorful, providing instant camouflage from would-be predators.

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  • The earliest butterfly fossils are from the early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago. Their development is closely linked to the evolution of flowering plants (angiosperms)
  • Butterflies are the only insect that has scales. Butterfly scales contains pigment, which in combination with light refraction gives butterflies their colors.

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Moth master of camouflage – Bwindi, Uganda. 2,250m

Moth master of camouflage – Bwindi, Uganda. 2,250m

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CONCLUSION

Butterflies play a critical ecological role and should therefore better protected and managed. There is mounting concern regarding the devastating losses of butterfly colonies because of unprecedented habitat destruction. This is the single greatest threat to butterflies. The rate of deforestation is accelerating and is already higher in the tropics compared to other parts of the world. Let us begin with the smallest steps by planting flowering plants in our backyards and help native butterflies survive. In schools we need to encourage gardening and so also in public places with green all round. Schools and colleges should conduct training programmes and guided field trips, so that students learn firsthand the wild behavior of these beautiful winged jewels. School children from the primary level should be taught about butterflies and the vital role they play in different aspects of human life. Awareness at all levels will definitely help these winged jewels survive and coexist in a world dominated by humans.

Ivan

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REFERENCES:

T. Davenport, P. Howard and R. Mathews Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Biodiversity Report

http://www.foremostbutterflies.com/learn_about_butterflies/butterfly_habitat.htm

http://www.ineedcoffee.com/09/butterfly/?page=all

http://www.fs.fed.us/monarchbutterfly/resources.shtml

http://www.nerdybirders.com/html/butterflies/butterflies.htmlhttp://butterflywebsite.com/conservation.cfm

http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/wildlife/butterflies.php

http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/habitat/forest.php

http://en.butterflycorner.net/Home.home.0.html

http://butterflywebsite.com/conservation.cfm

http://www.butterflyworld.com/start.html

http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/wildlife/butterflies.php

http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/habitat/forest.php

http://en.butterflycorner.net/Home.home.0.html

http://www.butterflyworld.com/start.html

Season’s Greetings from the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation

Season’s greetings and many thanks to all our followers and supporters in 2011. We look forward to interacting with you again in 2012.

Best wishes

Douglas and on behalf of the ITFC Team

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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