Category Archives: field research

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

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

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 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

Badru’s story nominated for a Film Festival Award!

I have been off for a while. I congratulate Andrew and Lucy for a job well done. They kept you updated with the on-going ITFC research and other activities through a continued flow of blogs.

Here is an update of what has happened during my absentia. Some of you must have already watched/heard about it. I am talking about the ‘Badru’s story’……….

Sometime last year, Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele visited Bwindi. Benj and Sara are a documentary team (bdsjs.com) that specializes in multimedia stories about people, nature and climate. During their visit, they followed Badru and his team through the rugged terrain of park, capturing every detail of the camera trap setting, tree measurement and climate station maintenance procedures.  A product of their trip was a short movie documenting the TEAM Network’s activities in Bwindi.

The approximately six-minute movie titled ‘Badru’s story’ starring ITFC and TEAM Network’s very own Badru Mugerwa can be watched in HD for free on line http://bdsjs.com/client/ci/. This is the first in a three-part series that are yet to be produced. The movie also featured Dr. Douglas Sheil (ITFC, CIFOR and Southern Cross University), Raymond Kato and Job Nahabwe (Uganda Wildlife Authority) and ITFC field assistants (Lawrence Tumuhagirwe and Avetino Nkwasibwe).

The great news is that ‘Badru’s story’ was nominated for the 40th Telluride Film Festival Award. This is very exciting to Badru, bdsjs.com, ITFC, UWA and the TEAM Network.  We hope the movie wins the award. Fingers crossed!!!

Below I present to you some of the highlights from the movie  ‘a pictorial movie trailer’. Please enjoy.

The ITFC/UWA/TEAM Network camera trapping team in Bwindi. From left to right: Avetino, Badru, Lawrence (ITFC) and Job (UWA). Standing at the back is Moses (local guide).

The ITFC/UWA/TEAM Network camera trapping team in Bwindi. From left to right: Avetino, Badru, Lawrence (ITFC) and Job (UWA). Standing at the back is Moses (local guide).

On all four:  Badru doing a 'walk test' in front of a camera trap during camera trap setting

On all four: Badru imitates a walking animal by doing a ‘walk test’ in front of a camera trap during camera trap setting.

Measuring a ‘problem tree’: Badru demonstrating how to take diameter measurements of a buttressed tree.

Measuring a ‘problem tree’: Badru demonstrating how to take diameter measurements of a buttressed tree.

Uuhm,  Bwindi’s  beautiful rugged landscape covered by the early morning mist

Bwindi’s beautiful rugged landscape covered by the early morning mist

 

How would we ever live without Bwindi? Ecosystem services along the boundary of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

 Ecosystem services along the boundary of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Sincerely,

Badru

 

 

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

Frederick’s Fake Seedlings

As an extension form last week’s blog, we are going to introduce another of Frederick’s ongoing projects: the fake seedling project, a pilot project set up to begin studying what is causing damage to seedlings in the park.

Despite it being 20 years since Bwindi was gazetted as a national park, there are still many gaps in the forest. This programme aims to elucidate the reasons behind the persistence of these gaps, by using fake ‘seedlings’. These ‘seedlings’ are made from plastic drinking straws, which are anchored in the ground in a number of plots. These seedlings are checked for physical damage, and if damage has occurred, the area is examined for evidence (such as animal tracks) to attempt to establish the damage agent. This data is collected in conjunction with the phenology data as the plots overlap.

Example of a fake seedling (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

 

So far, the initial results suggest that the damage is mostly caused by herbivores trampling the seedlings (non-trophic damage), as well as by falling debris. Frederick hopes that this low-cost pilot study will attract funding, leading to a full, long-term project, studying real seedlings!

 

Andrew & Lucy

Phenology week at ITFC

This week we joined Frederick Ssali (ITFC’s research officer) and other ITFC research assistants conducting their long-term phenology monitoring project. This programme was borne from a long-term phenology project started in 2004, focusing on gorilla food trees, which itself began after a PhD student conducted phenology studies linked to gorillas in 2000. The data from gorilla-focused studies was limited, so this more general project was started in 2011, thanks to a grant from WCS for Climate Change Studies in Bwindi.

photo by Andrew Kirkby

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Every month, a team of highly trained field assistants collect data on 52 species of selected trees from plots on three transects. The team’s skilled eyes examine fruit, flowers and leaves using binoculars. Information is collected for both the canopy and the ground, on the number of ripe, unripe and rotten fruit, as well as the number of flower buds and open flowers and the number of new, old, dead and damaged leaves. The observational ability of the field assistants is amazing!

ITFC researcher observing a tree for phenology.

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

This project aims to link plant cues for flowering, fruit and leafing to climate change and plants’ responses to climate change. It is also relevant for agriculture as it can help inform farmers about pollination issues and timing of when to plant crops. Such general forest ecology knowledge is highly important for understanding the forest ecosystem and contributes greatly to other studies in Bwindi. It can, for example, inform about when certain food items as available for particular animals.

fruits and leaves of Olinia rochetiana (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

Fowers of Allophylus abyssinica (both photos by Andrew Kirkby)

 

The first analysis of the data is ongoing and Frederick aims to publish the results this year. Although the funding is coming to an end, the hope is that the value of this project will be recognised so that ITFC receives funding to continue this on a long-term basis.

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Lucy and Andrew