Category Archives: global issues

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

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

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

Game reveals complex links between poverty and threats to apes

Written by  Mike Shanahan

There were 50 ape experts in a room and a quick game to play to break the ice. “If you agree with the statement, go to the left side of the room,” said the facilitator. “If you disagree go to the right.”

She then unveiled eight simple words that split the room in two: “Local poverty is the main threat to apes.”

On the right side, speakers said the primary problem for orang-utans in Malaysia and Indonesia is not local people, that hunters there tend to target other species. It is the private sector that destroys the forests that both orangutans and local people depend on, added a third speaker, and this deforestation itself creates poverty.

Someone else added that it was the wealthier people from local populations, not the poor, who were encroaching on the national park he worked at in Indonesian Borneo.

A speaker from Democratic Republic of Congo said it was rich people in urban areas – not poor communities near forests — who fuelled the market for ape meat. Another from Cameroon said that in some places local people do hunt chimpanzees for meat but at such low levels that this is not a major threat – logging and mining activities that destroy ape habitat were bigger concerns.

The ape experts had gathered at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia for a three day workshop on the links between great ape conservation and poverty, because it just so happens that all of the world’s great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans – live near people who are poor.

The workshop, organised by IIED (where I work) and hosted by CIFOR on 11-13 January, was designed to share lessons learned in Africa and Asia and to identify practices that benefit both apes and local communities. And while the people on the right side of the room felt that local poverty was not the main threat to these apes, those on the left side of the room — mostly from Africa — disagreed.

People kills apes because they are poor, said one. Conservation creates costs to local people and this is an issue of justice, said another. If you solve local poverty you solve a lot of problems for great apes, added a third.

Of course, the statement itself was flawed – as the workshop organisers designed it to be. In reality, the situation varies from location to location and the many threats apes face are all interconnected.

My favourite answer, though, came from one of the Indonesian experts. He said that if the ‘poverty’ in the statement referred to a lack of money then the answer was no, but that if it referred to the mind and a lack of information, then the answer was yes.

As an ice-breaker, the contentious statement did its job well. It made me wonder… if every poor person who lives near an endangered ape was suddenly ten times richer, would the apes be safer or would they just face new threats that affluence and indifference can bring?

[*The workshop -- webcast here -- was organised as part of IIED's Poverty and Conservation Learning Group initiative with support from the Arcus Foundation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Great Ape Survival Partnership]

Mike Shanahan is a Press officer at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

Blog first posted on http://underthebanyan.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/game-reveals-complex-links-between-poverty-and-threats-to-apes/

Bombs, safety-nets and weeds …

Being Director of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation,  here in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, is a part time position for me (I share with Miriam). I have time to collaborate on other research projects. I thought I’d share three recently published studies that might interest you.   They are about, among other things, bombs, safety-nets and weeds …

When my colleagues and I first started to gather data about war residues (scrap metal) in rural Vietnam most people thought we had lost our focus. Why would forest researchers look at scrap metal? Our recent paper in the International Forest Review gives the answer – the collection of ex-war scrap, despite the very real danger of unexploded bombs, is the principle reason people now enter the forest. While in the forest they often collect, use and impact many other things. To download the paper for free see here. For some pre-coverage on Mongabay see here.

Discussions with local villagers in Khe Tran Vietnam revealed a rich knowledge of useful forest plants and animals — nonetheless the main reason people go to the forest is to collect scrap metal.

Another important study considers how forest dwelling communities in Indonesia (Borneo) cope with crisis – such as when their villages and fields are destroyed by floods. The answer, we find, is that they often make even more use of the forest for food, shelter and income. If the forest is damaged by logging or replaced by plantations people lose this safety net. To download the paper for free see here.

A big threat to natural and semi-natural ecosystems over large parts of the world comes from alien plants and animals that displace and disrupt the local communities (weeds!). Unfortunately these processes remain poorly recognised across much of the species rich tropics. In one recent ecological study I contributed data from Uganda to a global study of invasive plants. To download the paper for free see here.  I hope if we understand the problem better we can also deal with it better.

Best wishes

Douglas

Where are the Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) in Uganda?

Endemic bird areas (EBAs), defined by BirdLife International, are geographical areas home to at least two endemic bird species whose ranges (i.e with a world distribution of less than 50,000 km²) are restricted to a relatively small area. More than 70% of such species are also globally threatened with extinction. For this reason, EBAs should be high on our list of habitats to protect. Though the focus is on birds, however, the idea has great significance for the conservation of other species, and of biodiversity in general.

In 1998, the book Endemic Bird Areas of the World cemented the connection between endemic birds and biodiversity, and argued that it’s critically important to protect these areas: “At the ecosystem level, biodiversity underpins the ecological processes that are vital to human life, for example in influencing global climate patterns, in mediating the carbon cycle, in safeguarding watersheds, and in stabilizing soils to prevent desertification” (p. 13).

Birdlife International now recognizes 218 EBAs and lobbies for their conservation.

Uganda has parts of three EBAs.: the Albertine Rift Mountains (EBA 106), Eastern Zaire lowlands (EBA 107) and Kenya Mountains (EBA 109). There are 31 restricted-range species in Uganda, five of which categorized as Vulnerable: namely African Green Broadbill, Karamoja Apalis, Grauer’s Rush Wabler, Shelley’s Crimsonwing and Chapin’s Flycatcher.

The Shelleys Crimsonwing

The Shelley's Crimsonwing

The Albertine Rift mountains (classified Priority Urgent) has 36 restricted range species, 10 of which are threatened. It includes the Rwenzori Mountains (5010m ASL) and several other highlands in Southwestern Uganda (ranging between 2000 and 3500 m ASL) with wildlife protected areas namely: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Echuya Forest Reserve, and the national parks of the Virungas. The restricted range species include the monotypic endemic genera Pseudocalyptomena, Graueria and Hemitesia. They mostly range in montane forest, bamboo zone, highland swamps and Afro-alpine moorland.

Nectarinia stuhimanni is only known to range in the Rwenzori ranges.

Nectarinia stuhimanni is only known to range in the Rwenzori ranges.

The Ugandan portion of Eastern Zaire lowlands EBA (classified Priority High) lies in the northwestern sector of Semliki Forest (Semliki National Park) touching DRC’s great Ituri Forest. Semliki Forest is outstandingly rich in wildlife and internationally recognized: it contains half as many bird species as the entire DRC and nearly two thirds as many as the 181,000 km² of the Upper Guinea Forests. Globally threatened species (Near-threatened) here include the Great Snipe, White-naped Pigeon, Sassi’s Greenbul, Papyrus Gonolek and Forest Ground Thrush.

A section of the Rwenzori ranges habitat. The park contains 17 Albertine endemics.

A section of the Rwenzori ranges habitat. The park contains 17 Albertine endemics.

Uganda’s fraction of Kenyan Mountains EBA lies on the country’s portion of Mount Elgon extending for about 80 km north/south and 50 km east/west. On its slopes is a 900 km² forest extending across the Uganda-Kenya frontier, gazetted as Mount Elgon National Park on either side. The bird diversity totals 300 species (three confined to this EBA, and one near threatened species – Taita Falcon). The restricted range species include Francolinus jacksoni, Macronyx sharpie and Cisticola hunter.

Over 25% of all bird species (2561 species) have restricted ranges being confined to areas less than 5000 km². Of these 816 are threatened species, yet most (80%) of the 62 species that have gone extinct in the last 200 years had restricted ranges. 77% of EBAs are located in the tropics and subtropics.

From a global perspective, the most essential feature of EBAs is that they include important numbers of the globally threatened species in somewhat small regions, as well as vast numbers of other organisms. They deliver a chance for maximum conservation with minimum effort.

Further Reading/ Sources:

Endemic Bird Locations. BirdLife International.

Endemic Bird Regions of the Planet: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. Stattersfield, A. J., M. J. Crosby, A. J. Long et al. (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 7.) BirdLife International. 1998.

Ivan

Local communities – Friends or foe to conservation?

“We have lived with the wildlife since time immemorial. You were not here and yet we spared the forest. How come you are now the ones giving us instructions on how to conserve it?” This is one of the many challenging questions conservation managers have to face when dealing with communities neighboring conservation areas.

While the motivation for conservation of wildlife may seem quite obvious to many of us, they are not always the reasons that resonate with local communities. For example in the case of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the mountain gorillas and the big numbers of endemic species of wildlife in the park is perhaps a major motivation for conservation. For surrounding communities however, the motivations for conservation range from preserving of sacred worship sites in the park to having restricted hunting grounds for some species, and upholding the value of certain species for ornamental and fetish purposes.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The sharp boundary between the park and cultivation land reflects the continual tension between forest conservation and local communities

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The sharp boundary between the park and cultivation land reflects the continual tension between forest conservation and local communities

Many local communities still hold negative perceptions about official protected areas. They complain that the wild animals compete with their livestock for scarce grazing and water resources. Aside that is the risk of transmitting diseases to their livestock, frightening and harming them, and destroying their crops among other complaints. They also consider protected areas as land grabbed from them without having anything in return. Despite efforts by conservation managers to counter such perceptions through conservation education programs and revenue sharing protocols, very little seems to be of result.

Under the Multiple Use Program, communities are allowed restricted resource use harvest from some national parks (photo take from Bwindi)

Under the Multiple Use Program, communities are allowed restricted resource use harvest from some national parks (photo taken from Bwindi)

An example of interventions put in place by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) working with conservation NGOs (like CARE) and the local communities was the buffalo wall set up in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in a bid to stop crop raiding by wild animals from the park. However, unscrupulous community members purportedly had sections of the walls strategically brought down in order to cunningly seduce wild animals out of the park into their crop gardens. The unsuspecting wild animals (buffaloes, bush bucks etc) would then cross from the park to crop raid, only to be ensnared for a feast by the community members. Well invented. Isn’t it? Albeit, the same community members will complain about recurrent crop-raiding by the other (not worthy to hunt) animals and blow the coals live for compensation from the park managers.

A suspected poacher superbly armed for mission. This photo was taken by an ITFC/TEAM camera trap in Bwindi (December 2010).

A suspected poacher superbly armed for mission. This photo was taken by an ITFC/TEAM camera trap in Bwindi (December 2010).

Indisputably, by using indigenous mechanisms these communities have been able to conserve wildlife from ages immemorial, times when the present-day “new-fashion” conservationist was not anywhere in their vicinity.

What is the way forward then, when the local population believes that they are being denied what was freely theirs?

Conservation managers ought to realize that the local people must be considered and fully involved in the planning, management and utilization of wildlife resources if there is any hope to be for ecological stability of protected areas and sustainable socio-economic development of the local communities. Manager should therefore consider the use of integrated protective measures with a bias towards local people participatory approach. With both local and international support, intensive community conservation should be emphasized for the tangible benefit of the local people.

Nonetheless it worth noting that although such initiatives are being implemented by protected area management and conservation organizations, their methods, policies and attitudes (towards the local communities) often leave a lot to be desired with only flyspeck results on ground. Unless there is a total revision in the way this is done, local communities shall always seem as a burden rather than partners in conservation.

Let me know if you have any ideas.

Ivan

1 Dead Lioness, 3 angry factions, 1 mzungu

Today we have the honour to run a guest blog by Mark Laxer who visited ITFC recently. Mark is President and co-founder of Chimp-n-Sea Wildlife Conservation Fund, Mark Laxer invented virtual ecotourism–known as vEcotourism–a real-time, interactive educational system designed to mitigate ill effects of ecotourism. He is also author of The Monkey Bible.

In August, 2011, I traveled in western Uganda to a health clinic–the Kibale Health & Conservation Project–that serves as a model for improving park-people relations. Villagers feel anger toward the parks for a variety of reasons, including their inability to hunt or gather wood within park boundaries, and the fact that dangerous animals too often destroy their crops, livestock, and homes. The health clinic is a way to mitigate the anger. Supported in part by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the clinic provides accessible, inexpensive health care to people living near Kibale National Park. My wife and I help support the clinic. I had the opportunity to meet the nurses and observe the clinic and its outreach program in action. It seemed like a great idea though my understanding of park-people relations was in its infancy and I saw none of the anger I had heard so much about. I said goodbye to the clinic staff and continued the journey south to Ishasha.

Ishasha lies at the southern tip of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), Uganda, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is home to tree-climbing lions. I planned to meet a WCS lion researcher who I hoped would drive me around, show me his work, and teach me something about wildlife conservation.

I arrived at Ishasha at 2:30pm and checked into an UWA banda–a simple, round hut.

“Mustafa is expecting you,” the UWA ranger told me, “but he will be delayed. There is an emergency in the village.”

I left my things in the banda and ordered lunch. Thirty minutes later, Mustafa appeared. “There’s a lion in the village,” he said calmly. “It has attacked nine goats: three yesterday, six today. The villagers are prepared to kill it.”

The UWA rangers–armed with AK-47 rifles–sought to protect both the villagers and the lion. It was not in UWA’s interest to kill the lion. A good measure of Uganda’s economy depends on tourism revenue and a large percentage of tourists want to see lions. In Queen Elizabeth Park, 140 of them were still alive.

The villagers–armed with spears–had a different view. “I am going to kill the lion,” one villager had declared to an UWA ranger. “And when I am done, you can kill me.”

Mustafa explained the situation to me. “There’s not much time left,” he said.

UWA had tried to locate a functional dart gun and now it was our turn to try. We called Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a high-powered veterinarian and conservationist whom I had met with over breakfast that same day. I was sure she could make things happen but I quickly learned that in this part of the world dart guns and appropriate cartridges were a scarce commodity. We continued making calls. We grew increasingly impatient. 140 lions left. Human lives were at risk. The park-people issue had become more than an abstract model I had come to Africa to study. My heart pounded. My throat felt constricted. Kampala, where an appropriate dart gun had been located, was at least a seven-hour drive but we needed to act now. I wanted to offer to do something but didn’t know what to do.

Mustafa’s phone rang. The lion, which turned out to be a lioness, was dead. Come to the village, Mustafa was told, and pick her up.

Brian (who had driven me to Ishasha) and several UWA rangers got in the back of the Land Cruiser, I got in the passenger seat, and Mustafa drove about twenty minutes and pulled up beside the dead lioness who was surrounded by several hundred villagers.

“Keep smiling,” Mustafa told me as the crowd closed around the car. Many of the young men carried spears. Villagers pressed against the car. UWA rangers pushed them back and a shouting match ensued.

The villagers, furious that they wouldn’t be compensated for the loss of the nine goats, wanted to keep the lioness. UWA said no. The Ugandan military showed up and Mustafa, standing by the lioness, encouraged the three armed factions not to use force. Despite his calming influence, one could sense the shouting, resentment, and testosterone levels rising and Mustafa patted me on the back and said, “Please, Mark, get in the car.”

From inside the vehicle, I noticed the villagers staring at me, mzungu, the white foreigner. I learned later that many villagers think the parks are controlled by mzungu. I learned that many villagers think the twenty percent of park entrance fees that are supposed to come back to the villages never quite shows up.

I spoke with some of the men through the open window. I felt bad for the villagers. Nine goats seemed like a large loss. It didn’t seem fair that the parks, which generated the revenue, didn’t compensate for damage caused by roaming animals. Village children, women, and men had been put at risk. I thought of my wife and two children. How would I have felt had a powerful lioness been stalking my farmhouse in northern Vermont? I felt bad for the lioness. She was a beautiful creature and now there were 139 left. How long would it be before all the lions in Uganda were killed? I felt bad for the UWA staff. Caught between an angry lion and angry villagers, one got the sense they were underfunded and under appreciated.

Some photos  …

Mob justice brought her down. How long will it be before the remaining 139 face a similar fate?

Mob justice brought her down. How long will it be before the remaining 139 face a similar fate?

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Mustafa climbed in the vehicle, as did Brian, a few UWA rangers, an UWA liason officer (Warden In-Charge of Ishasha sector), and an UWA community conservation officer.

“Is it true,” I asked, “that villagers don’t get compensated for the loss of their goats?”

“Correct,” said the UWA liason officer. “UWA doesn’t do that.”

If UWA can’t compensate the villagers, I wondered, what about mzungu?

I asked each person in the car what they thought of the idea. Each agreed that if they had the money, they would do the same.

I climbed out and stood on the rear fender of the Land Cruiser and, with the UWA liason officer translating, spoke to the village.

“I came to Uganda,” I said, “to see the wildlife and to understand the culture. This is my first trip to Africa. I’m coming from the United States of America. I’m very sorry about what happened to the village, to the goats…and to the danger of your children, your women and your men. I salute UWA for trying to help in a very difficult situation. On behalf of my wife and I, and my four and six year olds, I would like to offer a gift to compensate the people who had the goats so that they’re compensated fairly for each goat. And to help the men who carried the lion from one place to another. I’m sorry that this happened and I hope that in the future we can have less of this sort of conflict where the wildlife is coming to your village and threatening your children and I hope that we can be very smart and come up with ways…to protect you and also to protect Uganda’s beautiful treasures–the people and the wildlife.”

I touched my heart and said, “Thank you.”

The villagers clapped, tempers cooled, and some of the men shook my hand.

That night, Mustafa, Brian, and I brainstormed over dinner ways to protect people and wildlife. Does one build fences around the parks? Isolating the park animals, genetically speaking, may not bode well for their futures. Fences can be hugely expensive and require ongoing maintenance. Multiple beehives forming an inexpensive virtual fence may repell elephants–and create honey–but would the bees repell lions? Buffalo? Hippos? Does one build fences around livestock and crops instead? The situation was complex.

Dinner was over and we had more questions than answers. Why aren’t villagers compensated for loss from wildlife incursions? Why aren’t there more dart guns accessible to villages bordering the parks? What kind of fence or virtual fence makes sense?

The next morning, Mustafa drove me around, showed me his work, and we continued to brainstorm the park-people issue. The education and the adventure had just begun.

by Mark Laxer

Africa’s first GLORIA sites established on the Mountains of the Moon

Dear esteemed reader,

We are glad to be back from establishing the first GLORIA (Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments) sites in Africa – on the Rwenzori (popularly known as the Mountains of the Moon) and Elgon mountains.  You will have seen some of the earlier pictures from Rwenzori.

Frost, snow, hailstones,freezing temperatures, strong winds, heavy rains and mist – all combined, formed some of the hardships we endured on these intriguing mountains, we could not avoid but wallow in deep bogs, endure bouts of high altitude sickness as well as labour to catch some sleep!!! If it was not for the encouragement of our experienced guides, we may as well have given up before reaching our camps. Nonetheless, the expedition was so exciting that we will live to remember the mind-blowing sight of the spectacular snow-capped peaks, the extensive and gentle calderas and the days we huddled around the charcoal stove just to get some warmth.

GLORIA targets high mountain regions because of their similar climatic conditions across the globe. This makes it possible to compare climate-induced changes worldwide. In addition, mountains host high diversity of plants and animals, many of which can only survive at such high altitudes characterized by low temperatures. Low-temperature limits of plant life on high mountains are considered to be particularly sensitive to climate change. Therefore, potential biodiversity losses caused by climate change may be more pronounced for mountain ecosystems compared to ecosystems of lower altitudes. More still, high mountain environments comprise real wilderness habitats with ecosystems undisturbed by direct anthropogenic influence. Our study will contribute to the global data base which will allow for comparisons of climate change impacts across continents.

This long term monitoring initiative is being implemented in areas where these changes are expected to occur fastest. One hundred twenty eight 1m2 permanent sampling quadrants were established at eight mountain tops (GLORIA Summits) on both sites. Within the quadrants, plant species composition and abundance were assessed. The quadrants were also photographed to provide an overview of plant cover. The summits were geo-referenced using the Global Positioning System (GPS). These high altitude plots were established from 4000 meters ASL. Thirty two data loggers (four at each summit) were installed in the ground to record soil temperature. By comparing plant species composition and soil temperature records, we will get a better understanding of the influence of global warming on plant migrations to higher elevations. All these summits will be re-measured after five years.

The good news is that in Rwenzori some peaks still have glaciers. However, these glaciers are receding fast. One of our experienced guides, John Muhindo told us that there were glaciers even at Elena Hut (about 4500m ASL) in the 1970s. During our fieldwork from the same point, the glaciers appeared to have receded some 300 meters high-up the mountain. We think this could largely be attributed to climate change.

We are proud to pioneer this type of research in Africa. Our team of enthusiastic scientists included ITFC’s Badru Mugerwa, Robert Barigyira and Fredrick Ssali; WCS botanist Ben Kirunda; UWA rangers Abel Basikania, Erick Mulewa, Alfred Masereka, Joseph Wasike, James Matanda, Patrick Muzaale, Alex Salim, Francis Musobo and Mike Mazune. Special thanks go to our trainers Anton Seimon, Stephan Halloy and Mariana Musicante for demonstrating to us the GLORIA methods.

Below are pictures to highlight our GLORIA fieldwork in Rwenzori and Elgon;

Heading for GLORIA field work above 4000 m ASL: the Rwenzori GLORIA team leaves Guy Yeoman hut for the base camp at Kitandara camping ground

Plot established: This GLORIA summit was established near Elena hut at about 4500m ASL in Rwenzori

Another plot established: this GLORIA summit was established at about 4200m ASL in Rwenzori

Men at work: Salim B. Alex (with a pointing stick), Joseph Wasike (middle) and James Matanda identifying plants in the sampling grid of a high altitude GLORIA summit in Elgon

At work: Mulewa Erick (left holding tape on string), Badru Mugerwa (right with black jacket holding clipboard) and Robert Barigyira (in green walking along the tape) record plants in a GLORIA summit of Elgon

One of the GLORIA summits in Elgon with string delimiting the sampling sections: the field team shelters data sheets from a drizzle in misty weather

All smiles… Badru and I after establishing GLORIA plots in Rwenzori

Cheers,

Badru Mugerwa and Fredrick Ssali