Category Archives: illegal

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

A research to policy approach for reducing illegal activities in Bwindi

Remember the questions raised in Badru’s blog on poachers and hunting dogs? These questions are now being addressed by the new  ITFC’s  project- Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation (CTPA). CTPA project is a conservation and development social research project funded by  Darwin initiative in collaboration with the International Institute of Environment and Development in UK.

ITFC and ACODE are leading the research and policy components of the project respectively.  The Jane Goodall Institute, FFI, CTPH, BMCT,ICGP and village enterprises are the other partners involved on the project.

The overarching goal of CTPA project is to improve Integrated Conservation and Development (ICD) guidelines in Bwindi and see possible replication to other Protected Areas. It will therefore focus on unauthorized resource use in Bwindi by looking at the profiles and motivations of illegal resource users. The assumption is, despite previous and ongoing ICD interventions in Bwindi, illegal activities have continued to take place. This can be answered by a well grounded research which is evidence based on targeting the verified unauthorized resource users with a major focus on bushmeat hunters (see Badru’s recent blog on poaching).

So far, interesting steps have been achieved, a monthly arrest form was designed and now implemented by UWA rangers to collect field data. Several people have been caught to be illegally accessing resources in Bwindi. We are yet to identify their profiles and motivations. We have also documented contextual data on places more affected by illegal activities in Bwindi. We anticipate more findings vital for UWA’s park management and to the questions that motivates illegal resource access in Bwindi. ITFC will be attempting to answer these questions during the next three years of the project’s lifespan. The images below provide  some examples of  the illegal activities in Bwindi.

Poaching is a major conservation threat in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. A duiker trapped in a poacher’s snare

Freshly cut tree for poles used for house construction around  Bwindi

Tea harvesting baskets (red arrows) made out of an illegally accessed woody climber  from Bwindi. This woody climber continues to be illegally harvested from the National Park due to its hard wood and durability.


Yours sincerely,

Medard, Badru and Robert

Poachers and hunting dogs on Bwindi’s candid cameras

Remember my last blog about our camera trap photos of the mystery duiker in Bwindi? Our camera trap images are never short of surprises. Unfortunately, some of these surprises come with sad stories to tell. In December 2010, we presented to you the first line-up of poachers ‘culprits’ in Bwindi (see Homo sapiens). This time around, I include the non-human version – the hunting dogs.

Duikers (small forest antelopes) and bush pigs continue to be targeted by poachers in Bwindi. Our images call for an understanding of the drivers and motivations of poaching in Bwindi. Some of the crucial questions include; what incentives do poachers derive from poaching? Is it really worth the risks of arrests, fines and imprisonment? These and other questions have puzzled many conservationists and park managers; yet, answers have remained elusive for decades. ITFC is currently running a socioeconomic study to understand the motivations of poaching and other illegal activities in Bwindi. We hope that this study will generate results and recommendations vital for addressing the threat of  illegal activities in Bwindi.

Some interventions by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and its partners to end poaching have included law enforcement efforts and local people livelihood improvement. The latter has been through supply of livestock (pigs and goats) as alternatives to bush meat. Conservation and development NGO’s have also implemented several household income generating projects. Despite of these interventions, poaching remains a big threat to park management and biodiversity conservation.

Two months ago, our camera traps captured two men with spears and machetes as well as bags (probably for carrying bush meat). Our cameras also recorded hunting dogs at five different locations. Furthermore, Job Nahabwe (a Park ranger assigned to the TEAM Network activities in Bwindi) retrieved two live snares during our recent field trip. We also managed to disorganize a pack of over 30 hunting dogs and poachers on the same trip.

We are happy that our TEAM Network camera trapping activity continues to generate data vital for park management and conservation. These images are important contributions towards the ongoing discussions of ending poaching in Bwindi. Your thoughts on what can be done to stop or reduce poaching will be very appreciated. Below I present to you a line-up of the wrongdoers, in both human and non-human forms. Faces of the former have been censored for security reasons.


Yours sincerely,

Badru Mugerwa

The culprits-poachers holding spears and bags running past the camera trap

A hunting dog on one of the camera traps

On duty- four hunting dogs on Bwindi candid cameras

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?


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

Mountain Gorilla Killers convicted, fined $20 and $40

We have just received an official statement from UWA (the Uganda Wildlife Authority) that the three men charged with the killing of Mizaano, the only black-back in Habinyanja group (see our past news) have been fined $20 and $40. This blog is based on UWA’s official text.

UWA with the help of the Uganda Police sniffer dogs managed to track and arrest the suspected killers in Karambi Trading center, Kanungu District. In addition, machetes and spears soiled with blood (purported to be) Mizaano’s were discovered from the suspects’ homes. Subsequent examinations on Mizaano’s body revealed that the gorilla had been speared in the lungs, which eventually caused its death.

Everyone round the world waited to see a deserving punishment for the killers and the court process took its toll. To our dismay however, the presiding magistrate almost dismissed the case for lack of strongly incriminating evidence to specifically link the men to the death of the mountain gorilla. On the premise that there was never a DNA test carried out to link the blood on the spears and machetes to the dead mountain gorilla, the magistrate found no absolute evidence to link the death to the men. Besides neither was UWA invited to render the necropsy results in court nor were the doctors who carried out the post mortem invited to give their testimony. The magistrate also noted that neither of the accused was found at the scene of crime.

In fact, two of the men could only be found guilty of resisting arrest (each with a fine of Uganda shillings 50000 or $20), while the other could only be charged with possession of weapons presumed capable of harming wildlife and illegal park access with a fine of Uganda shillings 100,000 (about $40).

Highly endagered and rare - there are just slightly about 780 mountain gorillas remaining on earth (D. Sheil)Highly endangered and rare – there are about 780 mountain gorillas  on earth (D. Sheil)

How much do we really care about the mountain gorillas? Do we really care that there are just about 780 mountain gorillas remaining on earth?

In 2009,  gorilla tourism raised $225m, providing 37% of Uganda’s annual earnings from tourism, and more than half of the wildlife authority’s internally generated revenue. The same year, about 842,000 tourists visited Uganda, and a majority of them visited the gorillas. Gorilla tourism in Uganda alone employs about 5,000 people in tours and travel, while national tourism accounts for 17 percent of available job opportunities countrywide.

All told, we have a 12-year old mountain gorilla, a highly endangered rare species killed by humans in a protected area, leaving the Habinyanja group with 16 individuals and without any other black backs to lead them. In 2009, a mountain gorilla (while ranging outside the park) was accidentally killed by a woman who threw a stone at it in an attempt to chase the mountain gorilla back into the forest. And in the early 1990s, four mountain gorillas were killed at the hands of poachers on the Ruhija side of the park.

How frustrating to be on one side viewing the conservation of the mountain gorillas as a top priority and therefore throw in all you can to achieve your best, yet on the other side things just seem not to be happening at all.


Could poachers have hunted Bwindi’s Leopards to extinction?

Hunting poses a major threat to many large mammals.  It can also have a lasting impact. Just last month, a black-back mountain gorilla (in Bwindi) was brutally speared to death by suspected poachers for a reason that it had attacked their hunting dog. With only a few hundred animals it wouldn’t take much hunting to drive these gorillas to extinction — and they would be gone forever.  Even now in one of Africa’s best protected forests we see the shadow of hunting.  Some impacts though may be less obvious.

The solitary leopard is extremely difficult to spot in the wild. It is renowned for its sharp vision and keen sense of hearing, and for its ability to avoid detection. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most prominent forests in Africa in terms of mammal diversity, supporting at least 120 known species. The park supports Elephants, Bush Pigs, Giant Forest Hog, Black-fronted Duiker, Yellow-backed Duiker, Clawless Otter, Side-stripped Jackal, Civet and numerous other species although it’s most prominent for the rare Mountain gorilla.

Although the park covers 321 km²  and a broad altitudinal range (1160 – 2600 m) several notable large mammal species are absent (buffalo and leopard) or only have a restricted range (elephant, giant forest hog and bushbuck). Recent photographs from our camera traps set in different zones of have only revealed the Golden cat to be the largest cat in the park.  So what about leopards?  Why don’t we have any?

The Golden Cat  (from our recent camera traps in Bwindi)

The Golden Cat (from our recent camera traps in Bwindi)

Northeast of Bwindi, just about 30 km away in Maramagambo forest (ranging between 900 – 1050 m ASL), the five species mentioned in the previous paragprahp are al still present — leopards included. Bwindi’s northern most forest part which is closest (30 km) to Maramagambo is at 1050 m ASL. These two forests therefore were probably once connected and it seems reasonable to suppose that leopards like the other four species in Maramagambo once occupied Bwindi.

A study by Pitman (1935) reported that leopards had been seen in Bwindi in 1933/1934. Another ecological survey of Bwindi (Thomas Butyski 1984) indicated that they had last been seen by local communities in the early 1950s ranging in the Northern sector of the park and that they had disappeared from the Southern sector in about 1972. This survey also indicated very low densities of leopard prey species such as duikers, bushbucks, wild pigs and giant forest hogs. This was largely due to heavy poaching of these species. These low prey densities may have indirectly exterminated the leopard though poaching could also have had a direct negative effect on leopards. (We acknowledge that some authorities, including Jonathon Kingdon, do not accept these past leopard records as well founded and do not believe there is any good evidence that these cats persisted/existed in Bwindi in recent decades or even centuries).

At the time of the 1972 survey  poaching was still common and widespread. About 45% of the people who entered the forest were conducting illegal acts there (mainly removal of wood, bamboo, livestock forage, minerals, honey and meat).

People should know that a leopard’s skin is more valuable on a living animal than it is on a wall. In their hunt for the beautiful skins, profit and food, poachers threaten more than the animals they are hunting for. They also threaten to destabilize entire ecosystems by removing a top predator which would have dramatic consequences for a host of species lower on the food chain. It is certainly because there are no leopards to keep populations of baboons in check, for instance, that we now have rampant crop raiding around some areas near Bwindi.


Update on Habinyanja blackback killed by poachers

A couple of weeks ago I promised to keep you updated on the death of Mizaano from the Habinyanja Mountain Gorilla group. Well I just talked to the senior warden in charge (Acting Conservation Area Manager) of the park who confirmed that suspects have been arrested but are currently denying all charges. The legal process will now takes its course and may take some time to complete.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is probably one of the best protected National Parks in Africa — but these recent events remind us that very real threats are never far away. Conservation success remains fragile and requires our vigilance.

A vulnerable existence: Mountain gorilla Bwindi. Douglas Sheil ITFC

The Uganda Wildlife Authority has posted an official release on the Mizaano event. This remains the best summary of what is known at this point in time. Let me quote it in full:


Friends of critically endangered Mountain Gorillas are mourning the brutal death of Mizaano (meaning playful) on Friday June 17 2011, of Habinyanja Family, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park(BINP) who has been the only blackback in the group.The carcass of the stocky gorilla who had been in line to succeed Makara the reigning silverback was discovered by the trackers on Friday morning with a spear wound in the right side of the shoulder.

Preliminary findings from a post mortem carried out by doctors from the Conservation Through Public Health indicates that the gorilla died a brutal death because it was killed by a spear through the right side of the shoulder into the lungs that got suffocated to death. It is probable that the dogs tried to fight off the gorilla and in the process the black back must have fought the dogs, and realizing that their dogs are their life line, the poachers decided to save them by killing the gorilla. Uganda Wildlife Authority which is charged with the protection of the mountain gorillas is working with security and other partners in conservation to bring the suspected culprits to book and end the vice of poaching.
It is believed the poachers had laid traps targeting other animals in the forest including the antelopes which ended up netting the gorilla.
Last year, a poacher’s wire snare which caught an infant gorilla round its neck in Nyakagezi Group of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, almost ended its life before the intervention of Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project Staff to remove the snare.
We hope to have more positive stories soon!
Best wishes

Sad news from Bwindi

We received some sad news last Saturday. One of Bwindi’s mountain gorillas (a black-back male called “Mizano”) in the Habinyanja group was found dead. It appears the animal might have been speared — but we have heard so many different stories already we shall wait to hear the official conclusions from the Uganda Wildlife Authority who are now investigating.

The Habinyanja family had 17 gorillas leaving 16 now. An official postmortem has already taken place and we hope to hear more soon.

Mountain gorilla — with less than a thousand animals left alive on the planet they are highly endangered

We’ll keep you informed when the official accounts are available.


Are medicinal plants collected around Ruhija?

Dear readers,

This is Christopher again. I have just finished fieldwork around Ruhija, near ITFC. We have plots in the forest that were set up for monitoring harvested plant resources. Remember, the Uganda Wildlife Authority made Multiple Use (MU) agreements with local communities to let them have access to the park for collecting important plants or keeping beehives in restricted areas. ITFC was given the task of monitoring the MU program, together with UWA, more than a decade ago (see interview with Robert Bitariho). Three plants that are in high demand were selected for close monitoring. ITFC samples those in permanent plots along transects that are marked with stones at the start and at the end and can thus be revisited every year.

I was with the team that normally carries out the monitoring of the MU program, all around the park. The team consisted of me, Savio, Damazo as field assistants, Joseph Mukasa the volunteer, and the casual workers Peter and Ben.


From left to right: Peter, myself, Savio, Philemon, Ben and seated is Damazo

In Ruhija area, local people used to keep beehives in the forest before Bwindi was made a national park in 1991. That’s why their MU agreement is for bee keeping. This means, unfortunately, that basketry materials, medicinal herbs and useful vines may not be harvested legally around Ruhija. We still monitor two selected plants in this area, because we can then compare them with areas where plant harvest is allowed. So the plots set up in Ruhija are to act as controls (i.e. a reference for comparison).

During this field trip, we noticed that two of the monitored plants (Ocotea usambarensis and Rytigyinia kigeziensis; their bark treats worms and abdominal aches) were actually showed evidence of being heavily harvested. In some instances the plants were ring-barked (all bark around the stem removed) and this may kill them. The two medicinal plants are highly valued by the local people for their medicinal qualities and this is the reason they are harvested illegally.

ring bark.jpg

Heavy bark removal of Ocotea


Damazo uses a gauge to measure the bark’s thickness

After the bark removal, the plants should be left to heal before more bark is harvested. If not, the trees might dry up completely since the bark is essential for tree.  So too much bark removal can harm and even kill the plants.


And Ben shows the debarking of a Rytigyinia vine

ITFC and UWA could make more information from research available to local communities involved. Only with awareness and a good attitude of local people, the valuable resources will be conserved.

I normally enjoy my field trips in the forest with ITFC. Every day I come across new things and learn about the forest. I hope to see many more beautiful things in Bwindi and will blog about them to share it with you in future. Come to Bwindi and see it for yourself!


Bwindi on candid camera 15 – Homo sapiens

I now present the last pictures selected from over 15,000 images from our TEAM camera trapping exercise. This one thankfully seems rare as it was only recorded by one camera at one point. That’s what camera traps are for; to reveal the elusive, secretive and rare species in the forest. I am talking about Homo sapiens (but the sub-taxa ‘poacher’, usually operating in small groups).

Poaching is a threat to biodiversity conservation. In Bwindi, poachers set up snares to trap animals like duikers and bush pigs, mostly to feed their families, though some reports of bush meat trade around Bwindi have been received too. This appears to be mostly trade between poverty stricken poachers and wealthier community members. Some others may participate in poaching and bush meat trade for cultural reasons. Non-targeted animals such as gorillas, jackals and chimps have fallen victim to this ruthless activity.

Snares are wire loops on strings tied to bent stems, and are triggered when an animal steps into the loop. The bent stem jerks the snare, which lifts the animal off its feet. We have shown poaching evidence in Bwindi in our previous blogs (see “Snares still kill in Bwindi”). Poaching is an illegal activity in Uganda with imprisonment as the punishment. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers and researchers always deactivate active snares when they encounter them in the forest.

Camera trapping has provided us with a line-up of the culprits. It’s worth mentioning that these pictures are publically available (via the TEAM website ) and are in any case coowned by UWA as the camera trapping is a joint activity with them. Therefore, UWA, or anyone else, might use the photographs to find the poachers. Interestingly, we have already heard stories from villagers that “ITFC researchers provide UWA with pictures of poachers”. Like all such rumours this may negatively affect our relationship with the communities. As a conservationist, I understand the devastating impacts of poaching and bush meat on biodiversity. On the other hand, however, poachers gain a considerable amount of benefits from this activity. This leaves me with one obvious question. What is ethical?

I am glad to present you the first pictures of Bwindi poachers (faces censored for security reasons).


The first man to walk into our ‘trap’


Just an early morning stroll in the forest? But …


… note the knife (called a panga in most of Uganda) and the spear


It is almost like this man is smiling for the camera, however in the next photo


…it is kind of clear that this man is trying to find out what the strange device tied to the tree is.

Best regards from Bwindi,

Badru Mugerwa