Category Archives: local people

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

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

Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation (CTPA)

This week we are introducing the Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation (CTPA) project, run by Medard Twinamatsiko (ITFC’s Social Research Leader). This three-year integrated conservation and development (ICD) project, funded by The Darwin Initiative, is run jointly by The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), with support from Imperial College London and Cambridge University.

ICD schemes in the form of allocation of resource use in multiple-use zones are already in place in Bwindi; the CTPA project intends to build on this and support Uganda’s capacity to link biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation through research to better understand the drivers of unsustainable resource use in protected areas that are critical to the survival of endangered species (e.g. the Mountain Gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, in Bwindi). This understanding will then be used to shape policies and practices so that conservation is achieved while simultaneously supporting local livelihoods. The project ultimately aims to improve ICD policy in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and replicate the programme in other protected areas within Uganda in the future .

To gain some firsthand insights into the research phase, Andrew and I joined Medard on Monday to attend a meeting with CPI (Community Protected Area Institution) parish representatives. CPIs were developed to provide a link between communities, local governments and protected areas, and this meeting was to discuss the effectiveness of the scheme before the project was halted two years ago by UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority).

We made our way down from Ruhija to Ikumba to meet with Gerina, Alex and Mary, three CPI representatives. After the introductions took place, the discussion slipped into Rukiga, with Medard keeping us up to speed. The CPI representatives saw the scheme as highly important for integrating communities in conservation. They shared their personal experiences as CPI representatives, how the scheme could be improved, as well as any other ideas or recommendations they had.

 

Medard meeting with CPIs

Medard meeting with CPIs

Later in the day we joined-up with field researchers for CPTA, who were conducting household surveys of authorised and unauthorised resource users and their neighbours to elucidate the effectiveness of multiple-use zones, and how poverty might drive illegal activity. Arrests and details of unauthorised forest users are also documented, and through GIS mapping (thanks to Andrew’s GIS skills) maps are being generated to help illustrate these activities and reveal trends in the data.

CTPA researchers off to survey households

CTPA researchers off to survey households

ITFC field researchers collecting data for CTPA project

ITFC field researchers collecting data for CTPA project

 

‘Anybody addressing the fate of tropical forests must confront peoples’ needs and perceptions if they are to achieve equitable and acceptable conservation and land use outcome…’(excerpt from Ghazoul and Sheil, 2011. Tropical Rainforest Ecology, Diversity and Conservation). Watch this space for updates on this exceptional project as well as more news from ITFC.

 

Lucy & Andrew

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

Volunteering at ITFC

I have always believed that volunteerism is an act of Heroism. The four months spell as a volunteer at ITFC has had a great impact in my life. As a social worker, this is an opportunity for creating social cohesion and capital that are important for my career development.

It has always been my dream to work with local communities. My volunteer ship at ITFC has made this dream a reality. I have recently been assisting on the Batwa cultural values project as a research assistant. Through this project, I have been privileged to interact with Batwa communities.

Marion conducting interviews at one of the Batwa cultural sites in Mgahinga Mountain National Park

My fieldwork involves camping in  forest and with in Batwa villages. Fieldwork was initially challenging as it involves walking long distances in a rugged terrain and climbing steep hills.  Over time, I have found fieldwork very interesting and enjoyable. Interacting and socializing with local communities is very exciting. The Batwa men have always been so caring that they always give me a hand during the long and tough mountain climbs.

Marion being helped by a Mutwa man up the steep hill

Fieldwork comes with its benefits such as enjoying wild honey and berries during field trips. On the other hand, encountering a buffalo  during a  recent field execution in Mgahinga Mountain National park was very scary. I can’t forget the day we came back from the community interviews and we found our tents blown away by  wind. Frederick and the camp keeper rescued some of the tents. One tent was completely destroyed beyond repair. Tarpaulins were also torn into pieces. I have never seen such strong wind in my life. I was awake the whole night scared to be carried away in the middle of the night by strong blowing winds. Luckily, no tent was blown, and we shifted our camp to the next community. Till then, I will bring you more exciting stories from  Bwindi. Great to be part of ITFC community.

Marion enjoying wild honey with the Batwa.

Marion at ITFC

Kind regards,

Marion

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

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

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

A mountain gorilla in a banana plantation around Bwindi

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

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

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

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

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

Our best regards,

Badru and Robert

A 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

My wonderful experience with Batwa and their cultural sites in Bwindi

I have spent the last six months reading about the Batwa, camping near their homes, interviewing them, sharing meals and cracking jokes. Yes, you are reading right. Cracking jokes with Batwa. I have enjoyed the company of the Batwa mainly because of their great sense of humour and melodious songs.

Singing inside the Hagurofa Batwa cave in Rushaga

I guess you want to ask, “Batwa? Why spend time with them?” Well, Batwa deserve our attention because they have been marginalized for so long since their eviction from the ancestral home of Bwindi. As a result, they are struggling to cope with the strange way of life outside the forest which they reckon best suits non-Batwa.

Marion helps with interviewing a Mutwa woman inside the forest in Rushaga

Historically, Batwa are hunter-gathers. Their lives depended entirely on forest resources. Their legends, myths and beliefs attest to the strong connection that still exists between the Batwa and the forest. In addition, the many conversations I have had with Batwa have somehow ended up touching aspects of their cultural sites – swamps, hot springs, caves and hills – and plants and animals which were important for their wellbeing in the forest. They have repeatedly told me that they miss the forest. One woman had this to say, “We request you to allow us access to our forest so that we can see the homes of our grandparents.”

But do Batwa cultural sites in Bwindi still exist? The answer is a clear YES. See additional pictures below which were taken during the inspection of Batwa cultural sites in Bwindi by a team from ITFC, UOBDU – a Batwa organisation based in Kisoro – and UWA.

A Mutwa woman washing at the (women-only) hot spring in Kitahurira

A man standing inside a cave – which was open on one side – demonstrates how Batwa used to shoot animals during hunting expeditions

Group of Batwa women in Sanuriro enjoy their moment inside the cave

I will post more stories about Batwa and their culture soon. Watch this space.

Fredrick Ssali.

What were medical students doing at ITFC?

These last 5 weeks, ITFC had some special residents: 6 students of Mbarara University’s Department of Community Health were based at the Institute for their ‘Community Placement’ and worked with Ruhija’s Health Centre III. Yesterday they gave their final presentation at ITFC and said goodbye. We have enjoyed their company, enthusiasm and curiosity!

The team of six came from different medical education programs taught at MUST: Hashaka Alex and Anyindo Benson are 4th year students of Medical Laboratory Sciences, Odongokara George is a 4th year Bachelor’s student of Nursing Science Completion and Ariaka Herbert, Takusewanya Moureen and Nimanya Alice Stellah are 5th year Bachelor’s students of Medicine and Surgery.

Here they are: (f.l.t.r.) George, Benson, Stellah, Alex, Moureen and Herbert

IMG_1247.JPG

The students’ stay in Ruhija is called a ‘Leadership Development Project’, meant to expose medical students to the reality of community health work in a remote rural location, working as a team and taking up a challenge together. They started with assessing the status of health care in Ruhija, by spending time in the Health Centre and going around the community talking to people and looking at the availability of latrines and handwashing facilities. After about 2 weeks they listed what they saw as the main challenges and came up with a little project for improvement.

The Ruhija HC-III mostly receives patients with respiratory tract infections and allergies, as well as those for AnteNatal Care (ANC). The team observed that few couples come for HIV testing, that many households had no hand washing facilities near latrines, that people stock drugs (fearing shortage when they need it) and thus deplete supplies and waste a lot, that the uptake of family planning is low and that only 20% of women attending ANC come to the Health Centre for delivery.

IMG_1237.JPG

The students presenting the findings of their project to ITFC staff. Unfortunately the staff of the Health Centre and the Subcounty were missing.

The team took up that latest problem as their challenge: how to increase the percentage of women delivering in the Health Centre rather than at home.They organised sensitisation of ANC patients, subcounty staff and church goers to convince people of the importance of delivering in a safe environment.

All six said they had really enjoyed their stay in Ruhija, at ITFC particularly: “We were told we were placed at ITFC in a place ‘Buhija’ (sic) no-one had never heard of and arrived trembling what conditions we would find. We think we were so lucky, because staying at ITFC was very comfortable and we were made to feel at home from the first day”. June was quite cold, though, and the students were often seen all covered up in woolen hats and thick coats. “But then again, walking those steep slopes around here made us feel very warm”, said Herbert.

We look forward to receiving more such medical student teams from MUST! We found them very interested in our work too, with many questions asked about gorillas and working with communities in particular. For our staff, the students were a welcome enrichment of their social life!

Miriam