Category Archives: Media attention

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 🙂


The Forth ITFC/UWA Annual Information Sharing Workshop-A Huge success

Warm greetings from the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC). I take this opportunity to apologize for quite a long silence. Allow me to break this silence with a recent success story from ITFC.

At ITFC, we have a tradition of updating our partners in conservation with research information pertinent to the conservation of Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA) and other conservation areas. There is no better strategy of achieving this, than  the ITFC/UWA annual information sharing workshops.

This year’s and the forth of such workshops was held at the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park headquarters in Buhoma on Friday, 7th June 2013. The one-day workshop was organized by ITFC in close collaboration with the  Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), managers of the  BMCA. The idea behind these workshops is to bring together stakeholders and partners in conservation and development to review completed and on-going researches, share ideas, and identify current and future management research priorities for the BMCA.

The workshop themed “Research for park management” attracted 33 participants from eight  organizations. The organizations that participated in the workshop included; the UWA, ITFC, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Secretariat (GVTC), CARE-Uganda, Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT), International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP Inc.)

During the course of the workshop, twenty oral presentations were made. As the theme dictated, all talks shared results and updates on on-going and completed researches in and around the BMCA, with a special focus on their applicability to park management.  The workshop proceedings will soon be made available on  the ITFC website. Below I share  a pictorial from the workshop. Joseph Arinaitwe (Research and Monitoring Ranger for BMCA) provided all pictures.

Bwindi research and monitoring objectives

Bwindi  research and monitoring objectives presented by the BMCA Conservation Area Manager, Mr. Pontious Ezuma

The forth ITFC/UWA annual Information Sharing Workshop  participant group photo

The forth ITFC/UWA annual Information Sharing Workshop participant group photo

Pontious, Christopher and Robert listening to Teddy from Greater Virunga

Pontious, Christopher and Robert listening to Teddy from GVTC


Robert giving an overview of the completed and ongoing ITFC research activities in BMCA

Robert giving an overview of the completed and ongoing ITFC research activities


Yours sincerely,






Badru’s story nominated for a Film Festival Award!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 Ecosystem services along the boundary of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.





TEAM back from the field

Last week Badru Mugerwa, the Bwindi-TEAM site manager at ITFC, and a group of research assistants, came back from a stint of data collection for TEAM (Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network). If you have followed our blogs, you will already know about this as an international network of monitoring; operating in 17 tropical forests around the world.

Badru and team heading to the field site

TEAM has been running for four years in Bwindi and along with the climate stations and camera traps, there are six tree-monitoring plots around the park, containing a staggering 3281 trees at the last count. The recent data collection involved tree monitoring at three of these plots. While recruitment was noted, a number of losses were also apparent – a surprising number of unexplained dead stems were noted in one of the high-altitude plots, thought to be due to a fierce storm. Field work is never without interesting or unexpected events; during the tree monitoring  near Ruhija in December, the team was accompanied by a lone silverback for a day, feeding a mere 20 metres away.

Marking trees for measurements

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the global TEAM network, which was celebrated with the news that they had captured their 1 millionth camera trap image (of a jaguar in Manu National Park, Peru The TEAM network continues to provide high quality, standardised, long term data from tropical forest sites all around the world that is freely available to all. The data from Bwindi has so far been used in two university theses and published in 2 peer-reviewed journals (with a third article currently in review).

Recently TEAM produced a short movie about TEAM in Bwindi, check-out ‘Badru’s staory’!


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

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

Special visitors to ITFC: cyclists from Johannesburg!

Last weekend, two young South African guys arrived in Ruhija … on bicycles! Alex and Murray have cycled some 6000km now on a tour from Johannesburg to Nairobi that started in early February, an amazing feat! I took the photo below when they left Ruhija again, after two days of walking in the forest, birding along the road and having a good rest. They gave a talk at ITFC too, telling an astonished audience about their epic journey: slides of bicycles on a canoe crossing a small river, or being pushed on a very muddy track alternated those of people they met along the way. They were not just clocking up the kilometers: they hope to raise awareness (and funds!) for water needs along their route and visited many projects that bring water closer to communities. Sponsors pay them by the kilometer or when they reached the equator and already some 5000 U$ was raised.
Alex and Murray, posing in their RFCG T-shirts and about to set off in the direction of Queen Elizabeth National Park
And what were some of the lessons they learned about water provision in Africa?
“Providing water for people’s livelihoods is only partly an issue of infrastructure and availability, and culture and education are at least as important factors to take into account for successful water projects”, says Murray. “In Zimbabwe we actually saw some of the most successful examples: systems set up and managed by government, with locally produced pumps and taps that can be repaired in-country, a good management structure. They both feel that here in the SW of Uganda, there is a lot of potential for intelligent capture of rain compared to the much drier areas they passed through.
Alex, who is keen on birdwatching, said it had been a childhood dream to come to Bwindi and the Albertine Rift at large, knowing how rich in bird and other species the area is. His contacts with people of the Rare Finch Conservation Group (RFCG, see blog on the search for Shelley’s Crimson Wing, that ITFC hosted last year) resulted in them supporting the cycle tour. The RFCG suggested the team would pay us a visit to see what ITFC is and meet with Benson -who had led the Crimsonwing search. That all worked out!
Having seen so many different places and landscapes along their route, I asked them what was special for them about coming to Bwindi and both of them said without hesitation that it was the first place on the tour where they had felt to be in ‘Disney land version of tropical Africa’. Cycling the 13 km through the park, from Ndego gate to Ruhija they already saw l’Hoest monkeys, a black fronted duiker, Great blue turacoes and even a jackal along the road!
We wish Alex and Murray good luck and safe travels on the remainder of their journey, which will come to an end in Nairobi, in August.
If you want to follow these guys, have a look at the blog/website that they update regularly

Greetings, Miriam

The Press or the science journal? Where should a scientist look first?

As long ago as 2005, a Norwegian scientist published research findings in a science journal stating that the lives of people living on certain slopes of Mt. Elgon were in danger because of looming landslides. However, neither community members nor local authorities got this information early enough to migrate from danger. On the 1st March 2010, the settlement suffered from landslides that left 92 people dead, 300 people missing and 300,000 displaced.

“Just being able to conduct your research, write a thesis and publish a paper in a peer reviewed scientific journal isn’t enough. Most scientists are funded by the public, not by journals. Why then spend millions of public funds on a study, only to publish findings in a scientific journal and not in the relevant local press?” Martin Robbins of The Guardian (UK) mused.

Such is the tone of proceedings at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) science communication workshop, that took place in Nairobi last week. With about 25 science journalists and 7 communication officers (of research institutes) from various African countries, the main theme of the training was to equip journalists with a better understanding of science methods and skills to effectively report science. At the same time, it trained communication officers in ways to get research findings published in the mass media. INASP and their Nairobi partners – Information Africa Organization -facilitated the training. Media houses represented included Uganda’s Nation Group, New Vision and Observer, Namibia’s New Era, Nigeria’s Observer and Guardian and many others from Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia, Somalia and Kenya.

Science communicators from 9 African countries

Science communicators from 9 African countries

In one of the sessions, communication officers and journalists were asked to air their opinions about each other. Interesting  issues were raised:

  • Scientists and their communication officers only consider publishing in peer reviewed journals worthwhile and seldom consider contacting the local press about their study’s findings.
  • While writing press releases, there is a tendency for research communication officers to emphasize their institution’s image rather than the actual issue of the release.
  • Researchers are often uncooperative with the press. They only want to bring in journalists after publishing in a peer reviewed journal. Journalists on the other hand, feel they need to be informed from an early stage in the study.
  • When researchers contact the press, they often provide expert information that is hard to be interpreted by a common journalist.
  • Research institutes should outline duties and responsibilities for their communication officers that include attending to the public, through the media. Time and finances ought to be budgeted for this.

For over 6 hours, Owuor Otula (a veteran journalist and publisher of Science Africa) took us through drills of how to write publishable press statements, ways of managing excellent media relations, ways of regularly developing stories from research institutes to the mass media, and how to interest the mass media with the institutes’ researchers and studies. It was exciting!

The training closed with participants being awarded certificates and also being enrolled into a one-year mentoring program still aimed at enhancing the quality of science communication in Africa. This program is coordinated by INASP and the African Federation of science Journalists (AFSJ).

Certificates' award by AFSJ President

Certificates' award by AFSJ President

Going by the daily evaluations, our understanding and perceptions of science communication changed significantly during the training. Learning to communicate research better and to the right audience may be the basis for preventing fatalities such as the Mt. Elgon case mentioned above.

from a cool Nairobi?

Greetings from a cool (and confused?) Nairobi.


New Website on Africa’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites Launched

A new website about Africa’s World Heritage sites has just been launched.

This website contains information about some of the most spectacular natural places on Earth, as well as our most precious cultural heritage. From the pyramids of Egypt to the snows of Kilimanjaro, this website takes you to the heart of the continent, with the help of an unrivaled collection of some 4,000 stunning photographs, together with maps and information on each of Africa’s world heritage sites.
Our very own, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is included in the prime pages(

Publications and brochures related to the various  sites may also be downloaded rom the website.

With such a wealth of information provided, awareness about the conservation of these properties is hopefully enhanced.

Have you had the opportunity to visit a World Heritage Site? How do you view their conservation status?
Let us hear your thoughts.



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