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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

ITFC hosts a successful an eight-day international summer field school

Three months of intense preparations by ITFC pulled- off a fantastic first-ever-international summer school to be hosted on its campus. The Volkswagen Foundation financed summer school attracted over thirty participants from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Germany, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) jointly organized the summer school with the Universities of Frankfurt and Giessen from Germany.

Participants were trained in practical research methods and techniques of freshwater ecology assessment. Participants also enjoyed several guided walks through the dense and rugged terrain of the beautiful Bwindi. Notable was a steep and a very wet walk to the Mubwindi swamp, where participants got soaked from an afternoon heavy downpour. Other visited sites included River Munyaga, which is located in the northern part of the park; only a few minutes walk from the national park headquarters. Participants collected water samples, which they carried back to the ITFC for laboratory analysis.

The international summer school was closed off in a fun style on Sunday, 8th December 2013 with entertainment from the Batwa cultural dance and drama group. The renown ITFC DJ, then wrapped up the evening with a variety of dance music that kept many glued on the dance floor till late. No wonder, several of the summer school participants described their eight-day stay at ITFC as “memorable”. Below is a pictorial highlight of the summer school events.

Participants preparing water samples for laboratory analysis

Participants preparing water samples for laboratory analysis

A participant at work in the ITFC laboratory

A participant at work in the ITFC laboratory

The Batwa cultural dance and drama group entertaining participants

The Batwa cultural dance and drama group entertaining participants.

Yey, party time!!

Yey, party time!!

Cheers,

Badru

 

 

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

An international Field school comes to ITFC

The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation will again be at the center stage later this year when it hosts an international summer field school. The summer school is jointly organized by Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), and the Universities of Frankfurt and Giessen from Germany. The Volkswagen Foundation finances the summer school.

Themed “Understanding Freshwater Ecology as the Basis for Sustainable Ecosystem Management”, the summer school will train graduate students in practical research methods and techniques of freshwater ecology assessment. The students will visit different aquatic sites in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi). The summer school participants will also visit the different Batwa communities around Bwindi.

Thirty-five participants including students and lecturers from Uganda, Germany, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania will take part in the summer school. The school, second of its kind, to be hosted at ITFC will take place from 01-09 December 2013. Below are pictures of some of the ITFC facilities which will be used by the summer school.

The student's dormitory at ITFC

The student’s dormitory at ITFC

A well stocked library at ITFC

A well stocked library at ITFC

The ITFC herbarium

The ITFC herbarium

I will be following the summer school events very closely. Please keep visiting http://bwindiresearchers.wildlifedirect.org for real-time updates from the summer school.

Best wishes,

Badru

ITFC hosts the Annual Ranger Based Monitoring workshop

From 11 to 13 September 2013, ITFC hosted an annual Ranger Based Monitoring (RBM) workshop in Ruhija. The workshop was organized and funded by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). The aim was to share experiences with the RBM system in the Greater Virunga Massif and Bwindi protected areas. The RBM system employs field rangers to collect data crucial for protected area management. The RBM is thus, a basic management tool for ecosystem monitoring in the Virunga and Bwindi ecosystems. The RBM has been running in the massif for 15 years since 1998. The two-day workshop attracted several wildlife park managers, veterinary doctors and researchers from Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Below, I gladly share some of the workshop highlights.

UWA Senior Warden John Justice Tibesgwa officially opening the workshop.

The UWA Senior Warden John Justice Tibesigwa officially opening the workshop.

What an attentive audience?

What an attentive audience?

Anna Behm Masozera (IGCP director) giving a plenary at the workshop

The IGCP director, Anna Behm Masozera  giving a plenary at the workshop

Best wishes,

Badru

Badru’s story nominated for a Film Festival Award!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 Ecosystem services along the boundary of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Sincerely,

Badru

 

 

Bwindi’s wild bananas

It’s one of those times of year at ITFC when everyone is busy analyzing and writing up their completed research and we chose this opportunity to talk to Frederick Ssasli about his interesting study conducted on the little known wild banana species (Ensete venticosum) in Bwindi.

The objective of his study  was to investigate the ecology of the wild banana by recording the animals that visited and utilised the plant’s fruit and flowers. Most fruiting plants in Bwindi are seasonal, however these wild bananas are special as they fruit and flower all year round, possibly providing a reliable ‘fall back’ food source for animals. Little is known about wild bananas and even less in Bwindi, so Frederick expected some exciting results.

A convenient site was chosen less than a kilometre from ITFC’s premises. Ten camera traps were set up, each on a different tree, five focusing on the flowers and the rest on the fruit. The study ran from 2011 to 2012 in the months of November to April and has just come to an end. 

Now for the results, what everyone had been waiting for! The most frequent visitors to the fruit included L’hoste monkeys, baboons, squirrels and mice which were viewed feeding on the ripe bananas, or in the L’Hoeste’s case, humorously squabbling over them (as they often do). The flowers’ visitors included some nectarivorous birds in the day and lots of bats (which are yet to be identified to the species level) and mice during the night. Even more interesting was the presence of the predatory two-tailed palm civet (Nandinia binotata) which was captured on several occasions visiting the flowers and in one case with a mouse in its mouth!

Two-spotted palm civet after catching a mouse

Two-spotted palm civet after catching a mouse

Bat on banana flower

Bat on banana flower

L’Hoest’s monkey on banana fruit

This study has set the stage for further research at Bwindi to find out more about these inter-specific relationships and to test the list of hypotheses stimulated by each camera picture. There are also some interesting implications for crop raiding. Could the conservation of wild bananas help in preventing increased crop-raiding incidents by providing an alternative food source in the low fruiting season? Could the wild banana be a new keystone species (a species which has a large effect its environment and that many species rely on)?

We hope to see some interesting papers in the near future!

On a side note this is our (Lucy and Andrew’s) last blog. We hope you enjoyed them!

squirrel on wild banana

squirrel on wild banana

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 http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0214-hance-camera-trap-million.html). 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’! http://bdsjs.com/client/ci/.

 

Lucy & Andrew

The search for Bwindi’s River Otters

As we set off, through the tea plantations, past the abrupt transition to tropical forest (as is often the case around Bwindi), the heavens opened up on us with the force of a true tropical storm. We continued our wet, slippery journey down to the Ishasha river (along with numerous comical slips and disappearances down holes), in the hopes we might find what we were looking for… a picture of an otter!

Frederick looking at the impressive tree ferns

Frederick looking at the impressive tree ferns

Otters have previously been recorded in Bwindi between 1990s and 2000. A social study in 2000 by Andama Edward on the ‘Status and distribution of carnivores in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park’, identified that local people around Bwindi knew of two species of otter, the Clawless otter (Aonyx capensis) and the Spot necked otter (Lutra mavulicollis), however there has yet to be a camera trap photo to confirm this.

Frederick Ssali (ITFC’s research officer) is undertaking a study which aims to camera trap in areas not being done by ITFC’s TEAM project, investigate the ecology of Bwindi’s otters and other aquatic and semi aquatic animals, as well as open up the area to further research. The study, which started in 2001, also plans to use water quality as a factor that could influence the distribution and presence of the different species.

Setting up the camera traps

Setting up the camera traps

So far, the otter team have conducted six camera trapping sessions along the Ihihizo river at the ‘neck’ of Bwindi, but were unlucky and didn’t catch a glimpse of any otters. However, they still found an abundance of wildlife including the African Golden Cat, African Civet, Bush Tailed Porcupine and Yellow Backed Duiker. The team then changed their location to the larger Ishasha river (where we went) and have been camera trapping along its steep banks.

Camera trap picture of an African Golden Cat

Camera trap picture of an African Golden Cat

 

After 10 camera trapping sessions and still no sign of an otter (although an exiting glimpse of a long tailed pangolin), the team plans to move their study site somewhere closer to home (Ruhija).

Let hope that, in the future, we can report that the otters have finally been spotted!

The Ishasha river flowing through Bwindi

The Ishasha river flowing through Bwindi

Andrew & Lucy

ITFC end of year party

ITFC’s 2012 end of year party finally arrived! A little overdue, due to the hard work taking place, but still full of celebration and fun. The party was not just about celebrating the end of 2012 and the start of 2013, but also congratulating ITFC’s very own Ag Director, Dr. Robert Bitariho, who recently completed his PhD on the “Socio-economic and ecological implications of local peoples use of Bwindi Forest in South Western Uganda”!

Dr. Robert Bitariho after his graduation in his academic doctorate gown

Dr. Robert Bitariho after his graduation in his academic doctorate gown

The party took place on an unusually warm (for Rhuija) and sunny day. The smell of good food was wafting into the forest as the ITFC common room filled up with staff and guests.

Special guests included: Aureliano Katabazi (Parish chief for Ruhija) representing the L.C. 3 Chairperson for Ruhija; Andrew Ainebyoona (In-charge for Ruhija Health Center III), David Nyesigire (In-charge for Ruhija Health Center II), Felix Turyamureba (L.C. I Chairman for Katoma village), Aggrey Good (Health Assistant from Ruhija sub-county), Kenneth Kiconco (UWA Accounts Clerk for Ruhija out-post) and UWA rangers; Edward Friday, Manfred Kabarangira, Jimmy Byaruhanga, Job Nahabwe and Josephat Baryahebwa.

MC Fredric starting the party off with introductions

MC Fredric Ssali starting the party off with introductions

The party started off with introductions by MC Frederic Ssali (see above) , followed by an amazing meal prepared by a collection of ITFC’s best chefs. Even with plates piled high, there was still plenty left for seconds! Speeches commenced, and all were full of gratitude, positivity and humour. Those who gave speeches included: Aggrey Good who spoke on behalf of the sub-county chief of Ruhija, Kenneth Kiconco who spoke on behalf of the warden for Research and Monitoring, Narsensius Owoyesigire gave a speech on behalf of all the ITFC junior staff, Desi Tibamanya (Officer of finance and administration at ITFC) who introduced and spoke highly of Robert Bitariho, congratulating him on his PhD achievement. Finally, Robert himself gave an upbeat speech on the hard work that took place at ITFC in 2013 and thanked all who came.

Party feast

Party feast

Robert then presented gifts to the best performers among ITFC junior staff in reward for their excellent work in 2012. Those who received awards included, Valentine Sigirenda (best camp-keeper), Beda Turyananuka (best field assistant), Christopher Byaruhanga and Dennis Musinguzi (both runners up for best field assistant), Richard Ntegyerize (best driver) and Justus Sunday (best night guard).

Robert presenting one of the gifts to

Robert presenting one of the gifts to Christopher Byaruhanga

Then, to lighten the mood even more, guests were openly invited to give speeches, most of which were hilarious ‘just so stories’ including ‘why hunger is inside the belly and a beard covers the mouth’ and ‘how the rat convinced the man to share his home with him’.

Drinks were then topped-up, DJ Badu Mugerwa got the music flowing and Dr. Robert led the way onto the dance floor. For some, the dancing continued into the early hours. Everyone left with smiles on their faces and a good feeling in their hearts. Happy late new year to ITFC and may 2013 be even better!