Category Archives: poachers

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.





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

A missing ID

Our TEAM camera traps continue to deluge us with information. Our 2010 camera trap survey recorded the first records in Bwindi of the sitatunga, the melanistic color morph of the African golden cat, poachers  and many more. Earlier this year, a mystery duiker and more evidence of poaching were recorded. This time around, I have images of  pigs whose species I am having trouble to confirm. May I please seek for  your expert advice?

Side view

Front view

Front view

I look forward to  your thoughts.

With wishes,

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

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