Category Archives: staff

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

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

Uncovering the Mysteries of ArcGIS with Andrew

Starting on Friday the 8th March, Andrew (Kirkby) started a highly anticipated series of GIS training sessions for ITFC staff. Running over the weekend and into this week, Andrew helped people get to grips with ArcGIS (9.3 version), a crucial yet complicated tool for conservation and research.

Everyone listening attentively!

Everyone listening attentively! (Photo by Lucy Sangster)

After taking a GIS course during his undergraduate degree, Andrew worked hard to get to grips with GIS, improving his skills with the programme, which he has since used for multiple research projects and working for conservation organisations.

Many of the staff at ITFC need to do mapping for their respective projects and they mostly use ArcGIS, however many have not had any formal training for the programme, or found their trainings were lacking components. Some level of training is essential for this highly complex, yet valuable, programme in order to be able to accurately develop maps and use the programme to its full potential.

Andrew demonstrating aspects of the programme

Andrew demonstrating aspects of the programme (photo by Lucy Sangster)

Sitting comfortably in the ITFC common area with laptops and notebooks at the ready, Frederick (Research officer), Robert Bithario (Ag. Director), Badru (TEAM coordinator), Medard (Social research project leader), Kato Raymond (UWA warden of research in Bwindi), and myself, opened our ears. Starting with a lecture, Andrew gave a run-down of the background, basic skills and use of GIS and then on Saturday we started on a series of practicals using ArcGIS 9.3. The practicals covered the basics of importing information (GPS points, for example), building your map, as well as various other essential skills covering a number of specific areas that staff had queries about, such as geo-referencing images, troubleshooting with coordinate system problems, building quarries, creating formal maps, then to more difficult aspects such as special statistics . Despite a lack of computers with the GIS programme, Andrew got the practicals going, with people taking turns executing different tasks, with the computer projected onto a screen. Everyone enjoyed the course and came away feeling much more comfortable with ArcGIS, with a much better understanding. With the intricacies of ArcGIS uncovered, mapping is now a much less scary prospect!

 

Practical session

Practical session (Photo by Lucy Sangster)

Keep an eye out for next weeks blog about the CTPA workshop.

Lucy

Phenology week at ITFC

This week we joined Frederick Ssali (ITFC’s research officer) and other ITFC research assistants conducting their long-term phenology monitoring project. This programme was borne from a long-term phenology project started in 2004, focusing on gorilla food trees, which itself began after a PhD student conducted phenology studies linked to gorillas in 2000. The data from gorilla-focused studies was limited, so this more general project was started in 2011, thanks to a grant from WCS for Climate Change Studies in Bwindi.

photo by Andrew Kirkby

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Every month, a team of highly trained field assistants collect data on 52 species of selected trees from plots on three transects. The team’s skilled eyes examine fruit, flowers and leaves using binoculars. Information is collected for both the canopy and the ground, on the number of ripe, unripe and rotten fruit, as well as the number of flower buds and open flowers and the number of new, old, dead and damaged leaves. The observational ability of the field assistants is amazing!

ITFC researcher observing a tree for phenology.

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

This project aims to link plant cues for flowering, fruit and leafing to climate change and plants’ responses to climate change. It is also relevant for agriculture as it can help inform farmers about pollination issues and timing of when to plant crops. Such general forest ecology knowledge is highly important for understanding the forest ecosystem and contributes greatly to other studies in Bwindi. It can, for example, inform about when certain food items as available for particular animals.

fruits and leaves of Olinia rochetiana (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

Fowers of Allophylus abyssinica (both photos by Andrew Kirkby)

 

The first analysis of the data is ongoing and Frederick aims to publish the results this year. Although the funding is coming to an end, the hope is that the value of this project will be recognised so that ITFC receives funding to continue this on a long-term basis.

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Photo by Andrew Kirkby

Lucy and Andrew

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!

Herbarium

ITFC is home to an on-site herbarium with it’s own resident botanical expert, Robert Barigyira. To learn about the herbarium we conducted a short interview with Robert, who has been working here since 1995! Robert’s love for plants developed when he was working for CARE as a Forest Technician, assisting with field collections as well as developing and maintaining indigenous tree nurseries and attending trainings with the herbarium staff at Makerere University.

Robert showing us a specimen of a wild banana, Ensete ventricosum

Robert showing us a specimen of a wild banana, Ensete ventricosum

Being the resident botanical expert, Robert’s role involves all maintenance of the herbarium and it’s specimens, obtaining more specimens to develop the herbarium, maintaining an ethnobtanical garden and providing all botanical services to ITFC as well as to visiting researchers. The herbarium, which houses over 3600 specimens from 160 different plant families, has specimens from various locations around Uganda. Although the vast majority are of plants found in Bwindi, they also have specimens collected from Mgahinga National Park, Echuya Forest Reserve, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Rwenzori National Park and Mt. Elgon National Park.

ITFC's organised herbarium

ITFC’s organised herbarium

Part of the ethno-botany garden

Part of the ethno-botany garden

The ethno-botanical garden at ITFC (see above) was developed in the early 1990’s, after the national park was gazetted. Acting as a demonstration garden to show communities that they can cultivate forest plants, it houses medicinal and edible species as well as those used for building and weaving.

While Robert’s interest extends to all plants, the Asteracea and Rubiacea families, which are the most common families in this region, are his favourite. Even with his vast botanical knowledge, he still says that ferns and grasses are the most difficult groups to identify.

He is a wealth of knowledge and is quick to assist with the identification of plants for resident and visiting researchers. For example, he often helps to identify species eaten by the gorillas and was happy to show us some unusual specimens (see picture below). Those who are in need of a plant specialist, ITFC has the man for you!

Epiphyte - Drynaria volkensii

Robert showing us the epiphyte – Drynaria volkensii

Lucy & Andrew

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

ITFC happy to announce a new staff member

Dear readers,

for a long time now, ITFC has been keen to find an experienced social scientist to add to our staff list. We are happy to announce that we have finally found one! Since June 1st, Medard Twinamatsiko has joined us. He holds an MA in Development Studies (Conflicts Analysis and Inclusive Development) from our mother institute, Mbarara University of Science and Technology and came with high recommendations from there. His list of research experience is impressive, and we were particularly happy to see that it includes work on issues of resource management in protected areas and comunity conflicts related to conservation areas.

Medard will be leading the two social projects that ITFC has embarded on with funding from the Darwin Initiative. We will soon tell you more about them. A week into his new position, he already went to the field: Kisoro town, where the Batwa organisation UOBDU is based. You will soon hear and see more from the trip.

For now, just a picture of Medard to introduce him to our blog-friends. You are very welcome to ITFC, Medard!

IMG_1209.JPG

Medard Twinamatsiko, in a wheat field on the slopes of Mt Muhavura (in the background)