Category Archives: students

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 🙂


What were medical students doing at ITFC?

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Volunteership experience in Bwindi

Dear readers, today we have the joy of sharing with you the experience of one of our volunteers, Diane Mukundwa. She comes all the way from the National University of Rwanda and has been with ITFC from September 26th 2011 til early May 2012.

Hi, my name is Diane Mukundwa; I arrived in Uganda on Monday 26th September, 2011 via the Katuna border (with Rwanda). Mr. Robert Bitariho (senior researcher with ITFC) picked me from Kabale and we drove to Ruhija. My first surprise was to realize that from Kabale to Ruhija it was quite a distance compared to the way from Kigali/Rwanda to Kabale/Uganda. It was already dark and very cold when we reached the research station; I was very excited thinking about what was going to be my first adventure after university life!!!


My 2nd day in Ruhija, I took time for some poses

My 2nd day in Ruhija, I took time for some poses

Life in the dorm
My accommodation was in the dormitory. Upon arrival I was welcomed by other volunteers: Donah Ndinawe who had been there a week before me and Moses who had been at ITFC for almost a year. There were many other students and researchers who stayed for a short while in the dorm when I was there, all from different countries; it was amazing to experience all these different cultures. Life in the dorm was very comfortable and organized, and always full of wonders and surprises. Every Tuesday (a market day in Ruhija) we used to make a shopping list and everyone contributed equally.

Market day in Ruhija

Market day in Ruhija

The fire place was my number one favorite place in the dorm because in Bwindi the cold is serious business! From the dorm window I always enjoyed looking at the monkeys playing in the trees outside, but it was not so good when one monkey came into the dorm and took our bread and some sweet bananas!!! You should have seen a monkey trying to open a locked dust bin searching for banana peels!!


Oh yeaahh, life in the dorm is full of fun!!me, Donah and Xiana.

Oh yeaahh, life in the dorm is full of fun!!me, Donah and Xiana.

Library and office life.

I have had the opportunity to be involved in a number of projects (all based in Bwindi) like the Multiple Use program, phenology research work and sometimes I also helped with the camera trapping activities. ITFC has a small but very organized library; this has been my office from where I have been entering data from the studies above..

You already know something about the camera trapping project I guess – but certainly not the same way I have experienced!! From the thousands of pictures captured from the field, It was not an easy task for me to accord species names to each, especially that they all in black and white. I had to look very carefully at each one of them, to see which animal was on the picture and name the picture accordingly, that’s when I realized that those field guide books with pictures of different animals are not that just made for tourists!!! I have to admit the days I worked on the pictures were the toughest days I experienced during my tenure in the library – for even when I would finally retire to my bed at night, I would continue seeing the Duikers, Monkeys and Bush pigs moving in my head!!

Field work experience

My adrenalin was sky high when I was crossing Ihihizo and Mbwa River, in the centre of Bwindi, while setting cameras (intended to capture pictures of otters). When Fred, the activity’s lead research officer, asked me if I was a good swimmer it never crossed my mind what he wanted to imply until when I was stuck in the middle of relatively fast moving river waters without the ability of going back, terrified of moving forward. Fortunately there was a field assistant just in time to save me.,

Byaruhanga (a field assistant) crossing Ihihizo River

Byaruhanga (a field assistant) crossing Ihihizo River



Damazo and Aventino helping me to set a camera after surviving the river!!

Damazo and Aventino helping me to set a camera after surviving the river!!

I also participated in phenology work and was blessed to see a forest elephant once which was grazing in the transect. Phenology work involves counting leaves, flower buds and flowers up in the tree, suing binoculars. However this requires some good training and so of the time I resorted to recording data instead.

I also spent a number of nights camping while on the Multiple Use field work. The first night I was in a tent it took me a while to realize that I actually had reversed my sleeping bag; I had put the open part at the feet while I was struggling to breath because my head was in the closed part!!! I was also amused by the special gate improvised to prevent campers from bumping into each other in the toilet,


This is the gate, here it means that the toilet is free!

This is the gate, here it means that the toilet is free!

Toilet occupied, don't disturb!!!

Toilet occupied, don't disturb!!!

Every second that passed in the forest was an opportunity for me to learn something new. I enjoyed those ethno-botany stories about Bwindi plants. I also learned how to manipulate some of the tricky instruments used in the field but for sure the bark-gauge is only for strong people!! (I felt the muscles in my chest aching for the rest of the day).

Bwindi is full of wonders; Ruhija is a nice place to stay, though it is very cold. My volunteering period has been very nice and such a great experience, thanks to each and every one who contributed to making my experience unique.


Horrifying nights as I shared camp with Bwindi’s forest elephants

After being awarded an MSc research scholarship by ITFC, I immediately moved on to conduct my research on “Understanding the diversity, distribution and impact of canopy parasitic plants in Bwindi forest”. I therefore returned to ITFC in February 2011 to try out my research methods, before the actual research could start.

Phillemon (ITFC field assistant), myself and Silver (the UWA Rushamba outpost leader)

Phillemon (ITFC field assistant), myself and Silver (the UWA Rushamba outpost leader)

I must admit that at first I was afraid that the task ahead of me was very tough. It was going to require me to reach almost every part of this rugged and rough-terrained ‘Impenetrable’ park. But with the assistance of UWA and ITFC staff, I managed to visit my sample transect sites in the four major sectors of the park.

Terrifying  moments

One of the most exciting yet terrifying days of my life was in Rushaga (a sector of Bwindi) when I came face to face with Bwindi’s forest elephants in broad day-light! Then came the horrible night I spent with a mother elephant and her calf feeding just a few meters from my tent. Excitement and great fear for my life engulfed me. I was frozen in my tent. How was I to escape from this danger? Surely I was dead meat! Neither could I compose myself up to sleep nor could I seat up, or use my flashlight, or even make an alarm just for the sake of it. Remedy came only when I heard gunshots by UWA rangers outside my tent as they tried to scare them away. In a few moments I started hearing tree branches snapping away indicating that the elephants were leaving.

Another terrifying thing I wish to share with you are the stormy nights in the forest. Strong winds would blow across the forest canopy all through the night and I would hear branches falling near and on top of my tent. Remember that I was still struggling with traumas of elephants smelling my presence in the tent. I kept harboring thoughts of that moment when the elephant would sooner or later come, raze my tent down, lift me up in the air and then to tear me into pieces (with my tent).

One of our campsites in Bwindi

One of our campsites in Bwindi

My research assistants were equally worried. Their tent was only less than a foot away from mine. Trying to listen well they were so quiet that I began imagining they had decided to leave me there to die alone.
But thanks are to UWA guards who would spend the whole night scaring them away with gunshots in the air. What a fateful night I will never forget!

More often, parasitic plants were only to be located very high up in canopies such as this

More often, parasitic plants were only to be located very high up in canopies such as this

Climbing and walking through rugged and rough terrain while keeping their eyes up in the canopy for parasitic plants isn’t any easy task at all.  I therefore wish to thank the ITFC members (Tumwesigye Philemon and Zoreka Damazo the field assistants, Arineitwe Colonel and Nkwasibwe Chrispine the hired casual labours)  whom I worked with. With their knowledge and experience in tree identification, I managed to quickly and easily collect my data. They tirelessly worked with me to learn more about the parasitic plants. They are all my masters and examples as far as forest activities are concerned.

It's not unusual to find such tree fall roadblocks in this region

At this moment please allow me to register my sincere gratefulness to ITFC and the McArcthur Foundation for supporting me morally, financially and academically for this study. 

An improvised bridge

Such moments are some of what makes Bwindi an exciting place to research. I would say I had some of my best lifetime experiences in Bwindi. I can’t wait for my next trip their in a few weeks.

Have you had such experiences like I did? May be you want to share with us?

 Emilly Kamusiime

Recollections from a 16-months’ field experience with mountain gorillas

Hi Everyone!!! My name is Ed Wright and I am 29 years old and from the UK. I have just finished about 16 months of field work here at ITFC, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. I am a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, which is a research institution based in Leipzig, Germany. I would dearly like to share with you some of my experiences, so sit back, relax and read on…

Doing an information sharing about my study at ITFC Sharing about my study at ITFC

I arrived in August 2010 after spending a short while in Germany preparing my project and making sure I knew what I was going to come here to do. Before I embarked on this project I was working with unhabituated (not used to human presence) gorillas and chimpanzees in Gabon. This time I was coming to study gorillas on the opposite side of tropical Africa in “the pearl of Africa”, Uganda. I was very excited to see how different it was and felt very lucky to once again be working with amazing animals in very beautiful parts of the world. Martha Robbins, my supervisor and project director told me that Uganda was really very different from Gabon. I remember her saying: “Do you like mountains and beans?” Luckily I like both and I came to realise that if you don’t, Bwindi is not the place for you! 🙂

The drive up from Kabale (which is about 10 hours from Kampala, the capital) reminds you that you are in an extremely populated part of the world. Every corner of land is used for agriculture even up to the park boundary. Yet once you go through the park gates you enter a magical world high up in the steep hills of this Impenetrable National Park, right in the South West of Uganda.

I was impressed straight away; the hills looked like the “real business”. I enjoy mountaineering and I saw immediately this was going to be good fun. Terrifically beautiful, with monkeys enjoying themselves in the trees and with duikers running around.

When I arrived at ITFC, which was going to be my home for the next 16 months, I was happy to see that it is a well established research station. Some field sites are pretty basic and very remote, ITFC was for sure a step up from what I was used to. I was warmly welcomed by the other researchers here at the institute and other members of staff. These people became my friends and with whom I shared many gorilla stories and also heard about their experiences in and out of the forest.

I was here to record detailed gorilla feeding behaviour and to see how the distribution and density of food affects their social relationships. To implement this, I worked with a gorilla group which is reserved for research, called Kyagurilo. The research group is habituated to our presence, which means that to them we are part of the scenery – just like another tree in the forest if you like. Obviously we do not interact with them as this would change their natural behaviour which is precisely what we are there to record. It is a lovely group of gorillas which at the moment is composed of a silverback called Rukina, 2 blackbacks, 8 females, two juveniles and 5 infants. During the last 16 months I have come to know these gorillas extremely well.

Almighty Rukina

Almighty Rukina!

I vividly remember my very first day with the gorillas as if it was just the other day! They were feeding in a small swamp eating thistle. It was a very special experience that first day, being surrounded by a group of gorillas, and it still is to this very day!



Recording detailed gorilla feeding behaviour is no easy job I can tell you. During my first few months collecting data I was finding it difficult to keep up with the gorilla I was observing. There is a lot of understory vegetation here at Bwindi, the gorilla would just disappear into it and I would struggle to keep up, especially as one needs to be really careful when walking amongst gorillas (the last thing you want to do is to bump into a large mammal weighing 200kg!). Also walking at angles of 65 degrees isn’t easy at all! But after a lot of patience and hard work things became easier with time. However, it is no use complaining, I work in a tropical high altitude rainforest after all, one has to expect lots of rain and lots of steep hills!

Data collection during the gorilla census in Bwindi

Data collection during the gorilla census in Bwindi

I have often been asked what is the most special gorilla behaviour I have experienced… this is a tricky question as I find practically all gorilla behaviour really interesting. But the following are a few. I was extremely lucky to witness a baby gorilla come into this world. Normally females will deliver when they are at their nests (when we are never with them), however this time it just popped out. I was touched to see such a rare and special event. Then, as soon as the infant was born, the mother started to chew on the umbilical cord and proceeded to eat the placenta (in nature nothing goes to waste!). I wouldn’t call that a ‘beautiful’ experience but it was definitely a very special one.

The Family with the newborn

The Family with the newborn

The other thing that happened which comes to my mind was when I was watching this female gorilla; it was a warm sunny morning and this gorilla was taking a nap. Just then this leaf fell out of the sky and landed on her stomach, which woke the gorilla up. She looked at the leaf and promptly eat it and went back to sleep! It made me smile for the rest of the day.



Sadly it is time for me to leave 🙁

Next I will analyze all the data I have collected and hopefully some of my findings will contribute to the protection of these wonderful creatures, so that future generations can enjoy them like I have done.

I will miss my furry forest friends!!

Thanks for tuning in,


Could Carapa seed studies aid forest conservation?

At the end of last month (June 2011), we hosted visiting researchers from the National Museum of Natural History Brunoy, France. Dr. Pierre-Michel FORGET (also past president of Tropical Biological Association in 2007-2009) was accompanied by research partners Dr. Irene Mendoza and Aisha Nyiramana (Ph D student, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and University of Butaré lecturer in Rwanda).

P.M. Forget and Aisha with Carapa grandiflora fruits in Bwindi. ©Irene Mendoza

They were here to evaluate the feasibility of field work on the ecology of Carapa grandiflora (aka Carapa or African crabwood ) in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. During the one week in Ruhija and Rushaga, they traversed the forest searching for Carapa grandiflora trees and fruits. They succeeded in finding good sites for their study and Aisha Nyiramana will be returning to Bwindi to conduct her doctoral studies during the peak season (of Carapa seed production) in October.

The party gave us presentations about their studies and afterwards a brief interview with Bwindi Researchers’ Ivan Wassaaka. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

Ivan: What brings you all the way to Bwindi?

P.M Forget: I have been studying the use of large-seeded Carapa tree species to protect and save biodiversity of tropical rainforests in Africa and America. So I came to Africa to study Carapa in different countries because there is larger diversity of Carapa on this continent. I have been in Cameroon, Mali, then also Nigeria, Rwanda, Nigeria and in 2006 in Rwanda (with Aisha who is doing her PhD). So I always looked forward to coming to Bwindi to do new studies in a new site.

Our main purpose of coming this time was to evaluate the field conditions and possibility of Aisha doing her PhD work in this park. She is doing a comparative study of Carapa seed distribution in Nyungwe Forest Reserve and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The reason she is doing this is because in Bwindi you have elephants which feed on the Carapa and therefore somehow act as agents in dispersing the seeds. However, this is not the case in Nyungwe.

Ivan: How hands-on is your study? What is the significance of this study?

P.M Forget: The relevance is that Carapa grandiflora is a vital Albertine rift endemic species. It is a dominant species in some areas. It forms a major part in the diet of some animals. In some places human beings feed on Carapa. There is serious competition for its fruits and because of the many species that enjoy it, there may be a threat to the plant’s survival. It is therefore important to have the necessary information about the plant, so that the right policy guidelines can be drawn since its existence affects many other organisms. It is almost pointless to conserve the animals (that feed in a tree) without conserving the tree that it feeds on. So in my studies, we are working on ways the conservation of Carapa grandiflora can give way to the conservation of tropical rainforests in general.

Broken Carapa fruits.

Ivan: But Pierre, why Carapa of all plant species?

P.M Forget: When I started my studies ten years ago, I started working on the seed dispersal by different animal species. Carapa was not my main area of study. It was just one of the many species I came across. However, the Carapa (genus) became more interesting to me because I frequently came across it in Africa and America. In my studies, it was very important to have a model species with different methods of seed dispersal. And for Carapa, there are different dispersal mechanisms but all falling in the same model, that’s dispersal by large mammals.

It is also very interesting to me working with a wide range of people from all over the world. We actually have a group of Carapa people working in Brazil, Senegal, Mali, and other tropical countries. We have also developed a website – where we list all the species that have been studies, Carapa uses, ecology, taxonomy, distribution, conservation, physiology, among other things.

Ivan (to Aisha): What brings you all the way to Bwindi?

Aisha: I have been doing an almost similar study in Nyugwe, about the dispersal on Carapa seedlings in the forest. But as it came out, Nyungwe does not have similar large animals like we have in Bwindi. And if you consider the characteristics of Carapa, the fruit is hard and mainly eaten by large mammals like elephants. Unlike Bwindi, there are no elephants in Nyungwe. These elephants (in Bwindi)  feed on the Carapa fruits and could be agents aiding in the seedlings dispersal. So as Forget has already said, my study will be a comparative study of the dispersal of Carapa grandiflora in Bwindi and Nyungwe. The recommendations coming out of my study will then be forwarded to the conservation managers for implementation where necessary.

Aisha Nyiramana in Bwindi. Note the Carapa seedling in the foreground

Aisha Nyiramana standing by a carapa seedling in Bwindi. ©Irene Mendoza

Rodents posing a threat to Bwindi’s wildlife?

Each year millions of people over the world become infected with diseases transmitted by animals. These pathogens can be found in nature where some are especially associated with rodents. Rodents can also be agents for transferring human diseases to other wildlife.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a very rich biodiversity, some of which may be threatened by uncontrolled disease outbreaks.

Rodents constitute 42% of the world’s mammals and have been implicated by numerous studies as reservoirs of diseases. Their role in disease and parasite transmission is due to their flexible ecology (survive in many biotopes, breed rapidly, eat a wide variety of food), which makes them better hosts for various parasites (ticks, mites, fleas, Giardia etc).

Many of these parasites may cause diseases directly or carry pathogens that can impact humans and wildlife. An epidemic of any of these diseases (e.g. typhus) could cause mortality within a small population and potentially cause, or contribute to, local extinctions.

Patrick Mawanda, MSc student from the Department of Zoology – Makerere University has embarked on a study of “the role of rodents as potential carriers of parasites across Bwindi Impenetrable National Park boundary”. He is funded by USAID-WILD West project through ITFC.


The study will not only provide data on parasites associated with rodents and commonly associated pathogens, but also help to determine the distribution and relative abundance of rodent species in Bwindi and characterize their movements.

Patrick’s study shall answer questions like:
What are the species-specific habitat utilization patterns of the rodents? Which rodent species co-exist? To what extent do rodents range inside and outside the forest? Is the effect of habitat type or locality on rodent species’ abundance significant? How do some habitat variables affect their abundance and movements?

To effectively collect sufficient data for answering all these questions, trap webs (4 transects, 200m each, 80 trap stations, 120 traps) are set in the study area. They are inspected for 6 days and then for another 4 days after 2 transects are extended by 200m. For each site, 1920 trap nights are allowed.

gambian rat.jpg

The biggest catch: Crecitomys gambianus caught in a Tomahawk trap

Rodents captured are identified, weighed, sexed, brushed and their droppings collected and preserved in formalin for microscopic diagnosis. The ecto (i.e. external)-parasites found are also preserved in ethanol for identification. Afterwards, pathogen prevalence will be determined for each species. Distances moved and pathogen prevalence will then also be compared to assess rodents as parasite and disease carriers.

Already the first few months of fieldwork have produced interesting revelations. A total of 371 rodents belonging to 23 different species have been captured.


Lophuromys woosnami , wet after a swim

Next will be data analysis. Already, a lot of enthusiasm is building to answer the questions raised.


Soil carbon stocks “still high” following forest loss around Bwindi

Dear Readers,

This is Ronald again. My project on land-cover change, soil organic carbon and soil properties in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park finally came to an end. I had a wonderful experience doing research in Bwindi and more so interacting with scientists and staff at ITFC. My study had several objectives but for this blog, I will share two: to examine the dynamics of forest cover change in and around Bwindi between 1973 and 2010 and to understand how forest cover change impacted on soil organic carbon stocks. This study involved both field and laboratory work. I have interesting results to share.

Carbon is stored in many forms in the terrestrial ecosystem. It can be stored in vegetation, soil and water bodies. Soil stores the largest part of carbon and much of this is what I refer to here as soil organic carbon or “SOC” (There are other forms of carbon but for this study I considered only the organic carbon). Vegetation cover (including forest) is known to store the highest amount of SOC compared to other land uses (includes agricultural land uses). Change of forests to agricultural land uses generally leads to a loss in SOC. This could be in the form of carbon dioxide which is a green house gas. Studies indicate that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has contributed greatly to global climate change.

Sharp boundary where paired sites were demarcated inside and outside the forest

Paired sites were used for comparisons of SOC and other soil characteristics inside the forest and adjacent agricultural land uses. The changes in the land use/cover were obtained by analyzing a series of satellite images and cross-checking the land uses as classified by computer. I did that by looking on the ground, talking to local people and using other records. I found that protected forest had declined in area by 7.8% and forest cover in areas outside the national park had declined by 70.7% as small scale farming and tea plantations increased by 13.9% and 78.3% respectively between 1973 and 2010. Small scale farming and tea plantations had increased significantly at the expense of tree cover. The conversions were attributed to land use pressure due to population growth and increased demand for food.

Peter Mukasa measures depth of different soil layers in a forest soil profile

Deo obtaining a soil core sample from a plot under grazing land

To assess SOC stocks in the different land uses, field measurements and laboratory tests were done. Results showed that SOC stocks (density) had surprisingly increased in potato, tea and grazing land uses at different landscape positions and slope faces following forest conversion in the top soil. In most however, there was very little difference between the forest and agricultural land uses.

The severe loss of forest outside the national park poses a potential threat to the protected forest (Bwindi) as demand of fuel and agricultural land increases. Because Bwindi is relatively well protected, it implies that people have to opt for other avenues to meet their demands. They have to weigh how to use their lands to balance between growing of trees for fuel and intensive crop cultivation to meet the food demands. Perhaps if these communities received some incentives from the UN-REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus) program, there might be increased forest conservation and reforestation in areas that were cut down but this means the benefits have to outweigh the other land use options.

Although soil organic carbon stocks sometimes increased in density following forest conversion, it does not provide a basis for further loss of forest land to agricultural land uses because of the forests’ important role in the global carbon cycle (here we have not been talking about the large amounts of carbon locked up in trees which is lots when the trees are cleared). (Douglas’s editorial note: also it seems plausible, even likely, that the increase in SOC density in the non-forest land-uses is not a sign that overall stocks have increased but results from soil compaction. Forest soils are less dense with lots of space for air and water, soils from other land-uses such as heavily trampled grazing lands are compacted with little space in the soil structure … we have the data so can examine if this is the explanation). The agricultural land uses have to be properly managed to maintain soil fertility and enhance crop production because of the growing populations.

Twongyirwe Ronald.

A succesfully completed MSc project!

Congratulations to Else Langbroek, whose thesis on the ‘Impact of bark harvesting from Rytigynia kigeziensis in Bwindi’ was approved by the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.

party ElseSuzanne.jpg

Else at the end of her fieldwork in Bwindi

Else and Suzanne Stas came to ITFC for 4 months of fieldwork, in the context of an MSc study on sustainability of resource harvesting. You may remember her blog title ‘Mzungu in the mist’? They were supervised by Utrecht’s Pieter Zuidema and ITFC’s Douglas Sheil and Robert Bitariho. Robert has worked on resource harvesting in Bwindi for over 15 years.

Else and Suzanne had been invited to help implement a ‘matrix modelling’ approach to the monitoring that Bitariho has kept going for several years already. They were able to use these data and generate some new measurements too. If you are interested knowing more about their findings, please have a look at a thesis summary here.


Else with her supervisor; ITFC’s resource harvesting specialist Robert Bitariho

Let me use this opportunity to refer you to ITFC’s website for a page that lists all MSc and PhD projects since 1988, with hyperlinks to one-page summaries for most (it is still a ‘work in progress’). Especially the older theses are only available in our on-site library and are difficult to track down elsewhere. Please have a look. Quite a broad range of topics has been researched! But there are plenty of other questions out there … On our website we suggest some and we welcome students and researchers to come and help us with these. Other ideas are welcome too.


Frogs worried about the future

Today, Robert Sekisambu, one of our new MSc students introduces his study:

Frogs are fascinating, as bio-indicators and as natural jewels, but they may be facing decline or even extinction, due to factors such as habitat loss, infectious diseases, climate change and pollution. This may even happen before we know them well enough to know what we’ve lost: amphibians are among the least studied taxa of the animal kingdom, especially compared to birds and mammals. IUCN’s latest statistics estimate that 30% of over 6,000 known amphibian species is threatened.


This is me, taking a swab of a frog I captured

I am currently conducting an inventory of amphibians in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the biodiversity-rich Albertine Rift. At the same time, I am assessing what might threaten them and look into the prevalence of associated threats including the potentially lethal Chytridiomycosis and Ranavirus. Thanks to ITFC and the USAID funded WILDWest project for the support.

Below are some of the first pictures I took of the frogs found in Bwindi, around ITFC. They all seem worried about the future.

Watch this space for more about my progress. I wish you a prosperous new year.

Robert Sekisambu

Leptopelis kivuensis (green moph).JPG

Struggling to live (species not yet identified)

Leptopelis kivuensis.JPG

Albertine Rift tree frog (Leptopelis kivuensis)

Leptopelis k highly keratinized skin.JPG

The same L. kivuensis, with highly keratinised skin

Kisoro toad male.JPG

Kisoro toad (Amietophrynus kisoloensis)