Category Archives: TEAM

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

 

 

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

Bwindi Mountain gorillas at 400

The results for the fourth Bwindi Mountain gorilla census were announced yesterday by the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). It is now official that Bwindi is a home to 400 gorillas, close to half of the world’s population that is estimated at 880 individuals. This result has taken a staggering twenty months of intensive gorilla search, counting and genetic analysis. Pictures generously provided by Theresa Laverty, MPI-EVA research assistant.

Rukina from the Kyagurilo research group, Bwindi-Ruhija

Conducted by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the 2011 Bwindi Mountain gorilla census was an effort of a big collaboration involving many organizations that work in Mountain gorilla conservation including; l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Rwanda Development Board, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. WWF-Sweden funded the census with more support from Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V., the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Earlier today, I had a privilege to chat with the director of the Bwindi Mountain gorilla project, Dr. Martha Robbins. Ladies and gentlemen, lets hear from the horse’s mouth (the lead scientist) for the 2011 Bwindi Mountain gorilla census. Please find the details of our Q&A chat in BM and MR below:

BM: Thanks a lot Martha for allowing talking to me after a very short notice.

MR: Sure

 

BM: May you please tell our readers what Mountain gorillas are? What makes them different from other primates, and great apes in general?

MR: The Mountain gorillas are one of the two and four gorilla species and sub-species respectively. They have many differences compared to chimpanzees and Bonobos. Their bodies are much bigger…actually they are the biggest apes.

 

BM: Bwindi is a home to 400 Mountain gorillas, close to half of the World’s population. This is the highest number of gorillas ever recorded in Bwindi. Why the big difference in numbers compared to the previous census?

MR: We count gorillas using the sweep method, where teams intensively walk through the forest in a dense network of trails searching for gorillas. Analyzing for the genetic make-up (genetic analysis) of feces allows us to differentiate if the gorilla groups encountered during the sweeps are the same or different. Genetic analysis creates a genetic identification for every gorilla that we find feces from, and this helps us not to over or under count the gorillas.

One limitation of the single sweep means that we can only count or do genetic analysis on the gorillas we find. The assumption that we find all the gorillas in a single sweep is not necessarily accurate. This time around we did two sweeps, meaning that there are some groups we found only during the 1st sweep and some groups only during the 2nd sweep. Genetic analysis was later done for both sweeps. This is the only way that we can know for sure that the groups from both sweeps are the same or different.

 

BM: What does this result mean to the conservation world, and mountain gorilla conservation in particular.

MR: This result means several things. First of all, the Mountain gorillas are the only sub-species of the great ape where we see the population actually increasing, and that provides some hope for conservation not only for the Mountain gorillas but of other endangered great apes and other primates. The increase and the hope that this population is sustainable depends only on the continuation of extremely intensive conservation efforts both inside the park and also with the neighboring communities living outside the park, Uganda as a country and in terms of international support at all levels.

 

BM: Any additional remarks for our readers?

MR: Lastly I want to say that the end result from a census is one number so it may seem easy to determine, but the censuses are only possible through a very big collaboration among many organizations, involving many individuals. Some where between 80-100 people were involved in last census.  These censuses are a way to really bring together all organizations that work in Mountain gorilla conservation, and this one has resulted in some very good news about how all the efforts of all these organizations are paying off. I thank all the organizations mentioned above for their efforts that made this census a great success.

Kanywani and Twijykye of the Kyagurilo group, Bwindi-Ruhija

Best regards,

Badru Mugerwa

Publish or perish

Science is incomplete if the findings are not communicated. Collecting biological data from the forest is one part, and communicating the science is the other.  My career as a scientist can be made or broken according to how much I publish, this is supported by the “publish or perish” catchphrase.

A 2012 publication by ITFC and UWA staff

I therefore take publishing of my research findings  very seriously. More recently, my colleagues at the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) and I published a scientific paper in the African Journal of Ecology.  This paper reported the first large scale, systematic camera trap based evaluation of Bwindi’s  ground dwelling animal’s distribution with relation to distance to park edge and elevation.  The implications of these results on habitat protection and animal conservation in Bwindi were also discussed.

Badru setting a camera trap

We placed automatic cameras (camera traps) at sixty locations for a month each. Locations where each species was and was not detected were compared to determine the influence of distance to park edge and changes in elevation.

The 15,912 images recorded had a lot to tell. Twenty mammal and four bird species were identified. The Black-fronted duiker (a forest antelope) was captured the most times. The images also included over 600 images of the elusive, rare and poorly known African golden cat from fifteen different locations. More surprising images included the Sitatunga (an antelope common in swamps), which was recorded in Bwindi for the first time. The Yellow-backed duiker (a forest antelope) and Handsome Francolin (a bird) were more common in the forest interior. On the other hand, the L’hoesti monkey was more common at the park edge. Images of illegal hunters (poachers) were also captured.

The Black fronted duiker was captured most times

The world’s second and Africa’s most poorly known cat – the African golden cat in Bwindi

These results highlight the significance of the TEAM Network activities in Bwindi. These activities not only inform management decisions, but also highlight conservation challenges . For instance, the L’hoesti monkey  (categorized as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature) is associated with community land close to the park edge where it damages food crops. This is a recipe for conflicts between humans and wildlife. At the same time, species that avoid the edge of the forest may already be indicating their vulnerability to human activities. Furthermore, interior species, like Handsome Francolin is typically restricted to high-altitude undisturbed forest, which is declining elsewhere in Uganda.

Handsome Francolin is restricted to high elevations in Bwindi, where it is threatened by hunting for food and cultural values. High altitude forest is declining else where in Uganda.

The camera trapping started by ITFC/Uganda Wildlife Authority with the support of the TEAM Network of Conservation International (CI) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) offers significant progress in monitoring terrestrial vertebrates in Bwindi. We anticipate more fascinating scientific discoveries from this activity.

Till then, I will let you know when we publish our next paper.

With best regards,

Badru Mugerwa

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,
Badru

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

More surprises-from the African elephant to the Scaly ant-eaters

What makes my work with camera traps thrilling is the big number of images (and surprises that come with them) we get from our camera trapping activity.  Last year we captured twenty and four species of mammals and birds respectively.  Despite missing a few expected species, images included those of the enigmatic and secretive threatened African Golden cat, the endangered   mountain gorilla and chimpanzees, and the locally less known honey badger. However, even with 15912 images, the animal species list of Bwindi is far from complete. This is evident from images of this year’s TEAM network camera trapping.

After setting and retrieving cameras at 60 different locations, I was so ecstatic to do the species identification. This year’s first surprise was of the African Elephant!!, captured so close to the camera with a lot of its details shown. Just last night as I was identifying and attaching scientific names to the animals from the images, a rush of excitement ran through my body when I saw a quite unusual animal. It is the scaly ant eater. YES!! I may be wrong, but I suspect that these images are of the African White-bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis). This animal is listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species.

Interesting facts about scaly ant eaters or the pangolins:

These animals are epitomized by long, very muscular tails. Their bodies are covered with a hard, scaly covering that makes them look more like reptiles than mammals. They are the only mammals with over 40 bones in their tails. Pangolins eat mostly ants and termites, using their pointy snouts and their long, wormlike sticky tongues. Pangolins are toothless, thus their prey is ground up with sand in their gizzard like stomach. They protect themselves from predators by rolling themselves into a tight ball and sticking their sharp scales out.

This animal has so far appeared at two different locations in the lower elevation forest of the park. Unlike the elephant, it did not spend so much time close to the camera. It was captured while in motion. I still have images of animals from twenty six cameras to identify and attach names. I will come again to share with you more of Bwindi’s rich heritage. Our dear readers, allow me to share with you some of the images of this amazing creature.

Here he comes....

Here he comes....

He gives us his clear view….note the dark coloring around his eye

He gives us his clear view….note the dark coloring around his eye

He is passing by the camera

He is passing by the camera

and more of him…

and more of him…

note the pointed ending of his tail

note the pointed ending of his tail

From a different location-there is a small pangolin. So cute!!!

From a different location-there is a smaller pangolin. So cute!!!

My best regards,

Badru

A revealing second look at an African golden cat

We have collected the cameras from this year’s camera trapping. We are behind with processing the images due to all the other activities that are happening, but we look forward to seeing them.

Last year we had about 15,000 images to review so we expect something similar this year. It takes a lot of time. Some are obvious (like the elephant) and some are hard to judge for certain — what exactly are we seeing?

Here is an example I’ve been looking at again recently. It concerns three of the 695 African golden cat images we got last year. These three were taken just before dawn. The first is easily dismissed as too blurry, right? It is not clear what it is — take a look and see!

Now bear with me a moment … and I hope you’ll agree the result is worth the effort.

IMG_0082.JPG

Fast moving cat is a blur in the flash

Ok. then next we get this one …

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The cat has slowed

That’s better. That is clearly an African golden cat. Great. So next …

The cat is now moving back.

But look … what is that in its mouth? Can you see the two bright dots– what are those?

Look more closely. Here …

IMG_0085-2.JPG

Close – up: The eyes of an animal held in the cat’s mouth reflect the flash.

I think it is probably a rat of some type. Another possibility that crossed my mind is a kitten/cub — but the tail looks too thin and ratty. I went back to the first blurry image for another closer look. Here it is …

IMG_0082.JPG

Close up of the first image.  See the bright eye lower left. A rodent is facing us with its nose pointing to the left I think. See the cat (the cat is the blur filling the upper left of the image).

Do you see it? I am now confident the bright dot is an eye.  We are seeing a small bright-eyed rodent  just fractions of a second before it becomes prey to the fast moving cat.  That’s a drama I missed the first time I saw these images.  You? Now it looks obvious right?

As far as I know this may be the first ever image of a wild African golden cat successfully hunting. Exciting if true! Please let me know if I’m wrong!  In any case with 15,000 pictures worth a second look from last year and the same again this year we have enough to keep us busy.

Best wishes

Douglas

Our forest candid-camera network gets global attention

As regular readers know several of our activities here in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are part of, and contribute to, larger research networks. The TEAM network supports our camera trapping, our tree monitoring plots and our automatic climate station. These TEAM activities are all still quite new at ITFC so we should celebrate when we can see our network getting recognition for its value to conservation and science.

A recent mult-author publication about the TEAM cameras has been getting a lot of media coverage. Rather than repeating it let me give you a few links so you can see the pictures and text for yourselves. There are some familiar images as well as many from other forests around the world. So here is a brief selection from several hundred sites that appear to be running the story: National Geographic, Wired Science and IBTimes.

Take a look and please feel free to share your views.

Best wishes

Douglas

Bwindi on candid camera 15 – Homo sapiens

I now present the last pictures selected from over 15,000 images from our TEAM camera trapping exercise. This one thankfully seems rare as it was only recorded by one camera at one point. That’s what camera traps are for; to reveal the elusive, secretive and rare species in the forest. I am talking about Homo sapiens (but the sub-taxa ‘poacher’, usually operating in small groups).

Poaching is a threat to biodiversity conservation. In Bwindi, poachers set up snares to trap animals like duikers and bush pigs, mostly to feed their families, though some reports of bush meat trade around Bwindi have been received too. This appears to be mostly trade between poverty stricken poachers and wealthier community members. Some others may participate in poaching and bush meat trade for cultural reasons. Non-targeted animals such as gorillas, jackals and chimps have fallen victim to this ruthless activity.

Snares are wire loops on strings tied to bent stems, and are triggered when an animal steps into the loop. The bent stem jerks the snare, which lifts the animal off its feet. We have shown poaching evidence in Bwindi in our previous blogs (see “Snares still kill in Bwindi”). Poaching is an illegal activity in Uganda with imprisonment as the punishment. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers and researchers always deactivate active snares when they encounter them in the forest.

Camera trapping has provided us with a line-up of the culprits. It’s worth mentioning that these pictures are publically available (via the TEAM website ) and are in any case coowned by UWA as the camera trapping is a joint activity with them. Therefore, UWA, or anyone else, might use the photographs to find the poachers. Interestingly, we have already heard stories from villagers that “ITFC researchers provide UWA with pictures of poachers”. Like all such rumours this may negatively affect our relationship with the communities. As a conservationist, I understand the devastating impacts of poaching and bush meat on biodiversity. On the other hand, however, poachers gain a considerable amount of benefits from this activity. This leaves me with one obvious question. What is ethical?

I am glad to present you the first pictures of Bwindi poachers (faces censored for security reasons).

IMG_0058.JPG

The first man to walk into our ‘trap’

IMG_0062.JPG

Just an early morning stroll in the forest? But …

IMG_0064.JPG

… note the knife (called a panga in most of Uganda) and the spear

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It is almost like this man is smiling for the camera, however in the next photo

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…it is kind of clear that this man is trying to find out what the strange device tied to the tree is.

Best regards from Bwindi,

Badru Mugerwa