Category Archives: trade

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

Who is trading rare chameleons from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?

Hello everyone, my name is Emmanuel Akampulira. I have been working as a volunteer at ITFC for several months. I recently completed my bachelor’s degree in wildlife health and resource management from Makerere University in Uganda. I love ecology and wildlife conservation and am very happy working at ITFC. I am learning a lot here.

Emmanuel in the forest

About two months ago several of us were out checking a potential site for a new climate station, just outside the national park, and found an interesting reptile I had not seen before. At first glance it looked like a lizard with three horns and I felt a little scared to get too close. Then one of our guides told me it was a special type of chameleon. This I later found in a book is called “Johnston’s Chameleon” or the “Rwenzori three horned chameleon” Chamaeleo johnstoni. It is a mountain species that only occurs in this region of Africa – the Albertine rift. In Uganda it is only known from the Rwenzori and Bwindi.

First sighting – a Rwenzori three horned chameleon Chamaeleo johnstoni.

Back to the story: Our guide started looking for a bag to hold the chameleon. We were surprised. We told him he should not take it but he argued that it was outside the National Park and he could keep it without breaking any law. We explained to him that it was still a wild animal and since it was not a threat to him or his property he should leave it alone, and if he insisted, he should first ask permission from the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

You can see the three horns here.

After a while the guide gave up and left the animal. But this left me wondering why people would want these animals and why.

I asked the guide where he would have taken the chameleon. All he would tell me initially was how we had cost him an easy 20,000 Uganda shillings (about 10 USA dollars). I pressed him to say who was going to buy it and what it would be used for. All he could say was that a man (he claimed he did not know by name) always gave them 20,000 Ugshs and he did not ask where he took them or what he used them for.

I wasn’t satisfied and had a feeling there were many details the guide was hiding. Afterwards I told Douglas and Miriam about it and they encouraged me to ask around and find out more about the fate of these chameleons and the nature of the trade.

So, then a few weeks ago when talking to some local teenagers I learned that they also caught these chameleons.  They said they sold them to soldiers at 15, 000 Ugshs each (about 7 USA dollars). They also told me the soldiers used them as lucky charms when in war – this was new to me and I do not know if it is true or not.

Then just a week ago while we were setting up a vegetation plot in Rushaga in the south western part of the National Park I was told that this three horned species of chameleon is common there. One of the guys we were working with told me how, not long ago, a man who used to buy and collect these chameleons was apprehended and stopped by the Uganda Wildlife Authority as the animal collection was prohibited (and he had no permission).

I still have unanswered questions:· Is the trade legal? Does anyone try and stop it? Is it true about the soldiers? Does it threaten the animals?

Perhaps someone reading this knows more. Please let me know.

Hope you enjoy my first blog. I hope to have more answers next time.

Best wishes