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ITFC’s website gets a new look

Friends of Bwindi researchers , we are delighted and excited to share with you some of the milestones from our rather long silence. We have been updating our (ITFC) website. We are going live today with this revamped look. It’s dynamic, glossy and updated.

Please kindly check it out here www.itfc.org or www.must.itfc.ac.ug

Yours sincerely,

Badru

Memories to Remember: ITFC honored by the new Vice Chancellor’s visit!

On 16th/11/2014, only fourteen days as the Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Professor Celestino Obua honored the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) with a pleasant visit. Accompanied by his beloved wife Maureen, the VC expressed gratitude to ITFC staff for their great hard work, hospitality, and above all, their significant role in wildlife research and conservation in Bwindi and beyond. The VC was also accompanied by other MUST staff who included; the acting academic registrar –Mr. Felix Opio, the Dean of the faculty of science-Dr. Simon Anguma, the university engineer-Mr. Patrick Mujunansi, Ms. Sharon Kashemeire (VC’s personal secretary) and Ms. Angela Nakato (AR’s office). It all started with a superb dinner and coffee at the chilly hill of the director’s residence with lots of excitement from ITFC staff.

The VC listening to a presentation by ITFC director

The VC listening to a presentation by ITFC director

On day two of the VC’s visit, the director of ITFC gave an accomplished synopsis of the work the institute has done over years, and the plans ahead. The director’s talk relished interludes filled with guidance from the VC on how these could be expounded onto greater heights. He avowed to staff that he loves nature and would strongly support conservation efforts.

The director takes the VC for a tour around the ITFC library

The director takes the VC for a tour around the the well endowed ITFC library

With his intellect sense of humor and wisdom, the VC was impressed by the immense work done by ITFC staff, and commended them for more practical research, uptake and increased peer-reviewed publications. The VC assured ITFC of continued MUST support in making strides in research and publication. Using the story of the goose that lay a golden egg, the VC acknowledged the substance of ITFC to MUST and reemphasized that the institute cannot be left out without support. In his final remarks, the VC argued staff to remain focused and aim at result based management in order to shine out of the crowd.

Robert Barigyira, the ITFC's herbarium technician showcases the diverse plant collections at ITFC to the VC

Robert Barigyira, the ITFC’s herbarium technician showcases the diverse plant collections at ITFC to the VC and to Maureen.

With unending jovial exchanges and after touring ITFC facilities such as the herbarium and library, VC’s delegation advanced to Buhoma to tour ITFC-MUST land for potential ventures of investment and income generation. Thumbs-up Mr. VC for your hands-on tour of all MUST departments including the remotely situated ITFC. We look forward to more visits of this kind to continue rubbing shoulders with all MUST top management. Succeed we MUST!

The VC honors ITFC staff with a group photo.

The VC honors ITFC staff with a group photo before his departure to Buhoma, approximately 50 km to the north of Ruhija.

Medard Twinamatsiko, Badru Mugerwa, Emmanuel Akampurira and Duncan Bwanika

HIGH POWERED DELEGATION FROM MINISTRY OF TOURISM VISITS ITFC

This is not an April fool’s day joke! The day was on the 3rd April 2014, a day that will always remain memorable for the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC). ITFC was honoured to host a high powered delegation from the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities. The delegation was led by none other than the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Hon. Dr. Maria Mutagamba and comprised of the Permanent secretary, Ambassador Patrick Mugoya, Commissioner Mrs Grace Aulo Mbabazi, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) board chairman,  Mr. Benjamin Otto and the Executive Director of UWA Dr Andrew Seguya. Other high ranking officials from the ministry of tourism also attended including all members of the UWA board and staff. The delegation was on a tour of the Bwindi Mgahinga conservation Area (BMCA) and was later scheduled to launch the BMCA management plan (2013-2023) that ITFC played a crucial role in formulating. The management plan is scheduled to be launched on the 4th of April 2014.

The ITFC director  explaining to the minister how ITFC works

The ITFC director explaining to the minister how ITFC works

The delegation was welcomed to ITFC by the director Dr Robert Bitariho and staff. The director then introduced ITFC staff to the delegation and gave the visitors a tour of ITFC offices and facilities.  In his address to the delegation, the director gave a brief background of how ITFC started as a project in 1987 researching on Mt Gorillas, the Impenetrable Forest Conservation Project (IFCP).  He mentioned that the IFCP project was led then by a researcher from the New York Zoological Society Dr Tom Butynsky. The project was later to be established as a research station of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) as ITFC with the help of Professor Fredrick Kayanja. The director stressed that because of research on the Mt gorillas, ITFC influenced together with Prof. Kayanja the creation of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1991. He mentioned some of ITFC donors as Uganda Government (through MUST), WWF, WCS, USAID and other partners. The director mentioned that ITFC works very closely with UWA in answering park management questions. The director talked about the accomplishments of ITFC since it was started and the challenges it faces. The main challenge mentioned was sustainable funding of ITFC activities.  He also talked about ongoing programmes and ITFC’s plans for the future.

 The Director addressing the delegation

The Director addressing the delegation

The delegation was impressed with the work ITFC carries out and was very enthusiastic with questions and suggestions for sustainable funding of research. To bluntly put it, the minister jokingly said that when she retires, she will have to come to ITFC for research since the facilities available were conducive for research and writing. She cracked the joke in good humour, and asked the director to let her come back for research in future. The Minister playfully stated that this would be on condition that she would be exempted from paying park entry fees. The director jokingly responded to her banter by asking her to be friendly with the Executive Director UWA if she wants free entry to the park. Dr Seguya shyly brushed off the joke.

Dr Andrew Seguya (UWA, ED) put the “icing on the cake” he commended ITFC’s work in research and training that facilitates UWA in managing Bwndi and Mgahinga National parks. He stressed that ITFC has been and continues to be an important partner with UWA more especially in Ecological and socio-economical research and monitoring.  Dr Seguya was enthusiastic for more and expansive work between UWA and ITFC in the future.

The minister signs the visitors’ book as the Executive Director of UWA look on.

The minister signs the visitors’ book as the Executive Director of UWA looks on.

The minister thanked ITFC staff for their commitment to conservation in the Albertine region and Uganda at large.  She also thanked MUST and other funding partners to ITFC for their support. The overall feeling of the delegation about ITFC was overwhelming, with praises of ITFC work and all of them promised to come back for a longer visit.  In the words of our beloved ITFC accountant, Mr Desi: “This visit strengthens ITFC’s partnership with government in conservation and sustainable development”.

The full list of delegatation is included here:

Name                                                                      Title

Hon Dr Maria Mutagamba                               Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities

Ambassador Patrick Mugoya                           Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Tourism

Mr Benjamin Otto                                            Chairman board of Directors UWA

Dr Cladys Kalema Zikusoka                            UWA board Member

Mr Mani Khan                                                  UWA board Member

Captain John Emily Otekat                               UWA board member

Mrs Crace Aulo Mbabazi                                  UWA board member

Mr Boniface Byamukama                                 UWA board member

Dr Andrew Seguya                                            Executive Director UWA

Mr John Makombo                                            Director Conservation UWA

Mr Charles Tumwesigye                                   Deputy Director Conservation UWA

Mr Chemonges                                                  Director Legal UWA

Mr Edgar Buhunga                                            Director Planning and EIA UWA

Mr Pontius Ezuma                                             Conservation Area Manger BMCA

Mr Christopher Masaba                                     Senior Warden in Charge of Mgahinga

Emmanuel Akampurila and Robert Bitariho

ITFC END OF YEAR 2013 PARTY!

On the 7th March 2014, the ITFC soared into heaven. Despite previously being drawn upon on popular culture where society just pokes fun at traditional, the Horn bills (ITFC staff) broke through that culture to an elite where thy kingdom come! They did not catch tigers; it was just nothing to argue about ITFC end of year party 2013. Anything less than that defied definition and all they had to do is recount the day’s blindness to issues of fate.

By 4pm, the smartness was volted with delight and dressing was extremely imperialist – it won! However Africans are so far from perfect, they still have many lessons on time to learn. Dj Mozey and I learnt how to be patient, so we patiently waited for 2 hours enjoying the lyrics.

At 6pm, the ITFC staff made an experimental arrival in the hall and immediately dinner was served in a neatly arranged hall. Thereafter speeches were next on the agenda from various invited guests from UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority), Max Planck Institute, LCIII chairperson of the county together with Assistant Inspector Cosmos not “Inspector General” as he emphasized. From the speeches, the director Dr. Robert Bitariho is so instrumental in making the institute collaborate with partner organizations. In his humble way, you cannot imagine how many tittles he holds yet when addressing you would imagine he belongs to the swag generation. To the staff he can only be described by one word “Inspirational”

After the speeches, Dj Mozey practiced his profession – mixing noise. He set the dynamic part of the party in progress as the music winded. The ITFC executive introduced dance with strokes we hardly understood but later on, they assigned the profession of Dj to the director and he became the guardian of the day. He blessed it with a good romance of rhythms that were frank and direct, almost challenging till the late hours of the night.

Let's go Bakiiga dance

Let’s go Bakiiga dance

Party time

Party time

Always the best things happen in a moment, so fun and fulfilled – no regrets! “It was well spent”

Duncan Bwanika

Responding to Human Wildlife Conflict: The Planning progression of Nkuringo Buffer zone Management Plan (NBZMP) on board again!

The raison d’être why Gorillas are spilling over to community land are not yet known despite the rich diversity of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi). In rejoinder to human wildlife conflict between the communities of Nkuringo and the Mountain Gorillas and other fauna in Bwindi, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) together with its partners including the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), ITFC, Nkuringo Community Conservation Development Fund (NCCDF), Kisoro District Local Government (KLG) came together to generate yet another strategic management plan for the next five years (2014-2018).

ITFC’s very own Medard Twinamatsiko who is a member of the planning committee fully participated in a week closed door planning session in Kisoro. The UWA’s Senior Planning Officer –Richard Kapere and the Senior Warden Southern Sector John Justice Tibesigwa facilitated the sessions. Other members included; Stephen Asuma- Country Representative IGCP, Olivia Biira (Community Conservation Warden-UWA),Raymond Kato-Ecological Monitoring Warden- UWA, Richard Munezero (KDLG), Innocent and Auleria from NCCDF.

The seven days interface was not an easy one but greatly successful. It involved desk reviews and evaluations as well reconnaissance visits to the Nkuringo Buffer zone. The two days of field work were too enjoyable in the beginning but hectic and kawa in the afternoon epoch. It rained cats and dogs with most of the planning team members caught unaware of the somber dropdowns in the hills of Nkuringo. There was hardly any sanctuary for the planning squad and therefore had to succumb to the nature vagaries. Medard and Richard had no choice but to succumb to the heavy down pours since they had not carried water proof jackets. This was a good lesson for the next field day.

Many events were observed by the planning team. These included; the regeneration of the inner zone, the emergency of exotic plant species and poor maintenance of the Mauritius hedge fence by the local communities. Interesting to note was that tea planting has taken a serious route in the outer zone with almost ¾ of the land planted. This activity is being undertaken by National Agriculture Advisory Services through its sub contract- Kigezi Tea Company- a local company. Many local community members have tested on the syrupy dime being offered to plant tea. It was also witnessed that a road is being constructed by the local people to connect to the tea area. Such developments are highly welcomed by the local residents of Nkuringo and are optimistic of future prospects! IGCP is acknowledged for facilitating the planning process with the required logistics. Keep watch on this space!

Reconnaissance field discussions in the outer buffer zone

Reconnaissance field discussions in the outer buffer zone

 

Raining cats and dogs on the planning team in the outer cleared bufferzone

Raining cats and dogs on the planning team in the outer cleared buffer zone

A tired but  not retired team in the newly constructed road down to the buffer zone in Nteko

A tired but not retired team in the newly constructed road down to the buffer zone in Nteko

My warm regards,

Medard

An international Field school comes to ITFC

The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation will again be at the center stage later this year when it hosts an international summer field school. The summer school is jointly organized by Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), and the Universities of Frankfurt and Giessen from Germany. The Volkswagen Foundation finances the summer school.

Themed “Understanding Freshwater Ecology as the Basis for Sustainable Ecosystem Management”, the summer school will train graduate students in practical research methods and techniques of freshwater ecology assessment. The students will visit different aquatic sites in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi). The summer school participants will also visit the different Batwa communities around Bwindi.

Thirty-five participants including students and lecturers from Uganda, Germany, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania will take part in the summer school. The school, second of its kind, to be hosted at ITFC will take place from 01-09 December 2013. Below are pictures of some of the ITFC facilities which will be used by the summer school.

The student's dormitory at ITFC

The student’s dormitory at ITFC

A well stocked library at ITFC

A well stocked library at ITFC

The ITFC herbarium

The ITFC herbarium

I will be following the summer school events very closely. Please keep visiting http://bwindiresearchers.wildlifedirect.org for real-time updates from the summer school.

Best wishes,

Badru

My first camera trap experience in Bwindi

Ever wondered how possible it is to take pictures of animals in their most concealed habitat, well thanks to the latest camera trap technology mission impossible is declared possible. I took a trip down the Bwindi impenetrable forest with Badru, ITFC’s TEAM Network site manager together with four other field assistants to practically go witness this mission in the making.

We traversed some of the craziest vegetation I have ever encountered in life, the true definition of penetrating the impenetrable, but we eventually made it to the permanent camera trap sites. It was all a bee of activities and all I did was sit and watch very attentively. These guys knew exactly what they were doing and they must have done this so many times so I asked Badru to walk me through the process.

For a moment I thought I was listening to a lecture, only this time it wasn’t in a lecture hall, but in the middle of the forest. The terminologies used were not the kind I could comprehend immediately so I asked for what I normally understand best, practicals! Badru was more than willing to demonstrate to me the whole concept like a two year old and alas, I got it.

So, apparently we had to navigate to the location, thanks to the GPS we didn’t get lost. Once there, we looked around for any animal signs or droppings to determine an active trail which would be a good location to set up the camera traps. The camera is fixed on a tree approximately 50 cm from the ground, low enough to capture the whole body of the animal and not just its ears or sections of its body. Apparently the camera is set facing the trail so as to record as many pictures of the animals as many as possible.

As I watch all this happening, am thinking to myself at how complex the process is. The moment I asked what kind of cameras were being used I guess I lost track of information. Requi…what? I ask again… Badru smiles and displays the camera to me, explaining that it’s a Reconyx HC500 hyper fire semi covert infrared camera trap. They’ve only got two of these, their latest design and model. I understand it’s a semi covert hence can take colored pictures during the day while using normal flash, and black and white pictures in the night using infrared.

The other cameras we used in the remaining sites were all Reconyx too, but different models. They were the RM 45. These use infrared both in the day and night hence only produces black and white pictures. He goes through the settings, switches it on, and checks battery and card. The card is erased to make sure it’s totally blank so that pictures taken are only for this day until they return to collect them after a period of thirty days.

My most favorite section was when Badru had to go on all his fours to demonstrate a walk test. This he did after arming the camera to see how far a camera can record a moving animal after identifying a potential location. When we were all done, I had learnt so much in just such a short time and had a clear understanding of the camera traps project. We hiked out the forest and I thought to myself, how amazing! I am more than looking forward to the next field experience…only this time I’ll be a pro too!

Badru and Avetino setting a camera trap.

Badru and Avetino setting a camera trap.

Camera trap well set...ready to get those shy animals on record.

Camera trap well set…ready to get those shy animals on record.

Veryl

 

Update on the Batwa Cultural Values Project

Information from consultations with Marion Birungi (Junior Researcher at ITFC) and Frederick Ssali (Research Officer at ITFC). Photographs taken from previous fieldwork sessions for Batwa Cultural Values Project.

 

This week I am going to update you on the Batwa Cultural Values Project following a recent pre-training workshop in Kisoro. The Batwa Cultural values project, which runs in Semeliki, Mgahinga and Bwindi National Parks, aims to integrate Batwa cultural values into conservation. It is run jointly by four organisations: FFI (Flora and Fauna International), UWA and UOBDU (United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda), with ITFC heading-up the research.

On the Batwa Trail - pointing out culturally important forest plants.

On the Batwa Trail – pointing out culturally important forest plants

 

So far, the research has been done by ITFC, but this pre-training was the start of handing-over the monitoring and evaluation work to the Batwa-UWA sub-monitoring unit. This training focussed on teaching the Batwa (and UWA’s Community Conservation Rangers – CCR’s) about the tool – a questionnaire – ensuring that they understood all the questions and also getting their input on the questions. Their input helps ensure that the questions are meaningful, relevant, realistic, and cover all the necessary topics.

 

Mutwa demonstrating King's attire

Mutuwa demonstrating King’s attire

Also in attendance was NTV (Nation TV) Uganda. FFI had invited them to film a positive story about the Batwa following a negative piece that they run, which gave a poor image of the Batwa and their situation in Uganda. NTV visited the Batwa Trail in Mgahinga with a group of Batwa, they also covered the training and part of the meetings (specifically the conclusions), filmed the 3D maps that were developed by the Batwa, and interviewed a number of key individuals including the FFI country director (Dr. Arthur Mugisha), Medard Twinamatsiko (ITFC’s Social Scientist), the Batwa Cultural Values Senior Project Manger (Pamela Wairagala) as well as a Eric, a Mutwa representative.

 

In one a Batwa cave

In a Batwa cave

The workshop went well and there was a good, positive outcome. Frederick noted that the CCR’s and the Batwa representatives worked well together and formed a good rapport in their groups. Everyone was happy with the questionnaire and, thanks to a diverse input, the questions are now ready for data collection to begin in the next quarter, and then to continue every three months from then.

 

 

Lucy

Conservation Throught Poverty Alleviation Interim Workshop

This week we are updating you on the Darwin Initiative and DFID (Department for International Development, UK) – funded Conservation Through Poverty Alleviation (CTPA) project. Last Tuesday (12th March), ITFC hosted various partners of the CTPA project and Integrated Conservation and Development (ICD) practitioners for the Interim Research Workshop, which aimed to update them all on the project’s progression, as well as debut the new database tool, one of the legacies of this project.

Dr. Michelle Wieland introducing the research users database (Photo by Andrew Kirkby)

Dr. Michelle Wieland introducing the research users database (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

ITFC welcomed Dr Julia Baker all the way from the UK, as well as other partners and ICD stakeholder organisations, including key organisations such as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT), IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme) and ACODE (Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment). The packed schedule for this interactive workshop kicked-off bright and early, starting with a series of short presentations on the key findings so far. The day also included cohort discussions, question and answer sessions and group-work based on the main topics from the presentations. There was also a demonstration of the new database tool on ‘Wellbeing and Livelihood Needs of Resource Users around Bwindi’, which was developed through this project in order to help inform ICD practitioners about the ‘who & why’ of resource use – to understand the people behind the numbers, and uncover peoples’ motivations behind unauthorised resource use and bush meat hunting.

Group work session

Group work session (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

Stephen Asuma telling us about the forgotten stakeholders around Bwindi

Stephen Asuma telling us about the forgotten stakeholders around Bwindi (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

 

All in all, it was a great day; the workshop ran smoothly and everyone had a great time, getting thoroughly involved, contributing to discussions and voicing their opinions. Group-work sessions were particularly fruitful, producing diverse and abundant outputs to the focus questions, and fulfilling the aim of encouraging dialogue and collaboration between ICD stakeholder organisations. There was even a great media output (in the form of a radio broadcast and a newspaper article), thanks to Arans Tabaruka, a journalist for KBS radio & the Daily Monitor. The other aims, including debuting the database and updating everyone on the research were also fulfilled, and everyone was complimentary of the project. UWA’s Chief Warden for Bwindi & Mgahinga was particularly pleased with the day and grateful for the research, particularly the database tool that promises to help improve future ICD schemes around the park, helping improve community livelihoods and wellbeing, park – community relations and conservation success!

 

Dr. Robert Bitariho leading the discussion on the future of the resource user database

Dr. Robert Bitariho leading the discussion on the future of the resource user database (photo by Andrew Kirkby)

We’ll be back soon with more news from ITFC.

 

Lucy & Andrew

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