Category Archives: workshop

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

The Press or the science journal? Where should a scientist look first?

As long ago as 2005, a Norwegian scientist published research findings in a science journal stating that the lives of people living on certain slopes of Mt. Elgon were in danger because of looming landslides. However, neither community members nor local authorities got this information early enough to migrate from danger. On the 1st March 2010, the settlement suffered from landslides that left 92 people dead, 300 people missing and 300,000 displaced.

“Just being able to conduct your research, write a thesis and publish a paper in a peer reviewed scientific journal isn’t enough. Most scientists are funded by the public, not by journals. Why then spend millions of public funds on a study, only to publish findings in a scientific journal and not in the relevant local press?” Martin Robbins of The Guardian (UK) mused.

Such is the tone of proceedings at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) science communication workshop, that took place in Nairobi last week. With about 25 science journalists and 7 communication officers (of research institutes) from various African countries, the main theme of the training was to equip journalists with a better understanding of science methods and skills to effectively report science. At the same time, it trained communication officers in ways to get research findings published in the mass media. INASP and their Nairobi partners – Information Africa Organization -facilitated the training. Media houses represented included Uganda’s Nation Group, New Vision and Observer, Namibia’s New Era, Nigeria’s Observer and Guardian and many others from Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia, Somalia and Kenya.

Science communicators from 9 African countries

Science communicators from 9 African countries

In one of the sessions, communication officers and journalists were asked to air their opinions about each other. Interesting  issues were raised:

  • Scientists and their communication officers only consider publishing in peer reviewed journals worthwhile and seldom consider contacting the local press about their study’s findings.
  • While writing press releases, there is a tendency for research communication officers to emphasize their institution’s image rather than the actual issue of the release.
  • Researchers are often uncooperative with the press. They only want to bring in journalists after publishing in a peer reviewed journal. Journalists on the other hand, feel they need to be informed from an early stage in the study.
  • When researchers contact the press, they often provide expert information that is hard to be interpreted by a common journalist.
  • Research institutes should outline duties and responsibilities for their communication officers that include attending to the public, through the media. Time and finances ought to be budgeted for this.

For over 6 hours, Owuor Otula (a veteran journalist and publisher of Science Africa) took us through drills of how to write publishable press statements, ways of managing excellent media relations, ways of regularly developing stories from research institutes to the mass media, and how to interest the mass media with the institutes’ researchers and studies. It was exciting!

The training closed with participants being awarded certificates and also being enrolled into a one-year mentoring program still aimed at enhancing the quality of science communication in Africa. This program is coordinated by INASP and the African Federation of science Journalists (AFSJ).

Certificates' award by AFSJ President

Certificates' award by AFSJ President

Going by the daily evaluations, our understanding and perceptions of science communication changed significantly during the training. Learning to communicate research better and to the right audience may be the basis for preventing fatalities such as the Mt. Elgon case mentioned above.

from a cool Nairobi?

Greetings from a cool (and confused?) Nairobi.


International workshop and celebrating 21 years of research and training for conservation



Last week ITFC and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA, the managers of Uganda’s National Parks) jointly hosted our annual ‘Information Sharing Workshop’, this time in Mbarara. 65 Participants from Uganda, Rwanda and Congo came to represent the students, hosts, partners and collaborators we work with. This workshop was a closing event for ITFC’s 3 year grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The timing coincided with UWA’s efforts to develop a new 10 year management plan for the Bwindi and Mgahinga Conservation Area and the workshop provided a good venue to discuss some difficult and pressing issues.


Attentive audience

Participants were treated to a packed two-day program of presentations and discussions. UWA staff laid out their challenges, ITFC students and staff presented overviews of our work while other representatives of conservation and community development organisations shared their experiences, views and plans.The audience fired off questions and comments and kept us all on our toes.


Break-out group discussing community surveys

One real value of these meetings is for the students and researchers to be able to place their work in the bigger picture and see how managers and others respond to conclusions and recommendations. Importantly too, these workshops are an opportunity to discuss management challenges with a diverse group of experts and practitioners. UWA led the Day 1 discussions, focusing on a) the problem of Mountain Gorillas increasingly roaming outside of the park, b) managing resource use by communities, c) assessing communities’ knowledge, attitude and behaviour towards the parks and d) monitoring wildlife in the park. On Day 2, the same groups decided on what capacity is required in all these fields, within UWA, NGOs and universities and what should be done to develop it.

At the end of it all we had a small party. The University Vice Chancellor shared a few words and then we ate, danced and celebrated ITFC’s 21st birthday: coming of age!

Miriam and Douglas

MUST and ITFC hold Collaboration and Research Opportunities Workshop

On Wednesday Feb. 8th, ITFC held a workshop at our mother institute Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).

Over 35 participants from medicine, psychology, physics, biology, computer science and many other disciplines convened at Acacia Hotel in Mbarara to take part in the collaborative workshop hosted by the Faculty of Science and ITFC. The morning opened with a welcome from Dr. Julius Lejju, the Associate Dean, Faculty of Science.
Dr. Julius expressed his appreciation that ITFC had taken the initiative to reach-out to fellow university units, presenting its work and various collaboration opportunities. He then invited the ITFC Director, Dr. Douglas Sheil to present an overview about ITFC and its programs.

Douglas giving an overview of ITFC

Douglas giving an overview of ITFC

The workshop was also graced with the presence of the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Dr. Pamela Mbabazi. In her remarks, she emphasized the need to take up the goldmine of opportunities availed by ITFC for the university, more especially because of its strategic location. She went on encouraging each department to devise a way of developing a synergy for collaboration with ITFC. “I would like to see a real action plan for this purpose. For some reason we seem to accept ITFC as a part of MUST but we seem so far apart. Let’s take on this opportunity now” She urged.

The D.Vice Chancellor and ITFC Director having a chat during the coffee break

The D.Vice Chancellor and some of the ITFC staff having a chat during the coffee break

Three other ITFC researches gave presentations before we broke out into discussion groups. Each group was tasked to find practical solutions to the question: “ How can collaboration between ITFC and our department be strengthened?”

Group discussions (1)

Group discussions (1)

Group discussions (2)

Group discussions (2)

Group discussions (3)
                                            Group Discussions (3)

What came out from the discussions were numerous approaches for strengthening the relationship and how each department can seize the opportunities at ITFC; by for example writing joint grant proposals, having regular field visits by MUST staff and students to ITFC, including field courses in the curriculum of university programs so that students have a hands-on field experience. Already the Faculty of Medicine is planning to send a number of students to be based at ITFC for their community practice later this year. On February 15th, the Faculty of Development studies is sending a delegation to ITFC, and a two weeks after a group from the Institute of Computer Science shall visit ITFC.

Dr. Nkurunungi JB presenting his group's deliberations

Dr. Nkurunungi J.B. presenting his group's deliberations

Perhaps most importantly, it was clear that all participants really want to get this going.

A group photo of the participants

A group photo of the participants

Special appreciation to all the MUST staff and participants who saw to it that the workshop was a success.


Field day for the gorilla census training

Friday 9 September: the third and last training day for the 2011 Bwindi gorilla census: time for the participants to practise in the forest. I took the opportunity to go along and see what a gorilla census entails. A census team has 6 members, but you will see many more people in the pictures as 3 teams were combined for this field training .

Let me show you what I saw and learned.


Early morning briefing by Martha Robbins of MPI-EVAN. Everyone was ready by 8 am, eager to start!


Following a steeply climbing trail in Bwindi. During the census itself, teams do not even follow trails, but walk transect lines to cover the whole forest… a tough exercise!


Once a gorilla track is found, the census team follows in their footsteps till the site is found where the gorillas spent the night before (one or more beds of vegetation called “nests”). They search for all the nests in the vicinity (gorillas usually make individual nests for the night. Mothers will share with infants/juveniles)


Martha explains how to plot the nest site on a map and to complete the data sheet. A lot of information is derived from the dung found at the nests. It is measured and sampled for later analysis (genetics, parasites, pathogens, etc.)


Rangers are measuring… the diameter of a silverback’s faeces! That size and the odd silver hair in the nest give away the fact that this was the silverback’s night spot.


Dung collection is an essential part of the gorilla census


On the way back, the recording of other observations, like illegal activities, was practised. Locations for all these observations are obtained by GPS.

If you have any questions about the census feel free to ask and we can try to answer them! The complete census will take about 6 weeks.

Otherwise you can also have a look at for other recent news about the census activity.


ITFC hosts training for participants in Bwindi’s Mountain gorilla census

Dear readers,

this week ITFC hosts a large group of people from Uganda, Rwanda and DRCongo in our Conservation Education Centre. They are preparing for the 4th census of our (Bwindi’s) Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). After this training, six teams will systematically search the forest for recent gorilla trails, and record and count night nests. They will also collect dung for genetic analysis. You can read more about the methods on IGCP’s blog site.


Dr Augustin Basabose of IGCP welcomes the participants of the 2011 Bwindi census

We have already been busy with so called ‘pre-census’ activities since earlier this year. ITFC staff who have worked on Kyagurilo gorilla monitoring with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have taken leading roles in this. The pre-census was an effort to collect the dung (and thus genetic markers) needed to individually distinguish as many of the park’s unhabituated gorillas as possible before the main survey begins.

The last (2006) Bwindi census counted 300 gorillas. Of course everyone is eager to know if numbers are stable or even increasing. (The 2010 census of the Virunga gorillas yielded 480 individuals, some 100 more than in their census 5 years earlier — a rare good news story! That means there are now 780 mountain gorillas confirmed in the wild. By late 2012 we hope to have a confirmation of the current numbers in Bwindi and to adjust the World total. Also the health status of the gorillas will get due attention during the data collection for the census.


Dr Lawrence Mugisha explains the importance of assessing the health status of the gorillas

At the same time, the gorilla census is a unique opportunity to collect additional information about the status of Bwindi: the teams sweeping the entire forest also note signs of other mammals and record observations of illegal activities.

A census like this is a major collaboration. It involves many regional partners: the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, the Rwanda Development Board, local governments and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund – International and us, the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation. Funding to support our (pre-)census contribution comes from the Wildlife Conservation Society. Main support for the census comes from the World Wide Fund for Nature-Sweden via the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, with supplemental support coming from Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe.


Participants from Uganda and Rwanda listen attentively to the presentations

We will keep you posted!


Bwindi’s Teachers Receive Environmental Education Training

Conflicts and disagreements between park managers (UWA) and the neighboring communities have existed ever since the gazetting of Bwindi Impenetrable National park. This is partly attributed to the limited local awareness of the forest’s environmental and conservation value. Environmental education offers one solution.

The environment and how to protect it has to be a central part of education and school curricula. For this reason,  ITFC invited the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) who have a lot of experience with this in the region, to conduct environmental education training for primary school teachers near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.  It was just last week that we finally hosted a four-day workshop at our Conservation Education Center. We had 28 local teachers participating.  The training was facilitated by three Canadian volunteers under the supervision of JGI’s Education Officer Aidan Asekenye.

Twenty Eight teachers from around Bwindi during the EE training

Twenty eight teachers came from around Bwindi to attend the EE training

The main aim of the workshop was to prepare the teachers to become champions for environmental conservation within their schools and wider communities. Teachers were also equipped with methods of infusing environmental education in the curricula of four primary school subjects (of Maths, English, Social studies and Science).

After taking a guided forest walk in Bwindi and later through the nearby community, teachers were asked to raise  the key environmental issues and also suggest solutions to these issues. Among the challenges identified were poor waste disposal, declining water quality, poor farming methods, and a high human population density as a threat to the conservation of Bwindi.

Through a series of interactive discussions, the teachers were helped to come up with practical solutions  not only to these issues but also to the other global environmental challenges like global warming, wildlife habitat loss,etc. Each teacher was given an opportunity to illustrate how best they could articulate these solutions into their daily lesson planning without necessarily teaching environmental education as an independent subject. After each presentation the audience were invited to suggest improvements to the proposed lesson plan, e.g. how could it be made more engaging and hands-on?

The workshop ended with each participant receiving a Teachers’ Guide Environmental Education information pack and a certificate of attendance.  They also received an evaluation questionnaire which they shall post back after six months to document what they believe they have accomplished as a result of the training.

A group photo of the participants and some of their facilitators

A group photo of the participants and some of their facilitators

If we can raise the funding, we hope we can extend these activities to more schools and communities. We hope that the communities and park authorities will work more closely because they agree that Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and their mountain gorillas should have a long-term future.  That’s our vision.  That’s what we work for.


ITFC sets up the first African GLORIA plots on Mount Rwenzori

Dear followers of ITFC’s blog

We have just come back from the footslopes of the Rwenzori mountains, on the border between Uganda and DR-Congo. We had a 1-day workshop there to introduce a new monitoring activity: ITFC will lead a new study that will set up high altitude plots (well above the treeline, around 4000 m.a.s.l.) to follow temperature and vegetation trends over decades to come. These are the first such plots in Africa!

Climate change is expected to hit hardest and fastest at high altitudes, where plants are adapted to cold and have little area to move to once it gets too warm. A perfect setting for research on the impact of climate change! We need data to know what is happening.


GLORIA trainer Stephan Halloy -of The Nature Conservancy- explains what impact climate change may have on species at high altitude.

For over a decade mountain researchers from around the world have developed and agreed a protocol for standardised data collection, called ‘GLORIA’ (Global Alpine Research Initiative in Alpine Environments). Plots have been set up in the Alps, and other parts of Europe, and more recently in the Andes, New Zealand and Asia. But until now not in Africa. The team ITFC put together is setting up the plots on the Rwenzori mountains right now. Included in the team are staff of the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s Research and Monitoring unit, WCS’s botanist Ben Kirunda who has some alpine experience, and ITFC staff Fredric Ssali, Robert Barigyira and Badru Mugerwa.

We had also invited local community members to the planning and training workshop. The mountain, and particularly its snow covered parts, are the abode of the ‘little gods’ of the Bakonjo who live on Rwenzori’s footslopes. They consider the mountain their cultural home and do not like to see their gods disturbed. Their elders shared the ‘cultural behavioral guidelines’ to be followed while on the mountain with the team and two members of their cultural organisation joined the expedition as guides. Rules include to avoid pointing at any of the peaks of the mountain and to referain from referrring to them by their sacred names.


Community representatives listen to the presentations and contributed their views on climate change and what the team should avoid doing on the mountain to stay on good terms with the “little gods”

After the workshop, we sorted out all the scientific, camping and personal equipment for the team; an impressive quantity! In the night, a thunderstorm broke loose and rain pounded the roofs for 4 hours… It made us think about how conditions for camping on the mountain would be, but according to the local people, this was Rwenzori’s welcome and a positive omen!


Over 40 porters assisted bringing up the required gear and food for the GLORIA team


RMNP’s Research & Monitoring ranger Alfred Masereka briefs the team before starting the ascent


Our GLORIA team just before entering Rwenzori Mountains National Park

The team started climbing in good spirits: it will take 3 days to get to the base camp from where they will select sites for the plots. We look forward to their stories ‘from above’!

Miriam and Douglas

Gorilla gathering at ITFC

Last week ITFC hosted the workshop “Gorillas across Africa” that included representatives from the majority of gorilla habitat countries. We believe this was the first time that such a broad gathering has been convened. The meeting was led by the Max Planck Institute (Evolutionary Anthropology), and the North Carolina Zoo.


Gladys Kalema of Uganda’s Conservation Through Public Health presenting a study on the health status of people, livestock and gorillas in and around Bwindi


Participants from research stations, management authorities, NGOs and conservation organisations attended the workshop

Three days were filled with enthousiastic and interactive discussions on research and monitoring methods, conservation, veterinary questions as well as communication and education activities in the various countries — all related to gorillas. All participants agreed that sharing such experiences and ideas was valuable. It is a remarkable difference that Mountain Gorillas have been intensely studied for decades already, and censuses have taken place several times, whereas in the Central African Republic the numbers of (Lowland) gorillas are not even known to the nearest ten-thousand.

One of the West African participants was heard to comment that where in East Africa gorilla conservation is supported by income from tourism, such support in West Africa still mostly depends on community education and cultural attachment to the forest habitat of the gorillas. These comparisons, insights and opportunities to share knowledge are valuable.

We welcome participants to add their own observations to this short blog on the workshop!

Miriam and Douglas

ITFC and UWA hold Information Sharing Workshop

Last week, from 12 to 15 April, ITFC resembled a bee-hive. The usually quiet Conservation Education Centre in Ruhija suddenly became filled with chatter and laughter of visitors from all over Uganda, and even Rwanda. They had come to participate in the annual ITFC-UWA Information Sharing workshop, which theme was “Emerging issues and challenges of natural resource management in Albertine Rift protected areas.”

Apart from our own scholarship students, research and project staff and Wardens from Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area, partner organizations present included the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, CARE, the Batwa organization UOBDU, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Karisoke Research Center, Rwanda. In total, this 2011 workshop was attended by some 45 participants.

Guest of honor was Prof. Frederick Kayanja -the Vice Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science amd Technology and long time patron of ITFC- who opened the workshop and reminded the audience that the institute came into being 20 years ago, roughly at the same time that Bwindi was gazetted as National Park.

Participants discussing during the workshop

Participants discussing during the workshop

Otherwise, the first day was dedicated to MSc and PhD research projects, some completed and some still ongoing, as well as presentations by partner organisations about their activities. The range of topics was truly broad; from UWA’s overview of park management challenges to inventories of small creatures like parasitic plants and rodents. At the end of a long Day 1, participants were still happy to stretch their legs and went into Bwindi forest to visit a permanent sample plot for the Multiple Use Program. Others visited ITFCs’ automated climate station, and the ethno-botanical garden.


Visiting a Permanent Sample Multiple Use Plot

The second day was dedicated to presenting preliminary recommendations from two of ITFC’s research programmes, on resource harvesting in Bwindi and uptake of problem animal control measures, and seeking feedback from participants. Robert Bitariho and Emmanuel Akampulira gave presentations, and invited participants to discuss in break-out groups.

For example, one of Robert’s recommendations to improve management of resource use by communities was that “Resource Use agreements with UWA should not be made at parish level, but rather with smaller groups (e.g. village level)”. Some participants strongly supported this, saying that smaller, more homogeneous groups would be more cohesive and have shared interests. They even went as far as to suggest that groups should be organized around a specific resource (e.g. weaving materials and medicinal plants respectively). UWA and others, on the other hand, expressed worries about the practicability of such a change.


Partitipants broke into smaller workgroup sessions

Emmanuel recommended that stakeholder coordination is essential for Human Wildlife Conflict measures to be successful. Roles and responsibilities of each party, including government, should be clearly defined and agreed with all present. Currently this is not the case. Participants discussed that incentives are required to motivate people. Since UWA/government ‘will always be there’ (as opposed to NGOs), they should be the ones taking the lead in sustainable intervention management, with other stakeholders supporting where they are able.

Participants confirmed the importance of workshops like this, where information and recommendations from research is discussed with a wider audience, and is not just “gathering dust and lichens on shelves!”—as one participant described it. Pontius Ezuma (acting Conservation Area Manager) was positive that a lot of the available knowledge from research will be useful in drawing a new 10 year management plan for Bwindi and Mgahinga. He invited ITFC to again be part of the process, planned for this year. He also implored participants to continue doing research for the sake of conservation. “I know that conducting research is not easy, it’s costly in terms of finance, effort and time. Look at your contributions not only in terms of a few years from now, but also 10 or 100 years. Our parents’ generation left us these forests and we appreciate it; let us make sure we leave something good behind for the next generation too!” Pontius said, shortly before closing the workshop.


Some of the Participants

From then on, it was time for entertainment in form of traditional music and dance from the Ruhija Children’s Group, drinks, nyama-kyoma (goat roasting) and more partying which ended late in the night.

We are very grateful to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for financially supporting this annual event.


Participants enjoying a traditional Bakiga Dance

Well, if you missed out, be comforted that all presentations can soon be accessed from our website ( And you could book yourself early for a slot in the 2012 workshop!