Tag Archives: Capacity building

Volunteership experience in Bwindi

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

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

 

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

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

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

Market day in Ruhija

Market day in Ruhija

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

 

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

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

Library and office life.

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

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

Field work experience

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

Byaruhanga (a field assistant) crossing Ihihizo River

Byaruhanga (a field assistant) crossing Ihihizo River

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


Toilet occupied, don't disturb!!!

Toilet occupied, don't disturb!!!

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

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

 Diane

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

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

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

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

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

Terrifying  moments

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

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

One of our campsites in Bwindi

One of our campsites in Bwindi

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

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

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

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

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

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

An improvised bridge

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

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

 Emilly Kamusiime

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.

Ivan

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.

Ivan

An interview with Douglas Sheil

Dear readers,

remember we presented our staff Robert, Badru, Emmanuel and Peter in this blog some time ago? We had a few more interviews in the pipeline, but too much other stuff was happening so we delayed! We now introduce Douglas Sheil, the current director of the Institute (ITFC).

“I am a forest ecologist. I have worked with ITFC as the director for over two and a half years. The job is a real mixture of tasks. I often deal with correspondence regarding new research ideas and funds for the institute. I also have a lot of communication with people interested in doing research with ITFC. I sometimes get to work closely with students and researchers and get involved with solving the various challenges of their research – that can be fun.

Before working here at ITFC, I spent ten years in an international organisation in Indonesia. It was a great place to do research but I left as I felt that life had become a bit too comfortable. I needed a new challenge. I had been saying that I would welcome the chance to work for an African university for a while, or to work somewhere a bit wild; so naturally, when I saw the job of director advertised for ITFC in Bwindi, I applied! Miriam (van Heist) and I agreed to share the job between us (half time each). We already knew ITFC and Bwindi (a beautiful place!) so we were excited about this opportunity.

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“I love being surrounded by the Bwindi Impenetrable forest!”

One aspect of the work that I enjoy is the variety. Bwindi is such a remarkable place too, I still see new things nearly every day. It can be a lot of fun to work with enthusiastic students, staff and visiting researchers. Of course I also enjoy the research itself – though I generally spend more time in the office than I would wish!

There are various trip opportunities. For example, for one project we have visited many of the protected areas of Uganda, and discussed with the managers the challenges that they’re facing. The goal of much of our research is to assist with those problems.

Our main challenge at ITFC is funding – nothing is guaranteed in the long term. We always seem to need additional funds to fix something or address a new challenge. That part of the work is seldom fun – it can be frustrating – but it is important.

ITFC’s role in conservation is important. We must ensure people with the knowledge and skills to deal with the various challenges within the region not only now but in the future. Education is vital.”

This blog was written by Alex Pinsker, based on an interview with Douglas

A new group of scholarship students to join ITFC

Dear readers,

we are excited! After a relatively quiet few months at the station, 4 new Masters’ students on scholarship have joined us. They arrived yesterday. The plan is to help them to fine-tune their research proposals and to start the fieldwork required for their MSc degrees. It will give the station a buzz of life again. There will be a lot of rushing around for a lot of people while we are helping them settle and progress.

As last year, we are able to support these students through a grant ITFC received from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

  • Vincent Luswata will address the issue of firewood demand of communities around the Bwindi and Mgahinga Conservation Area, helping us understand better how much and what kind of fuel people use, where it comes from, how it is traded and where are the shortfalls.
  • Emilly Kamusiime will make a (first-time in Bwindi) inventory of parasitic plants and their impacts.
  • Brian Baguma will study invasive species in Semuliki Valley, another Ugandan National Park in the Albertine Rift. Particularly Senna spectabilis has been singled out by UWA as a problem species as it is already covering large parts of the park.

This year, 3 more scholarships were on offer through the USAID funded WILD West program in which ITFC is a partner.

  • Patrick Mawanda will explore the role rodents play as parasite carriers across the boundary of Bwindi. (We had selected a candidate for a similar study on baboons who withdrew so we have readvertised the opportunity). These studies are motivated by our need to understand and reduce the risk of disease transfer between humans (and associated species such as rats) and primates, and
  • Robert Sekisambu will make an inventory of Bwindi’s amphibians, and examine threats to them and their habitat, as well as sample the animals for chytrid fungus — an infection which has caused the catastrophic decline of many species of frogs globally (it is already present in Uganda but has not yet been examined in Bwindi).

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From left to right: Vincent Luswata, Patrick Mawanda, Brian Baguma and Robert Sekisambu

Join us in welcoming these students to ITFC. We hope that they will learn a lot from this year of working in a real-life conservation context! Thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and USAID for providing us the means to support this effort and help us build expertise for the future!

Miriam

My enriching experience at Ruhija ITFC station

We received the below contribution from Frank Akampa, a Ugandan student, who just completed his MSc at a German University (congratulations!) and had come to ITFC some months ago during his fieldwork. Thanks for your appreciation, Frank!

“After finishing data collection in Nkuringo and Buhoma, I was now headed for Ruhija. On 3 August 2009 I boarded a motorcycle taxi (locally known as Boda-boda) to Ruhija, making sure that the boda man knew Ruhija since I had not been there before. And after a two-hour ride from Buhoma, there I was at ITFC around 4 pm.

Hey! You know what? When I reached there I asked for Miriam because she is the one I had been in touch with. Clemensia led me to Miriam’s office and there she was busy in the office but that could not stop her from attending to me. Thanks for the nice library, accommodation and meals. Your accommodation was another thrilling experience!

Immediately that evening of my arrival I started my literature search, since I knew my time at ITFC was only short. Thanks to all staff of ITFC; the researchers, the volunteers and interns (to Emilly, Emmanuel, Badru, Leah, Aventino etc). I really enjoyed staying with you however short my stay was. Emilly thanks for the guided walk around Ruhija to the campsites, I was really happy with that.

The following morning I was in the library again and this became my routine for the three full days I stayed at ITFC. The library was resourceful. I encourage all those doing research on ecotourism and conservation related issues not to miss this chance. My research was about “the impact of community participation in ecotourism towards income generation – a focus on BINP and the surrounding communities of Mukono, Ruhija, Nteko and Kyeshero Parishes”.

Miriam and Douglas thanks for taking time to guide me through and providing important ideas towards my research. My short discussion with you at ITFC was really enriching for my write-up. I also held discussions with some Ruhija community members regarding their expectations from tourism and also interviewed some campsite staff. Ruhija has a potential for ecotourism development now that gorilla trekking has started from its ranger post. Local communities may benefit from it, but appropriate planning is needed to ensure orderly and environmentally friendly developments, an attractive and appealing environment for a visitor to feel it worthwhile to stay some days longer and recommend others to visit. Harmonizing development and conservation is a challenge (Look at this picture).

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The famous hard border between Bwindi forest and the cultivated community land

During my study, I realized not only that local people’s involvement in ecotourism is helpful in changing their attitudes towards conservation but also that they can gain skills, and economic empowerment vital in ensuring sustainable development. It is clear that unless people living around these important conservation areas are empowered economically and socially, the future of these places is threatened. Succeeding in this endeavor is indeed a challenge but then should we give up? Not at all! Let’s embrace the value of commitment, hard work and dedication.

Frank Akampa

Frank Blog Photo.jpg

An innovative tourist lodge: reconciling conservation and people?

Hi, we are just back from a reconnaissance to the southern side of the National Park. We first visited Rushaga outpost, where a new family of mountain gorillas (called the ‘Shongo’ group) has been habituated and will soon be open for trekking. Tibenda, one of our field assistants who has worked for many years with mountain gorillas, is based here for 3 months; he is training park rangers in identifying individual gorillas of the Shongo family and proudly told us that they have named 27 of the 34 gorillas already (yes, Shongo is a very large group). Rushaga’s parks edge location, is very scenic, with dense dark forest covering the steep slopes and apparently several waterfalls and a hot spring to be visited.

New briefing banda for mountain gorilla tracking, Rushaga, Bwindi

New tourist developments at Rushaga, with Bwindi in the background

We then continued with the rough but awe inspiringly beautiful drive westward to Nkuringo, a village that has been offering mountain gorilla trekking for a few years already. Just around sunset we arrived at the campsite where we would spend the night. But we had actually been travelling with a Nkuringo resident, former ITFC field assistant and now chairman of the Nkuringo Community Development Foundation (NCDF) – himself an example of ITFC capacity building. He insisted on taking us to ‘their lodge’, and introducing us to the manager. Despite being tired from the journey, we were curious and went along, as we had heard of this unusual initiative; a local community organization owning an upmarket eco-lodge managed as a limited-term concession by a private company, but from which considerable revenue is derived for community activities.

Nothing had prepared us for the stunning 5-star lodge, with what must be one of the best views on this planet. Strategically located at 2100 meter altitude, all the Virunga Volcanoes in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo were in view from the main lounge as well as from the dining area and guest rooms (the active Nyaragongo volcano was even casting a red glow against the clouds at night).

Volcano tops from left to right: Muhavura, Mugahinga, Sabinyo, Visoke, Karisimbe and Nyaragongo

The ‘Clouds Lodge’ was built and is run by Wild Places Africa. Most of its staff are local residents and are being trained by the manager,Gary Segal, to give high standard personal service to tourists who pay for the privilege. A training and capacity development plan is in place to ensure that after 15 years, the company can withdraw and hand-over all management to the community.

The lodge only started operating 7 months ago, but has already earned the NCDF thousands of dollars. The NCDF receives 30 U$ per night for each guest. Members vote to decide which community projects will be supported by this income. There is quite some spin-off from this enterprise as well, through locally bought produce and increased employment. Generous guests have also donated additional funds for school fees or for supporting other specific projects.

Basket weavers in front of the NCDF office, learning how to improve the quality of their crafts

Initial developments and agreements were facilitated and sponsored by the African Wildlife Foundation AWF the International Gorilla Conservation Program IGCP while USAID helped finance it through its ‘Wild West’ program. Bwindi’s park management (UWA) supports the initiative by reserving 6 of the 8 gorilla permits for NCDF bookings. They all work from the conviction that the people who live closest to the park boundary deserve extra support, as they were paying the price of crop raiding by wild animals from the forest, including gorillas (see Douglas’s blog of 22 May for more on this).

A sign at the entrance road of Clouds lodge acknowledges all contributors to the enterprise

Many approaches to improving livelihoods have been tried in the region. This links to conservation because it is hoped that this will reduce conflict between people and the park. The challenge remains to find sustainable solutions, or those which at least last longer than a limited term project. In Gary’s eyes, the key concepts to ensure that the lodge and other income generating activities can be taken over by local people in due time are education and capacity building. But this takes time and requires patience from all involved.

We at ITFC face a similar challenge: how to ensure sustainable capacity and support for conservation? Local capacity building, through post graduate student training and collaboration with the park authorities are our answers, but long term activities remain hard to fund.

Greetings from Miriam

Blogging from Bwindi- introduction

Welcome!

We declare the Bwindi blog open and we look forward to reaching you! At this website, ITFC staff, researchers and others will tell you about their work, lives, interests and worries. Ever since the WildlifeDirect team came to visit us, two of our local field staff, Dennis and Christopher, have been keen to get started. Neither of them have had much experience with computers before, and this is a real learning opportunity for them. We hope you can help us to encourage them!

First some introductions …

The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) is located just inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (“Bwindi” for short), a World Heritage Site in South-West Uganda, and a forest famous for containing almost half the World’s mountain gorillas (just over 300). From the path below the station, when the clouds are not too low, we can see the imposing Virunga Volcanoes (think “Gorillas in the mist”) of Rwanda and Congo (DRC) where the other mountain gorillas occur.

Virunga Volcanoes from Ruhija, Bwindi

Virunga Volcanoes from Ruhija, Bwindi

It takes a couple of hours by car to reach us from Kabale, the nearest large town, as long as there are no landslides, fallen trees or elephants on the road. We have a staff of about 30, and regularly accommodate local students and foreign researchers, as well as other interested visitors. We have good facilities, with internet, solar power supply and rain water collection from most roofs. ITFC , a field station under Mbarara University of Science and Technology, has been involved in a wide range of research activities since 1995 and has trained a lot of Uganda’s current conservation leaders and academics. However, the station has been strapped for cash the last few years and we are keen to explore new opportunities for sustainable funding.

Though strikingly beautiful, Bwindi is not the easiest place to move around in; it is steep, very rugged and full of dense thickets – the word “impenetrable” did not get into the name by accident. Most tourists come to Bwindi for the gorillas. But the forest contains many other remarkable animals. These include chimpanzees (currently hooting loudly on the slopes below the station as we write this) and the deceptively innocent looking L’Hoests monkeys (another restricted range species) that often hang around our buildings peering in the windows – they have recently begun stealing food if we forget to close doors behind us (we’ll have to wait for market day to get more bananas). Tourists also come to see Bwindi’s many rare and restricted bird species.

l'Hoest's monkeys; not as innocent as they look!

l’Hoests monkey with baby; not as innocent as they look!

People in the surrounding areas are poor and work hard to make a living on the steep slopes. Many of them, especially the Batwa “pygmies”, used to use the forest for all kinds of purposes before they were evicted to make way for the National Park in the early 1990s. ITFC’s field staff is largely drawn from the local population.

ITFC staff currently works with three gorilla groups on a daily basis (two tourist groups and one research group) – this research is led by the Max Planck Institute in Germany. In these groups each animal is known as a distinct individual, with their own personality. Keeping track of the gorilla rivalries, relationships and comings and goings makes keeping track of these groups our own Bwindi soap-opera.

ITFC also works regularly with surrounding communities and the National Park Authorities to monitor and manage access to the protected area for the gathering of culturally important plants used in medicine and crafts. There are various other ongoing studies that we can tell you more about soon. A whole set of new projects proposed by Ugandan university students should soon be selected for ITFC support (via a grant from the MacArthur foundation) – and should start before the end of the year.

One planned activity that should begin in a few months is to set up cameras in the forest that – when triggered by animals moving past – will take pictures automatically. We can scarcely wait to see what we are going to find in those pictures. We’ll keep you informed.

Over the next months we hope that Dennis, Christopher and others will give some flavour of what it is like to live and work here and in the surrounding villages. We are worried about the capacity of our satellite based internet link- so please don’t give up on us if we disappear for a few weeks. We often have storms, and lightning is a recurring danger (the station is perched on a hill top); last year one strike destroyed our modem and gave a severe shock to one of our staff (now fully recovered).

Fields beside Ruhija, Bwindi

The steep farm land below Ruhija village, next to ITFC, with Bwindi in the background 

Our blog will focus on the day to day work by ITFC’s staff and should give you some flavour of what we are doing here. We can also keep you updated on developments in the neighbouring village as eco-tourism (mainly gorilla trekking) takes off. Over time you should get some ideas of our challenges and the ups and downs of life in Uganda’s forests. We look forward to it and invite you to join us.

Who are we? We are Douglas Sheil and Miriam van Heist, two foreign researchers responsible for running the institute since about a year ago. For a lot of that time we have been trying to raise funds to maintain the station and support student activities. We are hoping WildlifeDirect will put us in touch with people who can help. Please let us know what we can do to make this blog more interesting for you!

Two new bloggers in the forest, ITFC, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Miriam and Douglas