Tag Archives: conservation

ITFC honors Professor F. I.B Kayanja for his dedication to the conservation of Bwindi’s Mountain Gorillas

On the 17th and 18th July, ITFC and UWA held an annual research information sharing workshop in Ruhija, Bwindi whose theme was “25 years of research collaboration between Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), partners and Mbarara University Science and Technology (MUST), realizing effective and sustainable partnership in conservation”. One individual who has been at the helm of this collaborative research between UWA and partners is none other than the distinguished Prof. F.I.B Kayanja. Indeed there was no better time of honoring his contributions towards the establishment of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the conservation of its Gorillas than at this year’s ITFC/UWA information sharing workshop. Paying tribute to Prof. Kayanja for his commendable service in conservation was undoubtly  the biggest highlight of the workshop.

Prof. Kayanja, who will be retiring from public service on the 24th October 2014, was very pivotal in the establishment of a research institute of MUST-the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) and gazettement of Bwindi forest into a national park in 1991. Before then, the Bwindi’s mountain gorillas were on the verge of extinction. By the establishment of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Bwindi’s Gorillas were saved from extinction a task Prof. Kayanja painstakingly achieved. Furthermore, ITFC was the first of its kind that that specialized in tropical forest ecology including research on Mountain Gorillas. ITFC has helped train many Ugandans and others in these fields since 1991. At this years workshop MUST with its field research institute (ITFC) was commemorating 25 years of partnership with UWA and other partners.

During the workshop, on behalf of ITFC, Dr. Robert Bitariho (the director-ITFC) surprised the whole entire workshop by presenting a surprise souvenir of a mountain gorilla painting to Prof. Kayanja. This was after he read out a long list of citations of Prof. Kayanja’s contributions to conservation in Uganda. The citation was concluded with a phrase from one UWA senior warden that Prof. Kayanja was a “god” father of conservation in Uganda. “I am greatly humbled” was a response from Prof. Kayanja while he received the souvenir.

Dr Robert Bitariho reads out a citation of Prof. Kayanja before presenting to him the souvenir with the help of BMCA Conservation Area Manager, Mr. Pontious Ezuma (to the left) and Bwindi Southern sector Chief warden, Mr. John Justice Tibesigwa (to the right).

Dr Robert Bitariho reads out a citation of Prof. Kayanja before presenting to him the souvenir with the help of BMCA Conservation Area Manager, Mr. Pontious Ezuma (to the left) and Bwindi Southern sector Chief warden, Mr. John Justice Tibesigwa (to the right).

Prof. Kayanja receiving the souvenir midst heavy applause from the audience.

Prof. Kayanja receiving the souvenir midst heavy applause from the audience.

Prof. Kayanja later blessed the occasion with a captivating key not speech, during which he emphasized that his contribution, General Moses Ali and Dr. Eric Edroma in the gazetting of Bwindi Impenetrable forest as a national park was to be highly revered. Prof. Kayanja astonished the audience when he made a very generous offer for his support in all matters of ITFC even during his retirement. “ITFC is my brainchild,” he added, while an enchanted audience listened with bated breath as he spoke about the importance of handling the legacy that ITFC is. “The challenge I leave with you is to be satisfied with the fruits of your labor in your youth, just as I have done.” He concluded his speech by thanking and appreciating all partners and their contribution towards conservation, especially for the dream that ITFC and UWA have become.

Prof. Kayanja giving  a keynote speech at the recently concluded ITFC/UWA information sharing workshop, Ruija

Prof. Kayanja giving a keynote speech at the recently concluded ITFC/UWA information sharing workshop in Ruhija

Several speakers would agree, that it’s never an easy task to speak after Prof. Kayanja. However, many of the well-prepared workshop participants stood up to the challenge and embraced this unique opportunity to stand on the same podium to present their research findings. Catch these proceedings in our next blog.

Best regards,

Emmanuel Akampulira, Robert Bitariho and Badru Mugerwa

The Forth ITFC/UWA Annual Information Sharing Workshop-A Huge success

Warm greetings from the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC). I take this opportunity to apologize for quite a long silence. Allow me to break this silence with a recent success story from ITFC.

At ITFC, we have a tradition of updating our partners in conservation with research information pertinent to the conservation of Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA) and other conservation areas. There is no better strategy of achieving this, than  the ITFC/UWA annual information sharing workshops.

This year’s and the forth of such workshops was held at the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park headquarters in Buhoma on Friday, 7th June 2013. The one-day workshop was organized by ITFC in close collaboration with the  Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), managers of the  BMCA. The idea behind these workshops is to bring together stakeholders and partners in conservation and development to review completed and on-going researches, share ideas, and identify current and future management research priorities for the BMCA.

The workshop themed “Research for park management” attracted 33 participants from eight  organizations. The organizations that participated in the workshop included; the UWA, ITFC, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Secretariat (GVTC), CARE-Uganda, Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT), International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP Inc.)

During the course of the workshop, twenty oral presentations were made. As the theme dictated, all talks shared results and updates on on-going and completed researches in and around the BMCA, with a special focus on their applicability to park management.  The workshop proceedings will soon be made available on  the ITFC website. Below I share  a pictorial from the workshop. Joseph Arinaitwe (Research and Monitoring Ranger for BMCA) provided all pictures.

Bwindi research and monitoring objectives

Bwindi  research and monitoring objectives presented by the BMCA Conservation Area Manager, Mr. Pontious Ezuma

The forth ITFC/UWA annual Information Sharing Workshop  participant group photo

The forth ITFC/UWA annual Information Sharing Workshop participant group photo

Pontious, Christopher and Robert listening to Teddy from Greater Virunga

Pontious, Christopher and Robert listening to Teddy from GVTC


Robert giving an overview of the completed and ongoing ITFC research activities in BMCA

Robert giving an overview of the completed and ongoing ITFC research activities


Yours sincerely,






ITFC starts activities for the Batwa Cultural Values project

ITFC, in partnership with Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU) has started an exciting new project: “Integrating Batwa cultural values into national parks management in Uganda”. The project is funded by the Darwin Initiative, UK.

Medard Twinamatsiko, whom we introduced in the last blog, will guide and manage this project along with Frederick Ssali.  The purpose  is to improve relations between Batwa and park authorities, develop income generating activities and increase the active engagement of Batwa in national park management. When Bwindi, Mgahinga and Semliki National Parks were gazetted in 1991, the Batwa (‘pygmees’) were expelled from their forest home. They have lost their livelihoods and are mostly landless squatters living on borrowed land. Their plight has been taken up by many organisations, but Batwa still live in poverty, diseases are rife and they are looked down upon.

Group of Batwa women and children, south of Bwindi

Uganda is a signatory to the Convention for Biodiversity, which obliges governments to recognise the rights of minorities to maintain their cultural practices when this is compatible with conservation. Many Batwa cherish traditional uses of the forest and continue to use the park and its resources if they can. UWA’s efforts to prevent this through policing are only partially effective and create conflicts that reduce management effectiveness, undermine conservation goals, and raise questions about sustainability.

Batwa value the forests and support forest conservation in the sense that they want the forest protected, but of course they do not support their exclusion for the forest and its management. This project will promote recognition of Batwa values and institutions, engage the Batwa community in park governance, and help retain values, institutions and ethnic identity, all important contributions to their wellbeing.

ITFC’s researcher Bitariho interviewing John Biraara, one of the oldest Batwa still alive. Accompanied on the left by a local councillor and on the right by UOBDU advisor Chris Kidd. The interview took place in preparation of the 3D mapping of Bwindi with the Batwa (first quarter 2010).

ITFC’s role in the project is to assess and document the views and cultural values of the Batwa and to help explore how these can be better integrated with conservation practices. Other partners will focus on strengthening communication between Batwa and the park authorities in order to build understanding and confidence, they will also create incentives for income generating activities by Batwa, develop inclusive park management policy, and provide training.  This builds on the work we had already begun with interviews and mapping.


“Hey calm down, It’s our world too… ” Bwindi chimps cry out

Frankly, I don’t know who makes the wildest or loudest noise to the world out there. I have had the opportunity to visit the mountain gorillas and witnessed them making the deafening “call me boss” noises. Similarly, I have had to endure several evening hours of “hey this is my territory” screams of chimpanzees, all in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi). Cute conversations going on in the jungle every other day between mothers, fathers, juveniles and babies have continuously reminded me of how important every other animal is to the general ecosystem of the park.

To some extent I feel a current of shame rising up in me as some of these animals howl out their evenings in the jungle. Not that I would love them to spend a night with me in my relatively warm bed, not at all! My observation here is the amount of attention a few species (read mountain gorillas) may be getting compared to the other. Indeed only a handful of Bwindi visitors get to know that there is even a thriving population of chimps in the park. Yet an estimated 350-400 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi Eastern Chimpanzee) live in Bwindi. It is only in Bwindi that we have both the mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees ranging in one habitat in Africa.

In my few months working in Bwindi and over five years in tourism, I have observed how the gorillas seem to get more “marketable” over the years than any the other primate species. Not only in terms of research studies commissioned in respect to each of these species, but also in terms of awareness and promotion for tourism and attention from conservation practitioners.

The eastern chimpanzee is classified as “Endangered” on IUCN’s Red Listed species occurring in South-West Uganda. Isn’t is a shame therefore that we don’t have any studies about the population trends, demographics, distribution of chimps in Bwindi?

Luckily from our camera trap fieldwork in the park we managed to get a few photos of these chimps and we continue encountering their nests frequently as we walk in the park.

somewhere in Bwindi as caught by camera trap

somewhere in Bwindi as caught by our camera trap

Wouldn’t it nice one day to see a group scientists embarking on a census activity for chimps in Bwindi or better still group of tourist enthusiastically paying for their tickets for tracking chimps in Bwindi?

Well, until then, Bwindi chimps are crying; “hey calm down, it’s our world too”.

Let’s hear what you think.


Where are the Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) in Uganda?

Endemic bird areas (EBAs), defined by BirdLife International, are geographical areas home to at least two endemic bird species whose ranges (i.e with a world distribution of less than 50,000 km²) are restricted to a relatively small area. More than 70% of such species are also globally threatened with extinction. For this reason, EBAs should be high on our list of habitats to protect. Though the focus is on birds, however, the idea has great significance for the conservation of other species, and of biodiversity in general.

In 1998, the book Endemic Bird Areas of the World cemented the connection between endemic birds and biodiversity, and argued that it’s critically important to protect these areas: “At the ecosystem level, biodiversity underpins the ecological processes that are vital to human life, for example in influencing global climate patterns, in mediating the carbon cycle, in safeguarding watersheds, and in stabilizing soils to prevent desertification” (p. 13).

Birdlife International now recognizes 218 EBAs and lobbies for their conservation.

Uganda has parts of three EBAs.: the Albertine Rift Mountains (EBA 106), Eastern Zaire lowlands (EBA 107) and Kenya Mountains (EBA 109). There are 31 restricted-range species in Uganda, five of which categorized as Vulnerable: namely African Green Broadbill, Karamoja Apalis, Grauer’s Rush Wabler, Shelley’s Crimsonwing and Chapin’s Flycatcher.

The Shelleys Crimsonwing

The Shelley's Crimsonwing

The Albertine Rift mountains (classified Priority Urgent) has 36 restricted range species, 10 of which are threatened. It includes the Rwenzori Mountains (5010m ASL) and several other highlands in Southwestern Uganda (ranging between 2000 and 3500 m ASL) with wildlife protected areas namely: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Echuya Forest Reserve, and the national parks of the Virungas. The restricted range species include the monotypic endemic genera Pseudocalyptomena, Graueria and Hemitesia. They mostly range in montane forest, bamboo zone, highland swamps and Afro-alpine moorland.

Nectarinia stuhimanni is only known to range in the Rwenzori ranges.

Nectarinia stuhimanni is only known to range in the Rwenzori ranges.

The Ugandan portion of Eastern Zaire lowlands EBA (classified Priority High) lies in the northwestern sector of Semliki Forest (Semliki National Park) touching DRC’s great Ituri Forest. Semliki Forest is outstandingly rich in wildlife and internationally recognized: it contains half as many bird species as the entire DRC and nearly two thirds as many as the 181,000 km² of the Upper Guinea Forests. Globally threatened species (Near-threatened) here include the Great Snipe, White-naped Pigeon, Sassi’s Greenbul, Papyrus Gonolek and Forest Ground Thrush.

A section of the Rwenzori ranges habitat. The park contains 17 Albertine endemics.

A section of the Rwenzori ranges habitat. The park contains 17 Albertine endemics.

Uganda’s fraction of Kenyan Mountains EBA lies on the country’s portion of Mount Elgon extending for about 80 km north/south and 50 km east/west. On its slopes is a 900 km² forest extending across the Uganda-Kenya frontier, gazetted as Mount Elgon National Park on either side. The bird diversity totals 300 species (three confined to this EBA, and one near threatened species – Taita Falcon). The restricted range species include Francolinus jacksoni, Macronyx sharpie and Cisticola hunter.

Over 25% of all bird species (2561 species) have restricted ranges being confined to areas less than 5000 km². Of these 816 are threatened species, yet most (80%) of the 62 species that have gone extinct in the last 200 years had restricted ranges. 77% of EBAs are located in the tropics and subtropics.

From a global perspective, the most essential feature of EBAs is that they include important numbers of the globally threatened species in somewhat small regions, as well as vast numbers of other organisms. They deliver a chance for maximum conservation with minimum effort.

Further Reading/ Sources:

Endemic Bird Locations. BirdLife International.

Endemic Bird Regions of the Planet: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. Stattersfield, A. J., M. J. Crosby, A. J. Long et al. (BirdLife Conservation Series No. 7.) BirdLife International. 1998.


New 10-year General Management Plan for Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area in making

Dear readers,

This week we welcome back our very own Robert Bitariho from a hectic week. He represented ITFC in a first stage of a General Management Plan (GMP) development for the Bwindi and Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA). Together with 14 other planning team members, he had a reconnaissance trip of  conditions, facilities and management issues in the two parks making up the BMCA.

The GMP preparation by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is a participatory process, offering stakeholders the chance to have an input in the management and development of the parks in the next 10 years. Issues to be addressed include resource protection, use and management (natural, cultural and scenic resources), boundary issues, community involvement in conservation, benefit sharing, tourism development,  access and infrastructure, interpretation and education, research and monitoring.

UWA’s members of the planning team include officials from the HQ Planning unit and Research and monitoring, as well as BMCA Wardens of conservation, research and monitoring, tourism, and law enforcement. Local government is represented at the district level, by Environmental and Agricultural Production officers.

This first reconnaissance stage took about two weeks, in which the team visited various areas. As Robert explains, “during the first stage, we are looking at the current developments in relation to the 2001-2011 plan, and also the other issues arising”. In Bwindi, for example, the team looked at poor and uncontrolled tourism infrastructure, park boundary management, poaching, UWA staff housing, and local community perceptions about conservation (e.g. how they perceive the current revenue sharing scheme, and human-wildlife conflicts).

ITFC is glad to be part of the process, as the research and monitoring stakeholder. We hope that recommendations from our past years’ studies will be considered for  the management plan, with Robert being part of the planning team.

In June 2012, a draft of the new plan will be presented to UWA’s top management, then to the different stakeholders in July and after to UWA Board of Trustees in August. The GMP is an important document, that provides guidance on how the two parks will be run for the next ten years. Many stakeholders in Bwindi and Mgahinga will be consulted to provide inputs to the new plan and these will also include national and international stakeholders. Do you have suggestions to be included in the planning? You can contact the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area Manager at  [email protected] or let us know through this blog.


Local communities – Friends or foe to conservation?

“We have lived with the wildlife since time immemorial. You were not here and yet we spared the forest. How come you are now the ones giving us instructions on how to conserve it?” This is one of the many challenging questions conservation managers have to face when dealing with communities neighboring conservation areas.

While the motivation for conservation of wildlife may seem quite obvious to many of us, they are not always the reasons that resonate with local communities. For example in the case of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the mountain gorillas and the big numbers of endemic species of wildlife in the park is perhaps a major motivation for conservation. For surrounding communities however, the motivations for conservation range from preserving of sacred worship sites in the park to having restricted hunting grounds for some species, and upholding the value of certain species for ornamental and fetish purposes.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The sharp boundary between the park and cultivation land reflects the continual tension between forest conservation and local communities

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The sharp boundary between the park and cultivation land reflects the continual tension between forest conservation and local communities

Many local communities still hold negative perceptions about official protected areas. They complain that the wild animals compete with their livestock for scarce grazing and water resources. Aside that is the risk of transmitting diseases to their livestock, frightening and harming them, and destroying their crops among other complaints. They also consider protected areas as land grabbed from them without having anything in return. Despite efforts by conservation managers to counter such perceptions through conservation education programs and revenue sharing protocols, very little seems to be of result.

Under the Multiple Use Program, communities are allowed restricted resource use harvest from some national parks (photo take from Bwindi)

Under the Multiple Use Program, communities are allowed restricted resource use harvest from some national parks (photo taken from Bwindi)

An example of interventions put in place by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) working with conservation NGOs (like CARE) and the local communities was the buffalo wall set up in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in a bid to stop crop raiding by wild animals from the park. However, unscrupulous community members purportedly had sections of the walls strategically brought down in order to cunningly seduce wild animals out of the park into their crop gardens. The unsuspecting wild animals (buffaloes, bush bucks etc) would then cross from the park to crop raid, only to be ensnared for a feast by the community members. Well invented. Isn’t it? Albeit, the same community members will complain about recurrent crop-raiding by the other (not worthy to hunt) animals and blow the coals live for compensation from the park managers.

A suspected poacher superbly armed for mission. This photo was taken by an ITFC/TEAM camera trap in Bwindi (December 2010).

A suspected poacher superbly armed for mission. This photo was taken by an ITFC/TEAM camera trap in Bwindi (December 2010).

Indisputably, by using indigenous mechanisms these communities have been able to conserve wildlife from ages immemorial, times when the present-day “new-fashion” conservationist was not anywhere in their vicinity.

What is the way forward then, when the local population believes that they are being denied what was freely theirs?

Conservation managers ought to realize that the local people must be considered and fully involved in the planning, management and utilization of wildlife resources if there is any hope to be for ecological stability of protected areas and sustainable socio-economic development of the local communities. Manager should therefore consider the use of integrated protective measures with a bias towards local people participatory approach. With both local and international support, intensive community conservation should be emphasized for the tangible benefit of the local people.

Nonetheless it worth noting that although such initiatives are being implemented by protected area management and conservation organizations, their methods, policies and attitudes (towards the local communities) often leave a lot to be desired with only flyspeck results on ground. Unless there is a total revision in the way this is done, local communities shall always seem as a burden rather than partners in conservation.

Let me know if you have any ideas.


1 Dead Lioness, 3 angry factions, 1 mzungu

Today we have the honour to run a guest blog by Mark Laxer who visited ITFC recently. Mark is President and co-founder of Chimp-n-Sea Wildlife Conservation Fund, Mark Laxer invented virtual ecotourism–known as vEcotourism–a real-time, interactive educational system designed to mitigate ill effects of ecotourism. He is also author of The Monkey Bible.

In August, 2011, I traveled in western Uganda to a health clinic–the Kibale Health & Conservation Project–that serves as a model for improving park-people relations. Villagers feel anger toward the parks for a variety of reasons, including their inability to hunt or gather wood within park boundaries, and the fact that dangerous animals too often destroy their crops, livestock, and homes. The health clinic is a way to mitigate the anger. Supported in part by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the clinic provides accessible, inexpensive health care to people living near Kibale National Park. My wife and I help support the clinic. I had the opportunity to meet the nurses and observe the clinic and its outreach program in action. It seemed like a great idea though my understanding of park-people relations was in its infancy and I saw none of the anger I had heard so much about. I said goodbye to the clinic staff and continued the journey south to Ishasha.

Ishasha lies at the southern tip of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), Uganda, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is home to tree-climbing lions. I planned to meet a WCS lion researcher who I hoped would drive me around, show me his work, and teach me something about wildlife conservation.

I arrived at Ishasha at 2:30pm and checked into an UWA banda–a simple, round hut.

“Mustafa is expecting you,” the UWA ranger told me, “but he will be delayed. There is an emergency in the village.”

I left my things in the banda and ordered lunch. Thirty minutes later, Mustafa appeared. “There’s a lion in the village,” he said calmly. “It has attacked nine goats: three yesterday, six today. The villagers are prepared to kill it.”

The UWA rangers–armed with AK-47 rifles–sought to protect both the villagers and the lion. It was not in UWA’s interest to kill the lion. A good measure of Uganda’s economy depends on tourism revenue and a large percentage of tourists want to see lions. In Queen Elizabeth Park, 140 of them were still alive.

The villagers–armed with spears–had a different view. “I am going to kill the lion,” one villager had declared to an UWA ranger. “And when I am done, you can kill me.”

Mustafa explained the situation to me. “There’s not much time left,” he said.

UWA had tried to locate a functional dart gun and now it was our turn to try. We called Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a high-powered veterinarian and conservationist whom I had met with over breakfast that same day. I was sure she could make things happen but I quickly learned that in this part of the world dart guns and appropriate cartridges were a scarce commodity. We continued making calls. We grew increasingly impatient. 140 lions left. Human lives were at risk. The park-people issue had become more than an abstract model I had come to Africa to study. My heart pounded. My throat felt constricted. Kampala, where an appropriate dart gun had been located, was at least a seven-hour drive but we needed to act now. I wanted to offer to do something but didn’t know what to do.

Mustafa’s phone rang. The lion, which turned out to be a lioness, was dead. Come to the village, Mustafa was told, and pick her up.

Brian (who had driven me to Ishasha) and several UWA rangers got in the back of the Land Cruiser, I got in the passenger seat, and Mustafa drove about twenty minutes and pulled up beside the dead lioness who was surrounded by several hundred villagers.

“Keep smiling,” Mustafa told me as the crowd closed around the car. Many of the young men carried spears. Villagers pressed against the car. UWA rangers pushed them back and a shouting match ensued.

The villagers, furious that they wouldn’t be compensated for the loss of the nine goats, wanted to keep the lioness. UWA said no. The Ugandan military showed up and Mustafa, standing by the lioness, encouraged the three armed factions not to use force. Despite his calming influence, one could sense the shouting, resentment, and testosterone levels rising and Mustafa patted me on the back and said, “Please, Mark, get in the car.”

From inside the vehicle, I noticed the villagers staring at me, mzungu, the white foreigner. I learned later that many villagers think the parks are controlled by mzungu. I learned that many villagers think the twenty percent of park entrance fees that are supposed to come back to the villages never quite shows up.

I spoke with some of the men through the open window. I felt bad for the villagers. Nine goats seemed like a large loss. It didn’t seem fair that the parks, which generated the revenue, didn’t compensate for damage caused by roaming animals. Village children, women, and men had been put at risk. I thought of my wife and two children. How would I have felt had a powerful lioness been stalking my farmhouse in northern Vermont? I felt bad for the lioness. She was a beautiful creature and now there were 139 left. How long would it be before all the lions in Uganda were killed? I felt bad for the UWA staff. Caught between an angry lion and angry villagers, one got the sense they were underfunded and under appreciated.

Some photos  …

Mob justice brought her down. How long will it be before the remaining 139 face a similar fate?

Mob justice brought her down. How long will it be before the remaining 139 face a similar fate?


Mustafa climbed in the vehicle, as did Brian, a few UWA rangers, an UWA liason officer (Warden In-Charge of Ishasha sector), and an UWA community conservation officer.

“Is it true,” I asked, “that villagers don’t get compensated for the loss of their goats?”

“Correct,” said the UWA liason officer. “UWA doesn’t do that.”

If UWA can’t compensate the villagers, I wondered, what about mzungu?

I asked each person in the car what they thought of the idea. Each agreed that if they had the money, they would do the same.

I climbed out and stood on the rear fender of the Land Cruiser and, with the UWA liason officer translating, spoke to the village.

“I came to Uganda,” I said, “to see the wildlife and to understand the culture. This is my first trip to Africa. I’m coming from the United States of America. I’m very sorry about what happened to the village, to the goats…and to the danger of your children, your women and your men. I salute UWA for trying to help in a very difficult situation. On behalf of my wife and I, and my four and six year olds, I would like to offer a gift to compensate the people who had the goats so that they’re compensated fairly for each goat. And to help the men who carried the lion from one place to another. I’m sorry that this happened and I hope that in the future we can have less of this sort of conflict where the wildlife is coming to your village and threatening your children and I hope that we can be very smart and come up with ways…to protect you and also to protect Uganda’s beautiful treasures–the people and the wildlife.”

I touched my heart and said, “Thank you.”

The villagers clapped, tempers cooled, and some of the men shook my hand.

That night, Mustafa, Brian, and I brainstormed over dinner ways to protect people and wildlife. Does one build fences around the parks? Isolating the park animals, genetically speaking, may not bode well for their futures. Fences can be hugely expensive and require ongoing maintenance. Multiple beehives forming an inexpensive virtual fence may repell elephants–and create honey–but would the bees repell lions? Buffalo? Hippos? Does one build fences around livestock and crops instead? The situation was complex.

Dinner was over and we had more questions than answers. Why aren’t villagers compensated for loss from wildlife incursions? Why aren’t there more dart guns accessible to villages bordering the parks? What kind of fence or virtual fence makes sense?

The next morning, Mustafa drove me around, showed me his work, and we continued to brainstorm the park-people issue. The education and the adventure had just begun.

by Mark Laxer

Save the shaggy rat! The challenge of conserving neglected animals

Protected areas in SW Uganda include significant populations of several globally threatened animals. While mountain gorillas, elephants and chimpanzees have received a lot of attention, many smaller animals in the region remain poorly known and neglected.

The last few weeks we have been putting together a proposal to address conservation of neglected species with a particular focus on local wetlands. There are quite a number of these animals in the IUCN red list that identifies vulnerable and endangered species: 5 amphibians, 11 small mammals and 4 birds. The list would be longer if we included endangered reptiles, fish and invertebrates. We also excluded several other frogs, mammals and birds about which we know too little to say if they are endangered or not (e.g. Bwindi’s new Boubou bird discovered last year). So our 20 species, though neglected, are not the most neglected animals — we don’t even have names for most of the forest’s insects, spiders and other invertebrates.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Good mountain gorilla habitat, but also home to many less charismatic animals, also in need of conservation

The majority of these species specialise on wetland habitats for some or all of their lives. Their persistence depends on maintaining particular wetlands within the wider landscapes they inhabit. These restricted habitats are threatened by a range of factors – both within and outside of protected areas. To safeguard these key locations and their endangered species we need to identify them and ensure that they are managed against both immediate and long-term threats.  That is the focus of the proposal we were developing.  But neglected species are not easily promoted.

Bwindi mouse – hard to sell as a conservation concern?

An unnamed Bwindi frog — easier to like?

Bwindi spider — if this was an endangered species would anyone care enough to try and save it?

Why have these species been neglected? Well, they are hard to see and don’t have the obvious charisma of the gorillas, chimps and elephants. I suspect that their names are also a problem — how many people are willing to visit the forest to see an animal called a “rat” even if it is the “Montane shaggy rat”, the ” Medium tailed Brush-furred Rat” or “Kemp’s Thicket Rat”? It’d be even harder with snakes and spiders. Not sure how we can change that. At least the birds and frogs are pretty.

Here is our list of the smaller species of immediate conservation concern, scientific name, common name and they the  IUCN red list category — limited here to only Vulnerable (VU) and Endangered (EN). All these species have been reported in the region (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Echuya Forest Reserve and perhaps in some of the surrounding wetlands).  It’d be nice to have pictures for you but (aside from the birds) we dont have any …


1.        Afrixalus orophilus , Western Rift leaf-folding frog , VU

2.        Hyperolius castaneus, Ahl’s reed frog , VU

3.        Hyperolius discodactylus [= H. alticola], none, VU

4.        Hyperolius frontalis , none, VU

5.        Phrynobatrachus versicolor, none, VU


1.        Delanymys brooksi, Delany’s swamp mouse, VU

2.        Lophuromys rahmi, Rahm’s brush-furred rat, EN

3.        Lophuromys medicaudatus , Medium tailed brush-furred rat, VU

4.        Praomys degraaffi , De Graaff’s praomys, VU

5.        Thamnomys kempi [=T. major] , Kemp’s thicket rat, VU

6.        Crocidura stenocephala, Kahuzi swamp shrew, Narrow-headed shrew, EN

7.        Crocidura tarella, Tarella or Uganda shrew, EN

8.        Dasymys montanus, Montane shaggy rat, EN

9.        Myosorex blarina , Montane mouse shrew, EN

10.     Ruwenzorisorex suncoides, Ruwenzori shrew, VU

11.     Sylvisorex lunaris, Moon shrew, VU


1.        Bradypterus graueri, Grauer’s swamp/Rush warbler , EN

2.        Cryptospiza shelleyi, Shelley’s crimson-wing, VU

3.        Muscicapa lendu [=M. Itombwensis], Chapin’s flycatcher, VU

4.        Pseudocalyptomena graueri, African green broadbill/Grauer’s broadbill, VU

So what do you think? Should we care about the rats and shrews and the spiders too? Let us know if you have any ideas how the plight of these animals might be better marketed to the World!

Best wishes


Who am I conserving for?

This is Emmanuel — I haven’t been able to do much blogging recently due to field work away from the station. But I wanted to share some thoughts and see what you think.

I have recently been watching some DVDs of a popular series called “Gossip Girl” (no obvious relation to Conservation … but I’ll get there). In this season I am watching one of the main characters, Serena a very attractive girl from a very wealthy family, refuses to join one of the best colleges in America because she’s taking time off to rediscover herself and clarify her purpose in life.

I have recently taken some time to think about my purpose as a conservationist something like Serena is aksing about her own career. This brings me to the thoughts I want to share with you in this blog. It’s a question I have been asking myself every time I meet with local people who live next to protected areas ( see blog: interview with Emmanuel Akampulira).

Like Serena I have taken some time to rediscover myself and my purpose (in my case this is about conservation). I am  asking myself the question “Who am I real conserving for?” Not long ago in school we generally answered this question, “for future generations”. This in its right is an accepted answer, backed up by the usual slogans of conservation and sustainable development. Alongside this answer there other answers we use to justify conservation. In a nutshell the de-facto reason is to protect the biodiversity that we humans depend on. Let’s take a hypothetical situation where man does not depend on nature for his survival. Would he have the same strong convictions for conservation? This is debatable!

To those of us who are literate (with western formal education), we are lucky enough to learn about the usefulness of nature from the western perspective. We could twist our answers to this question in all sorts of ways to justify and satisfy our conditional protection of nature. But will the common man who’s never been to school share my reasons for conservation. Well it’s been documented that yes he could.

Local people use their very fertile land next to protected areas to grow cash crops like tea at the cost of the much needed food crops for fear of crop raiding

Allow me to share with the concept called the “noble savage and conservation“.
(A Noble Savage is someone from a primitive culture who is supposedly uncorrupted by contact with society). This concept of the noble savage being a conservationist is considered a myth by some anthropologists and conservationists. Critics of this concept argue that native people only conserved because during that time population densities were low, technology used in extraction of resources was not advanced and market forces were not as aggressive as they are today. Let us look at the flip side of this, say the noble savage conserved unconsciously because of certain fears or restrictions associated with culture and religion. What would that make him? In my opinion any effort consciously or unconsciously made to preserve biodiversity or the sustainable use of natural resources should be considered as conservation. I could easily get absorbed and lost in the controversies of this concept but my point here is indigenous people have always been able to conserve. How and why is still debatable.

The cost of conservation (Children sit by their family gardens to guard them against baboons instead of being at school)

The billion dollar question here is. Can we trust the concept of noble savage and conservation? My answer would be yes we could have but aren’t we too late. Haven’t we already pushed the noble savage against the ropes? The biodiversity he once respected now battles with him for survival. He is thrown in jail and fined for crimes against nature. Nature gets more sympathy and care from authorities than he does. The reason given to him. To make his life better. Does he see his life getting better? No! He thinks it’s getting worse. There are more costs for him from conservation than benefits. If his life is getting worse instead of better like he was promised by me the “smart” conservationist. It seems our hunter is now the one being hunted. When the livelihoods of the poor man leaving next to protected areas is being threatened. That means his existence and the existence of his future generation is being threatened too by the very nature he is being asked to protect.

Practical interventions in Bwindi where local people are allowed to harvest resources from the park

So where do we go from here? Truthfully terrific and impressive ideas have been drafted on paper about how to conserve through reducing costs and increasing benefits to the locals. Uganda is a good example of this. To say that efforts have not been made to pursue this agenda would be somewhat of a lie. Never the less more has to been done in the way of policy changes, practical and realistic interventions and more importantly development of partnerships and collaboration among all stake holders concerned.

Community sensitization and education is key to collaboration with local people and soliciting support for conservation.

Alas it seems I may be the one to benefit from conservation after all if checks are not put in place. Back to my first question WHO AM I CONSERVING FOR?

Thanks to Gossip girl, I took some time to rediscover my purpose as conservationist and am still working on it. These are some of the thoughts I wanted to share with you as my internalization goes on.

Let me know what you think.


Xoxo ….Emmanuel