Tag Archives: fieldwork

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.


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

Coming from Spain to Uganda is a big change

What a lifetime opportunity it is to volunteer with ITFC!

In the herbarium

In the herbarium

I have been at ITFC for 2 months and I must say that I learned a lot: in theory (the library is incredibly complete and the staff of the Institute are like open books!) and of course in practice, for me the most exciting part.

I came here to work with the herbarium, hand in hand with Barigyira the herbarium technician. But apart from this, I had the chance to participate in other field-work, which included tree phenology (once a month flowering and fruiting of the same trees are being recorded to understand and monitor seasonality), phenology of mountain gorilla foods (almost the same as the other phenology, but just plants eaten by gorillas), camera-trapping (special cameras placed in the forest to record any animals moving in front), bird nests monitoring and ecological and monitoring research as a part of  TEAM (a global climate/ecological monitoring network project).


Towards the forest

towards the forest

But I must add, that working as a volunteer in ITFC, besides being productive for my academic and professional training, it has also been a relaxed and peaceful life.

Life with the Ruhija community

Life with the Ruhija community

Working in the office with lovely and welcoming people, living in a comfortable special house inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with nature and tasty food (of course take care that the monkeys don’t steal it from me!), and the best people to share the house with (I learned from them more about Uganda or Rwanda than in the wikipedia) or to go for a beer in the small village near our place (just for the pleasure of walking beneath an incredible firmament, or seeing the erupting Virunga volcanoes painting the night in red).

In two words:   Highly recommended.




Recollections from a 16-months’ field experience with mountain gorillas

Hi Everyone!!! My name is Ed Wright and I am 29 years old and from the UK. I have just finished about 16 months of field work here at ITFC, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. I am a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, which is a research institution based in Leipzig, Germany. I would dearly like to share with you some of my experiences, so sit back, relax and read on…

Doing an information sharing about my study at ITFC Sharing about my study at ITFC

I arrived in August 2010 after spending a short while in Germany preparing my project and making sure I knew what I was going to come here to do. Before I embarked on this project I was working with unhabituated (not used to human presence) gorillas and chimpanzees in Gabon. This time I was coming to study gorillas on the opposite side of tropical Africa in “the pearl of Africa”, Uganda. I was very excited to see how different it was and felt very lucky to once again be working with amazing animals in very beautiful parts of the world. Martha Robbins, my supervisor and project director told me that Uganda was really very different from Gabon. I remember her saying: “Do you like mountains and beans?” Luckily I like both and I came to realise that if you don’t, Bwindi is not the place for you! 🙂

The drive up from Kabale (which is about 10 hours from Kampala, the capital) reminds you that you are in an extremely populated part of the world. Every corner of land is used for agriculture even up to the park boundary. Yet once you go through the park gates you enter a magical world high up in the steep hills of this Impenetrable National Park, right in the South West of Uganda.

I was impressed straight away; the hills looked like the “real business”. I enjoy mountaineering and I saw immediately this was going to be good fun. Terrifically beautiful, with monkeys enjoying themselves in the trees and with duikers running around.

When I arrived at ITFC, which was going to be my home for the next 16 months, I was happy to see that it is a well established research station. Some field sites are pretty basic and very remote, ITFC was for sure a step up from what I was used to. I was warmly welcomed by the other researchers here at the institute and other members of staff. These people became my friends and with whom I shared many gorilla stories and also heard about their experiences in and out of the forest.

I was here to record detailed gorilla feeding behaviour and to see how the distribution and density of food affects their social relationships. To implement this, I worked with a gorilla group which is reserved for research, called Kyagurilo. The research group is habituated to our presence, which means that to them we are part of the scenery – just like another tree in the forest if you like. Obviously we do not interact with them as this would change their natural behaviour which is precisely what we are there to record. It is a lovely group of gorillas which at the moment is composed of a silverback called Rukina, 2 blackbacks, 8 females, two juveniles and 5 infants. During the last 16 months I have come to know these gorillas extremely well.

Almighty Rukina

Almighty Rukina!

I vividly remember my very first day with the gorillas as if it was just the other day! They were feeding in a small swamp eating thistle. It was a very special experience that first day, being surrounded by a group of gorillas, and it still is to this very day!



Recording detailed gorilla feeding behaviour is no easy job I can tell you. During my first few months collecting data I was finding it difficult to keep up with the gorilla I was observing. There is a lot of understory vegetation here at Bwindi, the gorilla would just disappear into it and I would struggle to keep up, especially as one needs to be really careful when walking amongst gorillas (the last thing you want to do is to bump into a large mammal weighing 200kg!). Also walking at angles of 65 degrees isn’t easy at all! But after a lot of patience and hard work things became easier with time. However, it is no use complaining, I work in a tropical high altitude rainforest after all, one has to expect lots of rain and lots of steep hills!

Data collection during the gorilla census in Bwindi

Data collection during the gorilla census in Bwindi

I have often been asked what is the most special gorilla behaviour I have experienced… this is a tricky question as I find practically all gorilla behaviour really interesting. But the following are a few. I was extremely lucky to witness a baby gorilla come into this world. Normally females will deliver when they are at their nests (when we are never with them), however this time it just popped out. I was touched to see such a rare and special event. Then, as soon as the infant was born, the mother started to chew on the umbilical cord and proceeded to eat the placenta (in nature nothing goes to waste!). I wouldn’t call that a ‘beautiful’ experience but it was definitely a very special one.

The Family with the newborn

The Family with the newborn

The other thing that happened which comes to my mind was when I was watching this female gorilla; it was a warm sunny morning and this gorilla was taking a nap. Just then this leaf fell out of the sky and landed on her stomach, which woke the gorilla up. She looked at the leaf and promptly eat it and went back to sleep! It made me smile for the rest of the day.



Sadly it is time for me to leave 🙁

Next I will analyze all the data I have collected and hopefully some of my findings will contribute to the protection of these wonderful creatures, so that future generations can enjoy them like I have done.

I will miss my furry forest friends!!

Thanks for tuning in,


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.


Africa’s first GLORIA sites established on the Mountains of the Moon

Dear esteemed reader,

We are glad to be back from establishing the first GLORIA (Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments) sites in Africa – on the Rwenzori (popularly known as the Mountains of the Moon) and Elgon mountains.  You will have seen some of the earlier pictures from Rwenzori.

Frost, snow, hailstones,freezing temperatures, strong winds, heavy rains and mist – all combined, formed some of the hardships we endured on these intriguing mountains, we could not avoid but wallow in deep bogs, endure bouts of high altitude sickness as well as labour to catch some sleep!!! If it was not for the encouragement of our experienced guides, we may as well have given up before reaching our camps. Nonetheless, the expedition was so exciting that we will live to remember the mind-blowing sight of the spectacular snow-capped peaks, the extensive and gentle calderas and the days we huddled around the charcoal stove just to get some warmth.

GLORIA targets high mountain regions because of their similar climatic conditions across the globe. This makes it possible to compare climate-induced changes worldwide. In addition, mountains host high diversity of plants and animals, many of which can only survive at such high altitudes characterized by low temperatures. Low-temperature limits of plant life on high mountains are considered to be particularly sensitive to climate change. Therefore, potential biodiversity losses caused by climate change may be more pronounced for mountain ecosystems compared to ecosystems of lower altitudes. More still, high mountain environments comprise real wilderness habitats with ecosystems undisturbed by direct anthropogenic influence. Our study will contribute to the global data base which will allow for comparisons of climate change impacts across continents.

This long term monitoring initiative is being implemented in areas where these changes are expected to occur fastest. One hundred twenty eight 1m2 permanent sampling quadrants were established at eight mountain tops (GLORIA Summits) on both sites. Within the quadrants, plant species composition and abundance were assessed. The quadrants were also photographed to provide an overview of plant cover. The summits were geo-referenced using the Global Positioning System (GPS). These high altitude plots were established from 4000 meters ASL. Thirty two data loggers (four at each summit) were installed in the ground to record soil temperature. By comparing plant species composition and soil temperature records, we will get a better understanding of the influence of global warming on plant migrations to higher elevations. All these summits will be re-measured after five years.

The good news is that in Rwenzori some peaks still have glaciers. However, these glaciers are receding fast. One of our experienced guides, John Muhindo told us that there were glaciers even at Elena Hut (about 4500m ASL) in the 1970s. During our fieldwork from the same point, the glaciers appeared to have receded some 300 meters high-up the mountain. We think this could largely be attributed to climate change.

We are proud to pioneer this type of research in Africa. Our team of enthusiastic scientists included ITFC’s Badru Mugerwa, Robert Barigyira and Fredrick Ssali; WCS botanist Ben Kirunda; UWA rangers Abel Basikania, Erick Mulewa, Alfred Masereka, Joseph Wasike, James Matanda, Patrick Muzaale, Alex Salim, Francis Musobo and Mike Mazune. Special thanks go to our trainers Anton Seimon, Stephan Halloy and Mariana Musicante for demonstrating to us the GLORIA methods.

Below are pictures to highlight our GLORIA fieldwork in Rwenzori and Elgon;

Heading for GLORIA field work above 4000 m ASL: the Rwenzori GLORIA team leaves Guy Yeoman hut for the base camp at Kitandara camping ground

Plot established: This GLORIA summit was established near Elena hut at about 4500m ASL in Rwenzori

Another plot established: this GLORIA summit was established at about 4200m ASL in Rwenzori

Men at work: Salim B. Alex (with a pointing stick), Joseph Wasike (middle) and James Matanda identifying plants in the sampling grid of a high altitude GLORIA summit in Elgon

At work: Mulewa Erick (left holding tape on string), Badru Mugerwa (right with black jacket holding clipboard) and Robert Barigyira (in green walking along the tape) record plants in a GLORIA summit of Elgon

One of the GLORIA summits in Elgon with string delimiting the sampling sections: the field team shelters data sheets from a drizzle in misty weather

All smiles… Badru and I after establishing GLORIA plots in Rwenzori


Badru Mugerwa and Fredrick Ssali

Could Carapa seed studies aid forest conservation?

At the end of last month (June 2011), we hosted visiting researchers from the National Museum of Natural History Brunoy, France. Dr. Pierre-Michel FORGET (also past president of Tropical Biological Association in 2007-2009) was accompanied by research partners Dr. Irene Mendoza and Aisha Nyiramana (Ph D student, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and University of Butaré lecturer in Rwanda).

P.M. Forget and Aisha with Carapa grandiflora fruits in Bwindi. ©Irene Mendoza

They were here to evaluate the feasibility of field work on the ecology of Carapa grandiflora (aka Carapa or African crabwood ) in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. During the one week in Ruhija and Rushaga, they traversed the forest searching for Carapa grandiflora trees and fruits. They succeeded in finding good sites for their study and Aisha Nyiramana will be returning to Bwindi to conduct her doctoral studies during the peak season (of Carapa seed production) in October.

The party gave us presentations about their studies and afterwards a brief interview with Bwindi Researchers’ Ivan Wassaaka. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

Ivan: What brings you all the way to Bwindi?

P.M Forget: I have been studying the use of large-seeded Carapa tree species to protect and save biodiversity of tropical rainforests in Africa and America. So I came to Africa to study Carapa in different countries because there is larger diversity of Carapa on this continent. I have been in Cameroon, Mali, then also Nigeria, Rwanda, Nigeria and in 2006 in Rwanda (with Aisha who is doing her PhD). So I always looked forward to coming to Bwindi to do new studies in a new site.

Our main purpose of coming this time was to evaluate the field conditions and possibility of Aisha doing her PhD work in this park. She is doing a comparative study of Carapa seed distribution in Nyungwe Forest Reserve and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The reason she is doing this is because in Bwindi you have elephants which feed on the Carapa and therefore somehow act as agents in dispersing the seeds. However, this is not the case in Nyungwe.

Ivan: How hands-on is your study? What is the significance of this study?

P.M Forget: The relevance is that Carapa grandiflora is a vital Albertine rift endemic species. It is a dominant species in some areas. It forms a major part in the diet of some animals. In some places human beings feed on Carapa. There is serious competition for its fruits and because of the many species that enjoy it, there may be a threat to the plant’s survival. It is therefore important to have the necessary information about the plant, so that the right policy guidelines can be drawn since its existence affects many other organisms. It is almost pointless to conserve the animals (that feed in a tree) without conserving the tree that it feeds on. So in my studies, we are working on ways the conservation of Carapa grandiflora can give way to the conservation of tropical rainforests in general.

Broken Carapa fruits.

Ivan: But Pierre, why Carapa of all plant species?

P.M Forget: When I started my studies ten years ago, I started working on the seed dispersal by different animal species. Carapa was not my main area of study. It was just one of the many species I came across. However, the Carapa (genus) became more interesting to me because I frequently came across it in Africa and America. In my studies, it was very important to have a model species with different methods of seed dispersal. And for Carapa, there are different dispersal mechanisms but all falling in the same model, that’s dispersal by large mammals.

It is also very interesting to me working with a wide range of people from all over the world. We actually have a group of Carapa people working in Brazil, Senegal, Mali, and other tropical countries. We have also developed a website – Carapa.org where we list all the species that have been studies, Carapa uses, ecology, taxonomy, distribution, conservation, physiology, among other things.

Ivan (to Aisha): What brings you all the way to Bwindi?

Aisha: I have been doing an almost similar study in Nyugwe, about the dispersal on Carapa seedlings in the forest. But as it came out, Nyungwe does not have similar large animals like we have in Bwindi. And if you consider the characteristics of Carapa, the fruit is hard and mainly eaten by large mammals like elephants. Unlike Bwindi, there are no elephants in Nyungwe. These elephants (in Bwindi)  feed on the Carapa fruits and could be agents aiding in the seedlings dispersal. So as Forget has already said, my study will be a comparative study of the dispersal of Carapa grandiflora in Bwindi and Nyungwe. The recommendations coming out of my study will then be forwarded to the conservation managers for implementation where necessary.

Aisha Nyiramana in Bwindi. Note the Carapa seedling in the foreground

Aisha Nyiramana standing by a carapa seedling in Bwindi. ©Irene Mendoza

The hard life of tents in Bwindi!

Remember Badru’s blog about the tree that fell on his tent in the middle of the night?  Well, I was reminded of that event this week, when we checked out the status of our camping gear, knowing how much fieldwork is coming up in the months ahead. Having 16 tents out in the field already, we needed one or two more for a student and started shaking out our stores. This is what came out:


An enormous heap of tent covers and poles, some torn, bent or broken, some still okay and kept as spares or awaiting a second life for a similar tent. We found three tents that just need another set of poles and can then still serve for a few years longer, we hope. But how to get them to us, here in the south western corner of Uganda? Well, that’s where the internet is yet again a blessing: some googling got me onto a camping store website offering replacement poles. And a colleague from the Wildlife Conservation Society New York office kindly agreed to bring the poles from the US! Thank you Amy!


Groups of people going out for fieldwork deep in the forest, often for a week or more need a dry shelter for the night and we need close to 20 tents to make that all work.

But the tents have a hard life… we mentioned the falling trees already, harsh sunshine when pitched in open places, heavy rain, and even hailstorms. And good quality tents are hard to find in Uganda! We order them online in Europe or the US and then bring them back to the station in our luggage, or request visitors to bring them…

If you come to Uganda for a camping holiday and want to leave your tent and sleeping mat behind for us, we’d be very grateful!  Contact us at [email protected]


Meeting relatives during fieldwork

Dear readers,

It’s me, Christopher. I have been busy with field work, and have just come back from my annual leave.

Before my leave, I was on a 2 week field trip in Mpungu, where we were monitoring the Permanent Sample Plots for the Multiple Use work. I explained about this in my blog a couple of weeks ago.  This study is something ITFC has done for a long time in Bwindi National Park, in collaboration with UWA, the park authorities; local people have an agreement to harvest certain forest plants that are used in treating worms and some in weaving trays, baskets and granaries and ITFC monitors that for UWA. Our camping ground is near the Multiple Use Zone of the forest where the communities have access. In this field trip we had a new volunteer with us, named Joseph Mukasa, who took this adventure and tried his best.

As the terrain of Bwindi is rugged, you expect river crossing and hill climbing. One morning on this trip, when we had just crossed the Mbwa River, I got a chance of meeting a family of chimpanzees! In all these years working in this forest, I have often heard distinct calls of these friends of ours, but not often seen them. When we bumped into this family everyone got excited and the chimps were vocalizing and the sound was echoing across the valleys. It’s lovely to meet this adventure and to me I sensed one new thing. Conservation is a nice activity that needs everyone’s hand.


A curious chimp, photographed by TEAM’s camera trap

When chimps see or hear a person, they tend to run away (I am talking about the ones here that are not habituated or in a zoo). The ones in Bwindi are very shy. They are spread over the whole forest, but they appear to have a bigger population in the Northern sector and around Buhoma. They live mostly in groups, but males can live solitary lives as well.

Chimps make their nests high up in trees. But one remarkable thing in the Northern sector, some nests are found on the ground as well. A chimp nest can be mistaken for that of a gorilla, but they are smaller. The tree nests of chimps are usually made higher up (15-20 meters) and made of intertwined tree branches and leaves. Remember, chimps as well as gorillas make a new nest every day. Chimps mostly eat fruits, vines and young plants, but sometimes look for honey as well. Bee keepers with hives in the forest have reported that chimps have destroyed their hives.

Chimpanzee nest in a tree

Chimpanzee nest in a tree

I do enjoy my work in the forest as I see and learn new things all the time. In my childhood years, our grandparents used to tell us about the bad behaviors of the chimps; when a male chimp sees a person, and mostly a woman, he would come and grab her or give her some slaps. To my experience and understanding, that is not true and no case has been reported. In fact, Bwindi chimps don’t even move out of the forest to raid people’s crops. They are really our close friends though they live in forests.


Come on guys, here is our chance for a family photograph!

But these friends of ours here in Bwindi are shy, through the experience of people who have done work with chimps elsewhere in the world could be having information that differs. This is bringing to say, can we have researchers who can come and do work here and we get more knowledge about these forest friends?

Let’s share and we shall have a lot to give people around the world. Come on, what do you know about chimps that is worth sharing with our readers?


Frogs worried about the future

Today, Robert Sekisambu, one of our new MSc students introduces his study:

Frogs are fascinating, as bio-indicators and as natural jewels, but they may be facing decline or even extinction, due to factors such as habitat loss, infectious diseases, climate change and pollution. This may even happen before we know them well enough to know what we’ve lost: amphibians are among the least studied taxa of the animal kingdom, especially compared to birds and mammals. IUCN’s latest statistics estimate that 30% of over 6,000 known amphibian species is threatened.


This is me, taking a swab of a frog I captured

I am currently conducting an inventory of amphibians in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the biodiversity-rich Albertine Rift. At the same time, I am assessing what might threaten them and look into the prevalence of associated threats including the potentially lethal Chytridiomycosis and Ranavirus. Thanks to ITFC and the USAID funded WILDWest project for the support.

Below are some of the first pictures I took of the frogs found in Bwindi, around ITFC. They all seem worried about the future.

Watch this space for more about my progress. I wish you a prosperous new year.

Robert Sekisambu

Leptopelis kivuensis (green moph).JPG

Struggling to live (species not yet identified)

Leptopelis kivuensis.JPG

Albertine Rift tree frog (Leptopelis kivuensis)

Leptopelis k highly keratinized skin.JPG

The same L. kivuensis, with highly keratinised skin

Kisoro toad male.JPG

Kisoro toad (Amietophrynus kisoloensis)