Tag Archives: problem animals

ITFC receives funds for compiling a lessons learnt report on Human Wildlife Conflicts in the Greater Virunga Landscape from GVTC

The Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) is happy to announce acquisition of a grant from the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) for compiling a report on lessons learnt on Human wildlife Conflicts (HWC) in the Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL).

HWCs occur when the needs and behavior of wildlife impact negatively on the goals of humans and vice versa, resulting into conflicts and animosity between wildlife and the local people. ITFC has previously done research on HWC mitigation measures around Bwindi and Mgahinga National parks including learning experiences elsewhere from Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori and Semuliki National Parks under the USAID funded Wildwest Project.

A mountain gorilla in a banana plantation around Bwindi

Our previous blogs written on HWC around Bwindi and other protected areas in Uganda have included; who am I conserving for?, Raiding baboons and disease risks, Who pays the price? among others. It was from this experience that ITFC was contracted by the GVTC to compile a lessons learnt report on HWC in the GVL. ITFC is a member of the research, monitoring and Landscape committee of the GVTC and is happy to undertake such an important task.

The Greater Virunga Landscape (GVL) is Africa’s most biologically rich containing a variety of wildlife including elephants, hippos, lions, birds and the only population of the mountain gorillas. The high human population settlement in this region is a recipe for clear-cut conflicts between humans and wildlife. HWCs have been one of the biggest conservation challenges in the GVL for over two decades, posing a serious threat to wildlife, human livelihood and conservation.

Several mitigation methods against HWCs are being implemented in the GVL (see photos below). It is therefore important to document and recommend such mitigation measures to protected area managers. Along these lines, ITFC continues to be at a forefront of conducting research geared towards availing information needed to address this conservation challenge. Your thoughts on managing HWCs will be appreciated. We look forward to hearing from you.

The stonewall is used against Buffaloes in Mgahinga National Park (Uganda), Virunga National Park (Congo) and Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda)

Baboon traps have been used around Bwindi to control baboon raids on crop gardens

Our best regards,

Badru and Robert

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

Raiding baboons and disease risks

I am doing my MSc research with support from ITFC.  My study considers whether any health risks are posed by the movement and behaviour of Baboons (Papio anubis) around Bwindi and what might be done about it.

Baboons are adaptable and can live in various habitats. Even when humans clear away the baboon’s forest habitats for cultivation, settlement and other developments, baboons can exploite the resulting gardens.

Such resilience to habitat changes and the sharing of food sources with humans has however exposed baboons to a risk of contracting or transmitting a number of diseases. These in turn threaten other primates within their range.

Many field and experimental studies show that baboons have highly analogous reactions to diseases such as Tuberculosis, Shigella, Salmonella; many viruses (with recently HIV-2) of anthropoid primates including humans and great apes. Baboons belong to the class of old world monkeys that has been implicated in emerging hemorrhagic viruses. So it is well established that baboons can carry quite a diverse array of pathogens and potentially transmit these to other primate species.

Baboons spend much time along roads where they can easily acquire pathogens from humans.

Around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, baboons are known to frequently raid outside the forest, into human communities, more than any other wild species causing considerable damage especially to crops. This presents a significant threat – disease transmission – across the park boundary that creates danger to community public health in terms of disease. It also increases the chance that these animals may transmit human pathogens to forest primate species.

Such diseases pose a particular threat to the conservation of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) which is a critically endangered species (according to the IUCN) with almost half of its global population living in the Bwindi forests.  We know that gorillas are susceptible to many of the same diseases as humans.  Other primate species in Bwindi may also be threatened by such potential disease transmission include the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis), l’hoest’s monkey (Cercopithecus l’hoesti), red-tailed monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius), black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and
vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops).

Collecting baboon fecal samples non-invasively for laboratory analysis

In this study, I examine the role of baboons as potential carriers of micro-organisms including pathogens across the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (or Bwindi) among forest fauna and the contiguous human community.

Each day, I ascend the hills of Bwindi to determine baboon spatial and temporal patterns and their epidemiological (disease cause, transmission, spread pattern) impact. I also collect baboon fecal samples for use in DNA based methods to detect microbial exchange between baboons and the community. This should also be vital in detecting zoonotic pathogens that have been found in other species around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

A bite can be really harmful and spread disease such as viral encephalitis

A bite can be really harmful and spread disease such as viral encephalitis

The results from this study shall go a long way in evaluating role of baboons as potential carriers of micro-organisms, including pathogens across the Bwindi park boundary. The recommendations shall not only be applicable to Bwindi but also other protected areas with baboons.

A baboon seems to wonder why locals keep chasing them. Crop raiding could be one of the most significant drivers of pathogens transmission.

Keep tuned up for the study results and recommendations and let me hear what you think.

Agaba Hillary Kumanya
MSc. Student, Makerere University Kampala.

An interview with Emmanuel Akampulira

Since February 2010, I have been the coordinator of the WILD West Project, (Wildlife Landscapes and Development for Conservation in Western Uganda). My role on this project is to explore human perceptions of wildlife-human conflicts and what governs the adoption of specific measures to reduce animal raiding into fields around national parks. I also coordinate other objectives under this project which include:

  • Evaluation of the resource use program me
  • Supporting Uganda Wildlife Authority in research and monitoring
  • Improved understanding of disease transfer

I have had a passion for research since my second year of university, and when I visited ITFC as an intern, I completely fell in love with the area, and realized that it was the ideal place to carry on with research – there were endless opportunities for me here. I initially started off as a volunteer for a year, but when the opportunity to apply for the WILD West Coordinator arose, I instantly took it. The directors had appreciated and valued my hard work over the last year of volunteering, and accepted me for the job.

Emmanuel Akampulira

An average day for me at the field station consists of sorting out data, and writing reports. My field work involves visiting communities neighbouring protected areas, where I talk to local people about issues concerning problem animals. Here they raise issues concerning interventions used against problem animals and what they think would be alternative ways of dealing with animals. This is a factor of my work that I really enjoy – I get to meet and interact with lots of different people, all with varying opinions regarding the conservation. Dealing with the local people is very challenging – they expect a lot from you, and being just a researcher it is hard for me to find instant solutions to their ever-growing problems.

I feel that my job is very important, because it is the research that helps conservation. When animals come out of the park, the local communities lose crops, livestock, damage to property and sometimes their lives. This would inevitably result in animosity toward the animals and conservation of protected areas at large. This is the opposite of what we want. We want to harmonize the community, AND the park, and help to conserve the wildlife, by working with local communities to find ways to control animal problems.

Note : This blog is based on an interview conducted and transcribed by Alex Pinsker

If you suffered from crop-raiding animals you’d help implement the solutions wouldn’t you?

Hello – It’s Emmanuel again. I have recently taken on a new responsibility at ITFC Where I coordinate the “Wild West” project. WILD West stands for Wild Life Landscapes and Development for Conservation in the western part of Uganda, this project is funded by USAID and WCS. In this project one of ITFC’s activities is to review the uptake of different measures that have been used around the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area to reduce the problem caused by animals destroying crops.

About a month ago I joined a trip to Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area (QECA), Kibale National Park and Rwenzori National Park (all in Western Uganda). This was our bid to learn from the experiences of the local communities there on dealing with problem animals. Douglas told you a bit about it already. Certain important issues there came to mind, if the uptake of some these control measures are to be successful in reduction of crop raids:

· Community ownership and participation in both the introduction and maintenance of these approaches are a necessity.

· Trust between communities and the local authorities, communities and park management and between communities themselves.

Let’s look at each of these more critically and see how they may influence the success or deter the success of different approaches.


Chatting with farmers whose crops had been raided by elephants in QECA

Community ownership is very important as people appreciate something more when they believe that it belongs to them. They are also more willing to care for it more. Consider for example when the ditches were being introduced in QECA: the local communities were facilitated to dig the ditches and were also supported with initial maintenance, these were ditches meant to protect these same communities and their gardens from the elephants. All seems well. The ditches work. The problem arises when the funding stops – these communities have been looking at ditch maintenance as an income generating activity other than a means to reduce on crop raid by elephants. The end result is that people now neglect maintenance. The ditches break, crop raiding becomes a problem again and the intervention has failed. Even though it worked, there was not enough ownership for it to be sustained.

Trust is a tricky one and too easily lost when promises are not fulfilled. For example people who lose crops to park animals – the park management may promise them help and support to develop approaches against the animals with money generated from tourism. When the park management sends the money to the local authorities the money is not used for what it was meant for (this is remarkably common) and the front line communities do not get the promised help. The authorities may opt for something like construction of a school or medical centre all in good faith. Helpful yes, a real gain to many, but it does not address the animal problem. Then a cycle of mistrust and blame begins: communities condemn the park management for not achieving what was promised (or at least expected). Park management blames local authorities for not using the money for what it was meant for. Soon it is hard to agree and coordinate anything let alone a means to reduce the crop raiding animals that requires broad agreement and investments from many people.


Unmaintained ditch in QECA where animals can cross easily from the park


Ruth a ranger in Rwenzori National Park shows us a Mauritius thorn hedge well maintained by communities with support from Park Management.

It’s not all negative of course. There are positive stories too, and we can learn from them. For instance in Rwenzori National Park.The communities, UWA and the local government have come to an agreement. That money from tourism should be used to help front line communities as the first priority. Secondly communities fully participate in the maintenance of the Mauritius thorn hedge without any reservation with support from UWA. This is a clear indication that it can be done if communities have enough faith in an approach.

These are just my initial reflection based on discussions with communities and UWA staff. I believe this problem is more complicated than many like to believe. What is needed could be the clear understanding of what input from the start is required by each stake holder. From the researcher, community, UWA, donor and local government. In order to have a successful approach at the end of the day. Like I said before these are just my first thoughts, please share with me what you think, I will be more than willing to share your views with the communities and all stake holders I work with.

Many thanks go USAID and WCS for funding this project.

Best wishes, Emmanuel

This study is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Wildlife Conservation Society. The contents are the responsibility of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government or the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Not everyone who sees mountain gorillas feels lucky

Last week in Nkuringo, on the South West side of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we saw firsthand why not everyone feels lucky to have this national park with mountain gorillas. Certainly it is fortunate for Uganda and Ugandan conservation – tourism and associated businesses help the country generate foreign income, while the revenues from mountain gorilla tourism support much of the wider costs of conservation in the country. It is lucky too for all of us who are glad to be able to see wild mountain gorillas. But not everyone feels the same.

Watching our feet on the red mud – it had rained the night before and the strong sun was yet to turn the path to dust once more – we descended through the steep farmland. The thick forest of the National Park on the slopes opposite was getting closer. Men greeted us from zinc roofed wattle and mud dwellings. Women nodded welcomes from beneath large piles of firewood carried on their backs. Small children peeked at us and the braver ones repeatedly tried their limited English ‘hellooo, hellooo’ as we passed.

Farmland near Nkuringo, Bwindi.

Local children at Nkuringo. People struggle to grow food and send their children to school.

As we started our walk, by the road above, the nearby fields looked well tended. Crops were varied: bright freshly planted millet, beans twining up their stakes, heart-leaved coco-yams, a few potatoes too (these we were told grew poorly). Taller were the many varieties of bananas: those cooked as a starchy vegetable (‘matoke’); those used to make a ‘local beer’, and various sweet types eaten directly as fruit. Rather than the normal large broad green blades most had finely feathered leaves – the result we were told of recent hail storms. Though we are only a degree south of the equator hail is a common problem for farmers at these altitudes.

Ragged banana plants the result of hail damage

Tropical hail stones from Bwindi. Not only do they hurt but they do serious damage to crops.

As we approached closer to the national park the fields became less tidy. Hail was no longer the main problem here. People pointed out the mess of mud, scraped soil and broken plants in fields dug up by wild pigs. We were shown the difference between banana plants destroyed by baboons and those destroyed by gorillas – baboons ate only the fruit, gorillas ate the succulent shoots.

Our local guides also pointed out some broken houses, shuttered huts and abandoned fields; many people have left, as their efforts to grow food were constantly frustrated. For subsistence farmers to abandon their fields and their livelihood … these are not small things.

This, we were told, was all due to the park and its hungry animals. Farming here had always been hard, now it was too hard. Apparently, years ago before the national park, people hunted in the forest and the animals were too afraid to come out. With the park hunting had stopped. Now the animals had become braver and braver, and there were more of them too.

Apparently people do try and scare the animals away but it is not easy and the animals sometime fight back. Pigs tend to damage fields at night and were considered dangerous due to their tendency to charge with great violence when they feel threatened. (Elephants are currently not a problem in this area of the park, though they remain a concern elsewhere).

We met with John, a resilient farmer who still lives at the park edge. He lives in a tiny mud walled two room house with his family. No running water, no chickens (the baboons would steal them) no roads without climbing back to the road we had come from (a steep climb of around 500m (about 1,500 feet). He jokingly tried to sell us his farm for 1 million Uganda shillings (about 500 US dollars) as he showed us around. He wanted to buy land elsewhere and move away but he said no-one wanted to buy his land. Knowing that fuel wood was a problem in the region too, we asked if he’d like to grow trees. He replied he’d be happy to grow trees if he still had food for his family, but what would they eat while the trees were growing?

John had been involved in various projects seeking to reduce the conflicts between the farmers and the park’s animals. ITFC, our institute, has been involved in the past too because addressing these ‘problem animals’ has long been a major challenge for conservation and a cause of local conflict. Unfortunately, off-the-shelf solutions remain unsatisfactory – what works in one place fails in another and circumstances change. Currently ITFC is no longer involved in this work as we have insufficient funds – but we were interested to evaluate what we could and should do if this changed.

One project that John showed us had attempted to grow a dense prickly hedge of ‘Mauritius thorn’ as a barrier to problem animals. Now, four years on, the spiky trees grow thick and spiny in some places, catching on our clothes bags and flesh in a convincingly aggressive manner when we passed too close. But, in many places they had failed entirely, or grown so little that they were easily stepped over. In any case, John explained, there were rocky places without soil, and also rivers, where a hedge would not work. His fields remained as open to hungry animals as if he’d set up a sign saying “welcome”.

The thorn hedge. It has not grown well enough to keep animals out of John’s field (John is on the left).

John was also involved in projects to grow special crops along the park boundary – a 150 m wide area known as the ‘buffer-zone’. Such crops should be worthwhile for the farmers but not for their wild animal neighbours.

But what to grow? Tea is a one possibility, and is grown successfully in other areas, but there is currently no buyer on this side of the park and poor access to the nearest tea-processing factories makes it impractical. People had previously tried growing the medicinal Artemisia (used in anti-malaria drugs) but the planned buyer had disappeared before the crop was harvested leaving farmers with a crop they could not sell.

John (right) and his ‘buffer zone’ lemon grass. Will it help him?

A recent project has the farmers planting lemon grass. We saw it. It looked healthy and smelt wonderful. So far none has been sold (it will be harvested at the end of the year). John who had been cheerful throughout his tour asked what we thought. He showed his concern … would he, he asked us, be lucky this time, would he make some money? All we could answer for certain is that we sincerely hope he will.

What is the lesson for those of us who want to help? We need solutions for John. More systematic approaches are needed – we should not invest in one solution at a time and gamble on success rather than failure. This is where research can help. We need to learn what works and what doesn’t and provide much needed help to John and many others.

Conservation requires local support. Local people’s costs and suffering are concerns in themselves as well as challenges for long-term acceptance of the park, its animals and restrictions. We need options which allow people to live next to the mountain gorillas and to feel lucky, not unlucky, to be there.

Thanks to everyone for the warm response. Looking forward to hearing from you.