Tag Archives: research

My Bwindi experiance

Today marks my 16th day in Ruhija, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (famously known as ‘Bwindi’). This is the land of the mountain gorillas that am yet to see and cross off my bucket list of 100 things I want to do in life. Just when I thought I had had enough of the Seattle rains and the cold weather, Bwindi sits at an elevation of almost close to 3000 feet, way colder than I had imagined, and feels to me like winter…only this time there’s no snow present. Apparently am told this is the hot/dry weather season…I can only imagine what is in store for the cold season! The dry season I know of in Kenya actually  means drought…the hot sun shining through the open grassland savannas and the strong winds blowing through virtually any vegetation cover spared by the scorching sun. I look around and the place is lush green and full of life with no indication of dry visible…maybe except for the white dust on the roads.

As I write I have actually lost track of dates and days. Everyday feels the same since you cannot tell the difference between a week day and a weekend.  Everyone seems to get the hang of it except me. At least I know it’s Friday today because it’s ‘movie’ night, a tradition that has been practiced at ITFC for God knows how long. Am amazed at the excitement all around, and Badru, the well re-known master DJ is busy setting up all the gear in place.

Well, one thing is for sure…this is a tea drinking zone. With temperatures as cold as this, I have succumbed to taking refuge in the Ugandan tea and the very famous ground nuts to keep me sane. I love the foods here, Valentino Sigirenda; one of the camp-keepers has ensured that I add an extra kilogram because his meals are way too irresistible. He makes the best chapatis and I have fallen victim to his delicious meals, especially the peanut sauce.

The kind of hospitality I have received here is one that I will always appreciate for sure. I have made new sets of friends and have received so much love and support and I trust the next two months will be no different. Am all settled in and ready to start working on a project that I will be assisting with. A simple monitoring tool for local community use in Bwindi’s Multiple use zones. I am excited about the project and hopefully I’ll get to learn a bit of the local language somewhere along the way as I interact with the local community members.

Veryl and friends from a walk

Exploring Bwindi thanks to the new friends.

If they make me love the place, I will hopefully return to pursue my Msc research and hopefully  make new friends with the gorillas :-)

Veryl

ITFC happy to announce a new staff member

Dear readers,

for a long time now, ITFC has been keen to find an experienced social scientist to add to our staff list. We are happy to announce that we have finally found one! Since June 1st, Medard Twinamatsiko has joined us. He holds an MA in Development Studies (Conflicts Analysis and Inclusive Development) from our mother institute, Mbarara University of Science and Technology and came with high recommendations from there. His list of research experience is impressive, and we were particularly happy to see that it includes work on issues of resource management in protected areas and comunity conflicts related to conservation areas.

Medard will be leading the two social projects that ITFC has embarded on with funding from the Darwin Initiative. We will soon tell you more about them. A week into his new position, he already went to the field: Kisoro town, where the Batwa organisation UOBDU is based. You will soon hear and see more from the trip.

For now, just a picture of Medard to introduce him to our blog-friends. You are very welcome to ITFC, Medard!

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Medard Twinamatsiko, in a wheat field on the slopes of Mt Muhavura (in the background)

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

Bombs, safety-nets and weeds …

Being Director of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation,  here in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, is a part time position for me (I share with Miriam). I have time to collaborate on other research projects. I thought I’d share three recently published studies that might interest you.   They are about, among other things, bombs, safety-nets and weeds …

When my colleagues and I first started to gather data about war residues (scrap metal) in rural Vietnam most people thought we had lost our focus. Why would forest researchers look at scrap metal? Our recent paper in the International Forest Review gives the answer – the collection of ex-war scrap, despite the very real danger of unexploded bombs, is the principle reason people now enter the forest. While in the forest they often collect, use and impact many other things. To download the paper for free see here. For some pre-coverage on Mongabay see here.

Discussions with local villagers in Khe Tran Vietnam revealed a rich knowledge of useful forest plants and animals — nonetheless the main reason people go to the forest is to collect scrap metal.

Another important study considers how forest dwelling communities in Indonesia (Borneo) cope with crisis – such as when their villages and fields are destroyed by floods. The answer, we find, is that they often make even more use of the forest for food, shelter and income. If the forest is damaged by logging or replaced by plantations people lose this safety net. To download the paper for free see here.

A big threat to natural and semi-natural ecosystems over large parts of the world comes from alien plants and animals that displace and disrupt the local communities (weeds!). Unfortunately these processes remain poorly recognised across much of the species rich tropics. In one recent ecological study I contributed data from Uganda to a global study of invasive plants. To download the paper for free see here.  I hope if we understand the problem better we can also deal with it better.

Best wishes

Douglas

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!

Happy?

Happy?

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.

Farewell

Farewell

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,

Ed

97 new species for Bwindi, 33 for Uganda and 4 for science … and counting

You may remember we hosted a study of our lichens here in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park earlier this year. Recently I asked Andreas for an update. He sent an interim report developed with his colleagues in Sweden: Lena and Thor.

Let me share a short summary.

The collections have turned out to be richer, and indeed more exciting, than we had anticipated. To summarise progress : of 240 distinct species 99 have been identified and confirmed so far. Each record has to be carefully checked and confirmed. This process is continuing.

Of the 99 species identified, four are new to science. 33 additional species are reported for the first time in Uganda and one appears to be new for Africa. All but two of these 99 species (i.e. 97) are reported for the first time from Bwindi.

Andreas gives a training on lichens in ITFC Bwindi earlier in 2011

Still many new species out there? Bwindi near Ruhija

The species thought new to Africa is Coenogonium leprieurii. Andreas and co. say the four new species will be formally described within the next few months (provisional names: Acanthotrema nuda, Arthonia physcidiicola, Chiodecton sorediatum and Crypthonia coccifera). I shall be lobbying for an “ITFCensis” or two in there.

In the longer run when we have the species sorted the fuller ecological characterisation will be done (what species like what kind of environments etc) … We’ll keep you informed. That study will clarify the relationship of these species with climate and other factors.

It may be a while until lichen tourism competes with gorilla tourism — but who knows? Don’t underestimate Bwindi’s lichens.

Best wishes

Douglas

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

Dear readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Participants from Uganda and Rwanda listen attentively to the presentations

We will keep you posted!

Miriam

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

Cheers,

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

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.