Tag Archives: Ruhija

ITFC, UWA and partners host a successful 6th Information sharing workshop

Six years down the road, the culture of information sharing by ITFC, UWA and Partners continues to thrive and positively influence management and conservation actions around Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation area (BMCA) and the surrounding protected areas.

This year’s annual ITFC-UWA information sharing workshop was held at the Conservation Education Center (CEC) in Ruhija on the 27th November 2015. Themed “Twenty-Four years of innovative Research and training in the Albertine rift (AR): ITFC, UWA and partners at the forefront of informing conservation and management of protected landscape”, the one-day workshop attracted forty-eight participants representing ten conservation organizations working in and around BMCA. The participating organizations included; the ITFC, UWA, IGCP, MUST, MVGP, GVTC, CTPH, MPI-EVA and UBODU. Several ITFC alumni, now working, for high profile conservation organizations in the country also attended. Eighteen presentations on topics ranging from ecological monitoring to wildlife health and community conservation were delivered. Each presentation was followed by question and answer sessions that got participants pondering and brain storming on better ways of conserving the Albertine region’s biodiversity.

Workshop participant group in the mist

Workshop participants in the mist

The workshop was graced by the presence of the Mbarara University of Science and Technology Vice chancellor Professor Celestino Obua who was the chief guest, and officially opened the workshop.

MUST Vice Chancellor giving his remarks during the  workshop

MUST Vice Chancellor, Professor Celestino Obua giving his workshop opening remarks 

The director ITFC, Associate Professor Robert Bitariho welcomed participants to ITFC and gave a brief history and purpose of the ITFC-UWA information sharing workshops. He informed the participants that this year’s workshop did not only mark the 6th time ITFC and UWA are hosting the ITFC-UWA information-sharing workshop, but also marked 24 years of ITFC, UWA and partners conservation oriented research efforts in the Albertine Rift region.

ITFC Director, Associate Professor Robert Bitariho welcoming participants to ITFC

ITFC Director, Associate Professor Robert Bitariho welcoming participants to ITFC

Indeed, Mr. John Justice Tibesigwa, the acting BMCA Conservation Area Manager attributed the prestigious back-to-back Certificates of Excellence awarded to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi) by the Trip Advisor in the recent years to this long-term partnership between UWA, ITFC and partners. Mr. Tibesigwa emphasized the importance of continued research partnership between UWA and ITFC, not only for biodiversity conservation, but also for livelihood improvement in the BMCA.


The BMCA acting Conservation Area Manager, Mr. John Justice Tibesigwa welcoming participants to the workshop

The workshop concluded with the raising of a motion under the advice of Prof. Obua to make ITFC a center for academic excellence in the region on biodiversity conservation and research. The motion was seconded by 100% of the workshop participants.

Workshop participants voting for the motion make ITFC a center for academic excellence in the region on biodiversity conservation and research

Workshop participants voting for the motion to make ITFC a center for academic excellence in the region on biodiversity conservation and research

We have posted more information, presentations and photos on the ITFC-UWA information-sharingworkshop here http://itfc.muct.ac.ug

From the trails and canopies of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we wish you a happy festive season and prosperous New Year.

Emmanuel, Badru and Julius on behalf of ITFC and Bwindi researchers :-).

Bwindi Mountain gorillas at 400

The results for the fourth Bwindi Mountain gorilla census were announced yesterday by the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). It is now official that Bwindi is a home to 400 gorillas, close to half of the world’s population that is estimated at 880 individuals. This result has taken a staggering twenty months of intensive gorilla search, counting and genetic analysis. Pictures generously provided by Theresa Laverty, MPI-EVA research assistant.

Rukina from the Kyagurilo research group, Bwindi-Ruhija

Conducted by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the 2011 Bwindi Mountain gorilla census was an effort of a big collaboration involving many organizations that work in Mountain gorilla conservation including; l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Rwanda Development Board, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. WWF-Sweden funded the census with more support from Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V., the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Earlier today, I had a privilege to chat with the director of the Bwindi Mountain gorilla project, Dr. Martha Robbins. Ladies and gentlemen, lets hear from the horse’s mouth (the lead scientist) for the 2011 Bwindi Mountain gorilla census. Please find the details of our Q&A chat in BM and MR below:

BM: Thanks a lot Martha for allowing talking to me after a very short notice.

MR: Sure


BM: May you please tell our readers what Mountain gorillas are? What makes them different from other primates, and great apes in general?

MR: The Mountain gorillas are one of the two and four gorilla species and sub-species respectively. They have many differences compared to chimpanzees and Bonobos. Their bodies are much bigger…actually they are the biggest apes.


BM: Bwindi is a home to 400 Mountain gorillas, close to half of the World’s population. This is the highest number of gorillas ever recorded in Bwindi. Why the big difference in numbers compared to the previous census?

MR: We count gorillas using the sweep method, where teams intensively walk through the forest in a dense network of trails searching for gorillas. Analyzing for the genetic make-up (genetic analysis) of feces allows us to differentiate if the gorilla groups encountered during the sweeps are the same or different. Genetic analysis creates a genetic identification for every gorilla that we find feces from, and this helps us not to over or under count the gorillas.

One limitation of the single sweep means that we can only count or do genetic analysis on the gorillas we find. The assumption that we find all the gorillas in a single sweep is not necessarily accurate. This time around we did two sweeps, meaning that there are some groups we found only during the 1st sweep and some groups only during the 2nd sweep. Genetic analysis was later done for both sweeps. This is the only way that we can know for sure that the groups from both sweeps are the same or different.


BM: What does this result mean to the conservation world, and mountain gorilla conservation in particular.

MR: This result means several things. First of all, the Mountain gorillas are the only sub-species of the great ape where we see the population actually increasing, and that provides some hope for conservation not only for the Mountain gorillas but of other endangered great apes and other primates. The increase and the hope that this population is sustainable depends only on the continuation of extremely intensive conservation efforts both inside the park and also with the neighboring communities living outside the park, Uganda as a country and in terms of international support at all levels.


BM: Any additional remarks for our readers?

MR: Lastly I want to say that the end result from a census is one number so it may seem easy to determine, but the censuses are only possible through a very big collaboration among many organizations, involving many individuals. Some where between 80-100 people were involved in last census.  These censuses are a way to really bring together all organizations that work in Mountain gorilla conservation, and this one has resulted in some very good news about how all the efforts of all these organizations are paying off. I thank all the organizations mentioned above for their efforts that made this census a great success.

Kanywani and Twijykye of the Kyagurilo group, Bwindi-Ruhija

Best regards,

Badru Mugerwa

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.


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.




How my son lost a finger

Rather than talking about conservation today I want to share a personal story about my family. I hope it might give you an insight into our lives here.

I have a two year old son Mushemeza Norberto. His right thumb got burnt on a Sunday morning when he was playing with one of his elder brothers in the kitchen. The previous night’s wood fire in the stove was already covered by ash making it hard to see for these young boys. His mother and I took him immediately to the village clinic for first aid. Fortunately, the nurse said the burns were superficial and he did not need to be admitted. We went home a bit relieved.

This is the kitchen where Mushemeza got burnt by the fire.JPG

This is the kitchen where Mushemeza got burnt by the fire.

However, after one week we started to worry. Mushemeza’s fingers became swollen with blisters. There was some deeper damage after all and the village clinic now wanted to send him to a hospital. I was not at home as I had gone for a week of ITFC fieldwork. When my wife phoned me with this news I had to leave my work and travel home as quickly as I could. We took the poor boy to Buhoma Hospital, about 52 km away from Ruhija, and he was admitted to the children’s ward.

One month after the accident, two of the three burnt fingers had healed but one had lost the top joint, and was swollen and infected. The doctors recommended a scan which showed that there was pus inside the joint and we were sent to a bone specialist in yet another hospital, called Kisiizi (120 km from Ruhija). We travelled to Kisiizi by car which was very expensive for us and we were very tired by the long journey.

The following day, the doctors proposed that Mushemeza be operated on immediately. It took fourteen days before we were confident of his recovery. Because the hospital is so far, my wife had to stay with our son in the ward and I took care of our other children at home, and at times could travel back to Kisiizi to help my wife. We were all so happy when our son was discharged and recovered. I thank all the people who helped us.

Mushemeza with the mother after the operation.JPG

Mushemeza and the rest of my family after the operation

Mushemeza's operated finger that is stiff now.JPG

Mushemeza’s finger after the operation.

So life here has its ups and downs. Those of us who work in Bwindi Forest enjoy it.  We are happy to contribute to conservation too.   But we need to live here with very limited health facilities (ITFC helps with a small staff clinic but it cannot deal with serious problems). If the government would provide better health facilities our lives would be better and we would worry less about our families.  These are our hopes.

I’ll try and do a blog on the gorillas again soon.  Keep reading and I hope to hear from you.


Sharing the daily lives of people around Bwindi

We people around ITFC live in an area of steep hills with valleys. Many of us have to walk long distances to reach water sources, but some people have small plastic tanks to collect water from their roofs during the rainy seasons.


Steep slopes below Ruhija where crops are grown

We grow tea and tobacco as cash crops on a small scale. Beans, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, millet, cabbages, yams and sorghum are grown as food crops and may also be sold locally to add on our income. We also rear goats, cows, sheep, pigs and we plant different tree species like eucalyptus, pine, black-wattle and cyprus for our home use and for extra income. In addition to these sources of income there are a few employment opportunities available from ITFC and UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority).

UWA recently opened one Mountain gorilla group for tracking from Ruhija, there are also nature walks to the bamboo zone, to Mubwindi swamp and opportunties to go for birding. Tour companies have started setting up tourist facilities (camp sites, hotels, lodges) and local people hope they may be able to sell food and handcrafts to tourists.

Every Tuesday there is a market in the canteen and people from all surrounding villages come to attend it. They sell and buy goods locally grown and other goods from the shops that have been set up. Often they walk for hours with their produce to come to the market Business is growing slowly and the shop keepers use public cars travelling to Kabale, the nearest town about 50 km from Ruhija. The road passes through the national park and sometimes, in the rain season when elephants are on the road, the transport during early mornings and evening hours is delayed.


This is our public transport to Kabale, no air conditioned buses,no 4 wheel drive vehicles.

Hope to hear your attitudes and responses.