Tag Archives: TEAM

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

More surprises-from the African elephant to the Scaly ant-eaters

What makes my work with camera traps thrilling is the big number of images (and surprises that come with them) we get from our camera trapping activity.  Last year we captured twenty and four species of mammals and birds respectively.  Despite missing a few expected species, images included those of the enigmatic and secretive threatened African Golden cat, the endangered   mountain gorilla and chimpanzees, and the locally less known honey badger. However, even with 15912 images, the animal species list of Bwindi is far from complete. This is evident from images of this year’s TEAM network camera trapping.

After setting and retrieving cameras at 60 different locations, I was so ecstatic to do the species identification. This year’s first surprise was of the African Elephant!!, captured so close to the camera with a lot of its details shown. Just last night as I was identifying and attaching scientific names to the animals from the images, a rush of excitement ran through my body when I saw a quite unusual animal. It is the scaly ant eater. YES!! I may be wrong, but I suspect that these images are of the African White-bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis). This animal is listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species.

Interesting facts about scaly ant eaters or the pangolins:

These animals are epitomized by long, very muscular tails. Their bodies are covered with a hard, scaly covering that makes them look more like reptiles than mammals. They are the only mammals with over 40 bones in their tails. Pangolins eat mostly ants and termites, using their pointy snouts and their long, wormlike sticky tongues. Pangolins are toothless, thus their prey is ground up with sand in their gizzard like stomach. They protect themselves from predators by rolling themselves into a tight ball and sticking their sharp scales out.

This animal has so far appeared at two different locations in the lower elevation forest of the park. Unlike the elephant, it did not spend so much time close to the camera. It was captured while in motion. I still have images of animals from twenty six cameras to identify and attach names. I will come again to share with you more of Bwindi’s rich heritage. Our dear readers, allow me to share with you some of the images of this amazing creature.

Here he comes....

Here he comes....

He gives us his clear view….note the dark coloring around his eye

He gives us his clear view….note the dark coloring around his eye

He is passing by the camera

He is passing by the camera

and more of him…

and more of him…

note the pointed ending of his tail

note the pointed ending of his tail

From a different location-there is a small pangolin. So cute!!!

From a different location-there is a smaller pangolin. So cute!!!

My best regards,


A revealing second look at an African golden cat

We have collected the cameras from this year’s camera trapping. We are behind with processing the images due to all the other activities that are happening, but we look forward to seeing them.

Last year we had about 15,000 images to review so we expect something similar this year. It takes a lot of time. Some are obvious (like the elephant) and some are hard to judge for certain — what exactly are we seeing?

Here is an example I’ve been looking at again recently. It concerns three of the 695 African golden cat images we got last year. These three were taken just before dawn. The first is easily dismissed as too blurry, right? It is not clear what it is — take a look and see!

Now bear with me a moment … and I hope you’ll agree the result is worth the effort.


Fast moving cat is a blur in the flash

Ok. then next we get this one …


The cat has slowed

That’s better. That is clearly an African golden cat. Great. So next …

The cat is now moving back.

But look … what is that in its mouth? Can you see the two bright dots– what are those?

Look more closely. Here …


Close – up: The eyes of an animal held in the cat’s mouth reflect the flash.

I think it is probably a rat of some type. Another possibility that crossed my mind is a kitten/cub — but the tail looks too thin and ratty. I went back to the first blurry image for another closer look. Here it is …


Close up of the first image.  See the bright eye lower left. A rodent is facing us with its nose pointing to the left I think. See the cat (the cat is the blur filling the upper left of the image).

Do you see it? I am now confident the bright dot is an eye.  We are seeing a small bright-eyed rodent  just fractions of a second before it becomes prey to the fast moving cat.  That’s a drama I missed the first time I saw these images.  You? Now it looks obvious right?

As far as I know this may be the first ever image of a wild African golden cat successfully hunting. Exciting if true! Please let me know if I’m wrong!  In any case with 15,000 pictures worth a second look from last year and the same again this year we have enough to keep us busy.

Best wishes


Our forest candid-camera network gets global attention

As regular readers know several of our activities here in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are part of, and contribute to, larger research networks. The TEAM network supports our camera trapping, our tree monitoring plots and our automatic climate station. These TEAM activities are all still quite new at ITFC so we should celebrate when we can see our network getting recognition for its value to conservation and science.

A recent mult-author publication about the TEAM cameras has been getting a lot of media coverage. Rather than repeating it let me give you a few links so you can see the pictures and text for yourselves. There are some familiar images as well as many from other forests around the world. So here is a brief selection from several hundred sites that appear to be running the story: National Geographic, Wired Science and IBTimes.

Take a look and please feel free to share your views.

Best wishes


More from the camera trap – identification parade

In the last blog I shared our first camera trap pictures of one of Bwindi’s elephants. But that camera was packed with other pictures. It’s fun running through them. There are more than 350 of them.  Not all are identifiable.  But rather than making you wait let me share a few of the clearer ones and allow you to see how many you can identify for yourself.

Here they are. Any ideas?












Best wishes


Bwindi elephant — a camera trap exclusive

Last year we set out camera traps at sixty locations for a month each. That’s part of the TEAM project we told you about. We got over 15,000 pictures. While some were empty or unclear, most had animals.   A total of 15,912 images were recorded in 1800 camera days.  10,029 images were useful (images of wildlife).  The animals identified included 24 species of ground dwelling animals (including mammals and birds). These included most of the species you would expect in Bwindi: Mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, duikers, pigs, civets etc. as well as a few less expected animals such as the honey badger and jackal.  We did a whole series of blogs on them last year.  But one animal eluded us entirely … how can you miss over 30 elephants in a forest the size of Bwindi?

Well this year we have started the cameras again. The first set of 30 cameras has been set out and the earliest ones have already been collected. Its always exciting to see what we have — so I persuaded Badru to pass over the files to me (he’s out in the field collecting more cameras).

So … guess what? We have quite a few animals and YES we have an elephant! CLOSE and BIG. Let me share a few pictures. The camera was spotted — luckily it survived.  Enjoy.

Let us know what you think!

Best wishes


Bwindi on candid camera 15 – Homo sapiens

I now present the last pictures selected from over 15,000 images from our TEAM camera trapping exercise. This one thankfully seems rare as it was only recorded by one camera at one point. That’s what camera traps are for; to reveal the elusive, secretive and rare species in the forest. I am talking about Homo sapiens (but the sub-taxa ‘poacher’, usually operating in small groups).

Poaching is a threat to biodiversity conservation. In Bwindi, poachers set up snares to trap animals like duikers and bush pigs, mostly to feed their families, though some reports of bush meat trade around Bwindi have been received too. This appears to be mostly trade between poverty stricken poachers and wealthier community members. Some others may participate in poaching and bush meat trade for cultural reasons. Non-targeted animals such as gorillas, jackals and chimps have fallen victim to this ruthless activity.

Snares are wire loops on strings tied to bent stems, and are triggered when an animal steps into the loop. The bent stem jerks the snare, which lifts the animal off its feet. We have shown poaching evidence in Bwindi in our previous blogs (see “Snares still kill in Bwindi”). Poaching is an illegal activity in Uganda with imprisonment as the punishment. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers and researchers always deactivate active snares when they encounter them in the forest.

Camera trapping has provided us with a line-up of the culprits. It’s worth mentioning that these pictures are publically available (via the TEAM website ) and are in any case coowned by UWA as the camera trapping is a joint activity with them. Therefore, UWA, or anyone else, might use the photographs to find the poachers. Interestingly, we have already heard stories from villagers that “ITFC researchers provide UWA with pictures of poachers”. Like all such rumours this may negatively affect our relationship with the communities. As a conservationist, I understand the devastating impacts of poaching and bush meat on biodiversity. On the other hand, however, poachers gain a considerable amount of benefits from this activity. This leaves me with one obvious question. What is ethical?

I am glad to present you the first pictures of Bwindi poachers (faces censored for security reasons).


The first man to walk into our ‘trap’


Just an early morning stroll in the forest? But …


… note the knife (called a panga in most of Uganda) and the spear


It is almost like this man is smiling for the camera, however in the next photo


…it is kind of clear that this man is trying to find out what the strange device tied to the tree is.

Best regards from Bwindi,

Badru Mugerwa

Bwindi on candid camera 14 – Up close with golden cats

We are finally getting near the end of the selected pictures from the recent camera trap efforts in Bwindi. We’ve gone through over 15,000 but today it is finally time for my favourites.

These animals are amazing.  These are golden cats.

Some background information: The African golden cat Caracal aurata is Africa’s most poorly known cat species. We know almost nothing about their ecology and behaviour. The African golden cat has traditionally been included in the genus Felis or Profelis (full synonyms: Profelis aurata andFelis aurata) but various molecular data confirm it is most closely allied with the Caracal Caracal caracal. There are not many good pictures of these cats in the wild (but see our previous cat blogs). These pictures are special so we/I kept them until near the end.





IMG_0057 (2).JPG

Caracal aurata, Bwindi, 2010.

Best wishes

Douglas and Badru

Bwindi on candid camera 13 – those chimps …

We have lots of great pictures from the recent camera trap efforts in Bwindi. We have sifted through over 15,000 images to be able to share the best.

Today we are back to the chimpanzees. Though we think of them as shy animals, some seem to like the camera. Perhaps it is simply curiosity.  You can see how they invite others over to share the moment.

Hello, hello …

Is it working …?

Hey, look at this …

Everyone come over here … smile

See you next year!  (our plan is the cameras will be put back in the same places for a month in 2011)

Let us know what you think

Best wishes

Douglas and Badru

Bwindi on candid camera 12 – is it a sitatunga?

We have lots of great pictures from the recent camera trap efforts in Bwindi. We have sifted through more than 15,000 images to share the best.

Today we focus on an antelope that may be a sitatunga or may be a bushbuck.  We’re not sure.  Are you able to tell them apart without seeing the hooves? Please let us know if you can.  It was near the swamp so we’re going with sitatunga for now …

Sitatunga  (Tragelaphus  spekii)

Sitatunga, Bwindi, ITFC 2010

Sitatunga, Bwindi, ITFC 2010

Best wishes

Douglas and Badru