Chimpanzee population reduces as Bugoma forest is cleared

A conservationist nurses an injured chimpanzee in Kikuube District. (File photo)

The number of chimpanzees in Bugoma Central Forest Reserve has significantly reduced following the destruction of their habitat, reveals Mr Paul Hatanga, Project Manager Wildlife Conservation Society.

In an interview with Kazi-njema News, the manager says a census conducted in 2001 indicated that Bugoma forest was home to an estimated 570 chimpanzees but their population has now reduced to 390.

This is as per the joint report released by Wildlife Conservation Society, Jane Goodall Institute, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Budongo Conservation Field Station.

Mr Hatanga says the census report attributes the thinning number of chimpanzee population to clearing of Bugoma forest for subsistence and commercial farming leaving the primates concentrated in small pockets of the corridors of Bugoma and Budongo forests.

Sound bite: Hatanga on chimpanzee (English)

Mr Asiimwe Aliguma, the Communications Officer Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU), says following the destruction of Bugoma forest, the organisation is now engaging and sensitising private foresters to allow chimpanzees space in their forests so they can be salvaged from extinction.

The conservationist discloses that most of the chimpanzees in that forest were killed in the process of clearing their habitat for cultivation adding that the few ones in small forest places cannot reproduce because of the current bad conditions in which they are living since they are situation sensitive.

He reveals that the primates cannot reproduce when the environment around them is being tampered with by human activities.  

Mr Aliguma encourages and appeals to all local foresters to protect their woods so they can be chimpanzee habitats to avoid any human-wildlife collision because most of their habitats have been destroyed.

“We strongly believe chimpanzees are being killed because their number has decreased according to the population census we conducted. These animals are even not given an opportunity to breed. To produce, conditions must be favourable to them. They are very intelligent. They cannot breed when they know circumstances are bad. Bugoma has been cut and our emphasis is on private forests but unfortunately private foresters are also cutting down their forests at a high rate yet they would be the last safe resort for them to live in,” Mr Aliguma says.

Ms Barbra Babweteera, the Executive Director CCFU, says her organisation is committed to continue empowering local people with cultural knowledge on how to protect chimpanzees since forest reserves that were home to the primates have been encroached on leaving many of them killed and in retaliation severely and fatally injuring people.

She adds that the organisation is also increasing campaigns aimed to sensitise people about the economic importance of chimpanzees being a tourist attraction which is a source of income to both private forests who accommodate the primates in their forests and the government.

“We are partnering with the local people to ensure that protect chimpanzees against extinction. In the past, chimpanzees were many and they lived in forests but as years went by, people started encroaching on forests by clearing them. The best example is Bugoma forest that is being cleared flatly resulting in human-wildlife conflict. The scenario has led people to killing chimpanzees on the grounds of destroying their crops yet those animals are looking for food. The human-wildlife conflict has always been several and fatal injuries that chimpanzees inflict on people,” Ms Babweteera says.

Mr Robert Rukahemura, a private forest owner in Kagadi, is impressed with chimpanzees that sometimes use his woodland as a habitat.

He says such an incident coerced him to establish a committee that protects his private forest from encroachment and harassing the chimpanzees therein.

After seeing it being indiscriminately cleared for sugarcane growing, timber harvesting and charcoal burning, the Kikuube district council through a motion moved by the Kabwoya sub-county councilor, Mr Alex Kabusomba Byensi, tabled a resolution to have Bugoma central forest reserve change hands from NFA to UWA with intent to save chimpanzees and other wildlife from annihilation.

Over the past seven years, CCFU has conducted and implemented interventions aimed at using culture and community resources for the conservation of chimpanzees especially in Bunyoro and Rwenzori regions.

The recent stakeholders’ dialogue on culture and chimpanzee conservation was held on May 19, 2022, in Hoima city involving participants from Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Obusinga bwa Rwenzururu, private forest owners, local governments, UWA and NFA.

It focused on restoration of forest corridors in Bunyoro and chimpanzee conservation outside protected areas.

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