The Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Conservation Trust, also known as the Chimpanzee Trust has started raising awareness about protecting natural habitats as one of the ways to advocate for chimpanzees.
The World Chimpanzee Day is a celebration and an opportunity to raise awareness about the needs of the worldwide participation in their care, protection and conservation in the wild and captivity held every July 14.
Dr Joshua Rukundo, the Chimp Trust Executive Director, says as part of this year’s celebrations,, they continue raising awareness about the threats the chimps face in the wild including habitat loss, diseases, wildlife trafficking and promote their proper care in captive situations.
“As chimpanzees are continuously threatened by the habitat loss, disease, wildlife trafficking and illegal hunting, the World Chimpanzee Day provides the ideal opportunity for the Chimpanzee Trust to focus its commitment to reduce conflicts between chimpanzees and humans as part of its mission to sustainably conserve chimpanzees in their natural habitat and provide optimum captive care to those that cannot survive in the wild,” he says.
Dr Rukundo adds that in the commemoration of the day, the Chimp Trust has, due to restrictions on travel and gatherings, virtually showcased its achievements in conserving chimpanzee habitats to mitigate human-wildlife conflict along the Albetine rift.
According to the Chimp Trust Executive Director, the NGO is in its third year of implementing the “Community Adaptability to loss occasioned by the wildlife” project aimed at equipping the communities most affected by human-wildlife conflict with skills and tools to develop their own solutions to the mitigation of such conflict to the benefit of both species.
The project has been funded by UK’s Darwin Initiatives programme.
“As part of the activities of the project, 256 village farmer groups have been formed and 384 leaders from these groups have been trained in the establishment and management of Village Saving Groups (VSGs) under the project,” Mr Rukundo says, explaining that VSGs play a critical role in bringing financial services to rural communities.
“Community leaders learn skills of group formation, group dynamics, sustainability, the making of a constitution, and the registration with the Local Government. VSGs help build community networks that discuss their problems and devise their solutions. The groups meet weekly and contribute shares to the saving groups.”
The veterinary doctor adds that other than habitat restoration in Hoima district, Chimpanzee Trust through its education programme has embraced the production of radio drama as an efficient and effective means of awareness to the public.
“Radio drama increases the awareness of the public and specifically the communities living close to wildlife on the importance of the wildlife and the environment in which they live. Over the last 3-4 years, we have worked with students from the local secondary schools to record two seasons of a now popular radio drama “Ekijja Omanyire”, which translates to “Forewarned, forearmed,” Mr Rukundo says.
He explains that the drama episodes depict lives of the communities that live next to forest habitats, rivers and woodlands, where they come across wildlife and especially chimpanzees.
“It looks to teach listeners how to ‘behave’ in such environments to conserve it so they can reap the benefits for generations to come.”
“Additionally, new conservation education materials like the children’s reading book with stories on adaptation, avoidance, and mitigation of human-wildlife conflicts have been distributed to students aged seven to 13 years,”Mr Rukundo continues.
On Thursday, July 2, 2020, a chimpanzee attacked a one-year-old child at Bulemwa Cell in Bujumbura Division, Hoima District.
The attack occurred when the child’s mother, Ms Friday Kaahwa and her friend, Ms Juliet Kiiza were in the garden uprooting cassava tubers.
Ms Kiiza told journalists on authorisation from Ms Kaahwa that the incident occurred at 8am when the baby was laying under a little mango tree so it could not be affected by the sunshine as the duo continued uprooting cassava tubers.
She said that the two did not notice the ape coming to them until they heard the baby scream as the chimpanzee snatched him up.
“Upon raising an alarm, women from other gardens ran to us rescue before being joined by men who followed up the ape into the forest until the baby was recovered with serious injuries in the face and genital area imposed by the chimpanzee’s bites”.
This is the second child to be attacked by a chimpanzee in Hoima.
Ms Rosemary Nyangoma’s child was also attacked. She remembers how she “was digging with my baby laying under a tree not far away from me only to see a chimpanzees charging towards my son. They grabbed my child and ran away to the forest with him for six hours. The locals came and helped to search for my son and we found him in the hands of a chimpanzee which we gave bananas and it put down my child. To my disappointment, his genitals were off and also his legs were injured.”
Although the baby was treated at Hoima Regional Referral Hospital, Ms Nyangoma says the child still faints periodically and passes urine uncontrollably which the medics cannot account for.
Residents of Hoima blame the government for prioritising chimpanzees at the expense of humans. They say they even fear retaliating by killing the apes lest government arrest them since the chimpanzees are considered an endangered species.
However, Mr Norbert Kasozi of Chimpanzee Trust attributes the chimpanzee attacks to human encroachment on the apes’ natural habitat.
“Forests are becoming smaller each day due to the communities’ farming practices which has exposed the chimps to humans on a daily basis,” he explains.
Mr Kasozi adds that the Chimpanzee Trust is trying by all means to educate communities on how to co-exist in Hoima district advising them to avoid wearing clothes with bright colours as the apes react aggressively to them.
The Trust also encourages the community to keep their children out of reach of the chimpanzees.