Hoima chimpanzees resort to eating meat as natural forests disappear

Chimpanzees eat wild fig fruit in Uganda (Photo credit: Adventures to Gorilla Africa)

Chimpanzees in Hoima have been cited with shock eating meat contrary to their natural inclination known since time immemorial.

By and large, chimpanzees are frugivores – meaning they feed on fruit. But this has taken a new twist after conservationists observed a strange behaviour with chimpanzees foraging for meat for their survival.

The bizarre has been attributed to the increased destruction of forests which are a natural habitat for chimpanzees and also a favourable ground for the growth of fruits and flowers that the apes eat.

The same factor is behind the growing human-wildlife conflict as farmers growing cocoa, jackfruit, sugarcane, cow peas and pawpaw among other crops continue getting demoralised by the daily crop losses they incur nowadays as a result of being eaten by the chimpanzees, according to the Manager, Bulindi Chimpanzee and Conservation Project (BCCP), in an exclusive interview with Kazi-njema News.

Mr Moses Semahunge quotes a surprising incident in which a female chimpanzee that migrated to Bulindi chimpanzee community from Kitoba chimpanzee community was observed eating a guinea fowl while another was reportedly sighted slapping a pig among other scenarios; a behaviour he describes as ‘dangerous’ to human life and domestic birds and animals as the apes continue adapting to this new type of diet.

Bulindi and Kitoba chimpanzee communities are two of the 11 communities in Northern Hoima, states Mr Semahunge.

In a related incident, the Bulindi chimpanzee community has also adapted to eating jackfruit, a tendency that never happened in their life prior to 2006. This follows the destruction of forests that provided wild fruit for the apes that have now resorted to eating garden fruits.

Chimpanzees in Bunyoro have already adapted to foraging for and feeding on 27 agricultural crops in the recent past because for now they can only rely on garden crops that are being planted in once their natural habitat as well as their source of food.

Audio: Semahunge on chimps eating meat (English)

Mr Semahunge who is also a natural resource specialist and conservationist reserves hope in the restoration of degraded chimpanzee habitat and deliberate efforts to plant fruit trees that chimpanzees feed on naturally as an unsurpassed option in order to minimise human-wildlife conflict.

To him, the protection of the Bugoma-Budongo forest chimpanzee corridor in this case is paramount for the survival of the 11 chimpanzee communities in northern Hoima and other communities in Bunyoro.

Audio: Semahunge on remedy (English)
Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda. (Photo credit: Adventures to Gorilla Africa).

If chimpanzees continue taking the same direction of eating meat, they will ultimately resort to human flesh due to increased interaction and competition for food and habitat.

At least one child has been attacked by a chimpanzee in Hoima district this year. Five others were attacked in separate incidents last year though they were not at all linked to changing chimpanzee adaptive feeding behaviour but due to destruction of their habitat and food ground.

The news of Hoima chimpanzees resorting to eating meat comes as efforts to save Bugoma forest in the neighbouring Kikuube district are frustrated day in day out.

Farmers and settlers especially at Nyairongo village in Kabwoya sub-county, Kikuube district are suspected to have already invaded the forest reserve for banana and rice growing resulting in chimpanzee incursion to gardens.

Hoima Sugar Limited is continuing with massive degradation inside Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, according to the National Forestry Authority (NFA) reports based on Geographic Information System (GIS) monitoring.

The exercise to reopen the boundaries of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve hoped to defuse tensions was suddenly called-off a day after kicking off citing its possible influence in politics as worth suspending it.

Since then the exercise has never resumed despite reports of continued forest degradation on parts where Hoima Sugar Limited is operating.

In case Bugoma – Uganda’s second largest natural forest is not saved, mankind and wildlife might go for an open war over food and habitat given the existing adaptive behaviour of chimpanzees. These endemic species might undoubtedly be placed on the list of extinct creatures very soon.

Mr Moses Semahunge, Manager at Bulindi Chimpanzee and Conservation Project (BCCP) cum natural resource specialist.

Chimpanzees greatly contribute to the tourism industry, Uganda’s leading foreign income earner.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), too, is not certain of the future as they continue expressing the need for combined efforts from all stakeholders to protect nature which is the bottom line of all their operations.

Scientists are warning that more than a million species are in the near time danger of extinction.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) of the United Nations warns in its report on global warming 2020 that the 2010-2020 decade was the warmest in the history of mankind creating unbearable conditions for numerous living organisms.

Human activities are responsible for 97% of climate change effects including the rising global temperature and floods.

This feature has been compiled with support from the Global Greengrant Fund (GGF)

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