Habitat Restoration and Ecotourism for Chimpanzees, Uganda

The Bulindi Chimpanzee and Community Project aims to conserve the highly threatened populations of wild chimpanzees living in unprotected, rapidly disappearing  habitat alongside poor, rural farmers in Western Uganda’s critical Budongo-Bugoma corridor landscape.

Western Uganda’s Hoima district is dominated by village and agricultural land but small forests occur along watercourses and valleys throughout the 1000 km2 region. These unprotected forests are owned by local village households and provide critical habitat for a population of 300 wild chimpanzees, as well as other primates including black and white colobus, vervets, baboons, and the endangered Ugandan mangabey. Hoima’s small forests have additional conservation value as a wildlife corridor linking two large protected areas to the north and south. The area is threatened by unregulated tourism, pressure for development, and agricultural expansion. The removal of forest leads to crop-raiding by chimpanzees, which are then trapped or killed. For many households the forest is their only source of income. This project will work with local communities to develop local livelihood alternatives from sustainable ecotourism alongside woodlots and ‘chimp friendly’ coffee farming to reduce pressure on natural forest. Tree nurseries will be established and 200,000 coffee trees, 200,000 native species for enrichment planting, and 200,000 fast-growing exotics for woodlots, will be grown. A thorough biodiversity survey will be conducted, guidelines for best practice ecotourism and visitor enhancement will be drawn up, 150 energy-saving stoves will be constructed, and there will be local educational outreach for schoolchildren and adults.

The Update

Update October 2018:
The project is progressing well, despite unforeseen challenges, such as weather and delays to the start of biodiversity surveys at one site. In fact, delays resulted in an expansion to the surveying by incorporating two additional sites while waiting for access!

The project is successfully funding daily monitoring of three resident chimpanzee groups in the Hoima corridor. Data collection includes diet and use of agricultural crops to help understand and predict human-chimpanzee conflicts in the area. This, combined with biodiversity surveys, is helping to establish habitat use, the conflicts of interest, and the potential for sustainable tourism. One of the biggest conflicts is with sugarcane growers.

Two new tree nurseries have been established and a third has been restored (each in a different village). Locally employed people look after these nurseries and attended regular training sessions to improve their skills. So far 175,400 tree seedlings have been raised and distributed to over 600 registered farmers in 61 villages within the ranges of five of the estimated ten resident ‘corridor chimpanzee’ groups. Tree species include: eucalyptus, indigenous Maesopsis (producing edible fruit), and indigenous mahoganies. Some of these trees will provide a sustainable source of income in woodlots away from the forest, whilst most of the indigenous seedlings are being planted at the forest edge and along watercourses. More planting is due to be undertaken in March-May 2019.

200,000 high quality robusta coffee seedlings have been raised and are being maintained in the tree nurseries. More than 600 farmers are registered and are receiving training and guidance on coffee farming. The coffee plants are to be planted out in March-May 2019.

150 energy saving stoves have been constructed. Training is scheduled, after which time these stoves will be distributed throughout the villages in the area.

Final update October 2019:
Following completion of this project, its principle successes – in addition to those above – include:
– Achieving the project’s objective of planting some 600,000 seedlings;
– The completion of a detailed ecotourism feasibility assessment. This is now being taken to the next stage to hopefully implement in the not too distant future;
– Teacher training undertaken, with ‘Meet your chimps’ classroom activities implemented;
– School tree nurseries established to involve children in tree planting, as well as giving them the opportunity to learn about the role of the natural forest;
– A number of local outreach meetings with villages were carried out to build on the knowledge and understanding of the conservation importance of the area and the chimpanzees – aiming to help residents coexist more easily with chimpanzees.

Image credit: Jacqueline Rohen