It is fourteen years since Bulindi Chimpanzee and Community Project (BCCP) first conducted research on the primate communities in the Budongo-Bugoma Forest corridor in Hoima District. This informed on the level to which cutting of trees to open land for agriculture was taking a toll on the wildlife in the forests of Uganda. With human invasion of the forests the project sought to get the community to co-exist harmoniously with nature.
Peering through the tree branches of this patch of private forest managed by Anthony Byabazaire are the earnest faces of a couple of chimpanzees that are brave enough to face us. Anthony will not permit cutting trees in the forest reserve adjacent to his homestead. “I live happily with these chimps”, he says. “We share fruits like ‘fene’, mangos and guava and I have refused anyone to cut these trees,” Anthony adds. He also states that he and his community of conservationists continuously plant trees to fill out the bare patches of the forest to try and regain as much forest cover as possible. This ensures that the chimpanzees have a home and reduces instances of skirmishes between they and the animals.
USAID’s Uganda Biodiversity Fund Activity has eased the efforts of organisations like BCCP to reinforce better conservation practices by not only providing funds and tree seedlings to restore degraded areas, but information on the love and care of chimpanzees, and all plant and wildlife of the Budongo and Bugoma forests. Furthermore, community outreach has improved and is taking on a life of its own, employing people from the community and changing the attitudes of the residents in these areas.
Immaculate Kiiza Bagonza is one of twenty-three women, who concerned about the incidences of chimpanzee attacks and retaliatory killings of chimpanzees by humans, formed the Wagaisa Women’s Chimpanzee Conservation Group in 2017. The group got a fifteen-million-shilling soft loan to facilitate group members to conduct restoration and conservation work critical to chimpanzee habitats and engage in alternative livelihoods.
The consequences of attacks by the chimpanzees encouraged community members to engage in alternative sustainable enterprises to reduce pressure on the remaining chimpanzee habitat between Budongo and Bugoma forests and mitigate disruption to the chimpanzee gene flow.
Bagonza for instance, began poultry farming and in the past year she has grown a coop of over one hundred layer-chickens which income, the mother of five says has enabled her to support her family.
All the twenty-three group members have each accessed a loan from the group and are currently engaged in more environmentally friendly enterprises, such as leasing land outside the forest to plant alternative crops like coffee, producing sustainable timber woodlots, and making energy-saving stoves, to name a few. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic which has adversely affected the enterprises all the women are paying back their loans.
There is optimism, Bagonza said, that one day the community shall be able to successfully restore the degraded forest and “to live with the chimpanzees in peace.”