As the news of the arrival of the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines in Uganda may offer a glimpse of hope among the public that maybe soon, their lives would return to normal. The situation is not the same with the tourism sector which is still projected to remain very low until well by 2022 when international tourism, which had fallen by over 80% is expected to rise and the tourism host communities whose livelihoods were impacted by the outbreak of COVID 19 are aware that only through sustainably diversified livelihoods will they be able to balance conservation and protecting the key biodiversity.
It’s on this premise that Environment Governance institute (EGI) partnered with Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA) with the support of IUCN Save Our Species and co-funded by European Union organized community trainings aimed at building the capacity of communities to appreciate the benefits and links of conserving key biodiversity areas to their livelihoods and reduce wildlife conflicts. These trainings took place in Kagadi and drew participants from Pachwa and Muhoro sub-county selected women champions, religious leaders, tourism groups, community representative, and Bunyoro kingdom officials.
The trainings were informed by the rapid rise of human-wildlife conflicts resulting from the mass destruction of habitats specifically for unsustainable activities like charcoal burning, bricklaying, and destruction of some forest ecosystems for short-term livelihood gains. These actions resulted in the rise of human-wildlife conflicts especially along the chimpanzee corridor of Pachwa and Muhoro in the greater Kibaale as the chimpanzees moved out of the park into community settlements.
According to Ms. Joyce Katusiime a chairperson of Kyamarere Women Handcraft Association, during the lockdown period, the communities massively cut down Mpalagansi forest for charcoal burning which opened up the chimpanzee corridor that made them move out of the park to raid in community garden and harvest premature crops. “The chimps came closer to our homes searching for food, ripping bananas from the trees, grabbing mangoes and jackfruits and whatever else tempted them.” Ms. Katusiime and added that “chimpanzee often go to the wells and keep scaring women who normally fetch water.
Ms. Nankanja Teddy a residence of Pachwa village narrates that One day while in her garden digging, the chimpanzee grabbed her Two-year-old baby by the hand and ran and with the help of loud screaming of the young girl, the attention of other community members was caught, who came and helped the mother chase after the baby who was later brought back. Despite some mild injuries that the baby suffered, the young girl was securely taken home.
In efforts to address this conservation crisis, EGI through the community-based champion model mobilized a team of women groups and organized as “friends of chimps” groups, who supplemented the awareness community trainings with Music Dance, and Drama where they are singing local songs enriched with a message of protecting the chimpanzees and stopping acts of habitat destruction.
The songs are used for creating awareness on the value of ecosystems and how to peacefully co-exist with wildlife. One of the popular songs locally known as “Otahoora enzigu hali ebitera habwokuba biribinyani baitu”, a lunyoro language song title meaning, “Do not revenge on the Chimpanzees, because they are our friends” has been widely adopted within the community and they are sung by young men whenever the spot chimpanzees crossing over to their settlement and is a constant reminder of the role they should play in protecting chimpanzees
To complement the trainings with edutainment, EGI has been giving the champions slots to sing in between meetings, during break time, and after the trainings which offer critical conservation information and played a key role in reduced habitat destruction within the greater kiballe.
Furthermore, EGI wrote to UWA requesting for an intervention into the conflicts and UWA was able to post a warden in the area who rapidly responds to the animals crossing to community settlement and this is progressively improving the community coexistence. Chimpanzees are great apes with a DNA closest to human and have been categorized as endangered species and in Kibaale alone an estimated 1,500 chimpanzees in 13 communities are found and habitat protection is key to their survival, therefore, there is need to ensure that our government and nature conservation representatives, civil society, and our elected leaders carry out the shared mandate to protect wildlife and preserve the Bio Diverse Ecosystems for the Common good of the Nation and use of Art is critical for community acceptance
By Caroline Akello, Project Officer, Environment Governance Institute
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union through IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Environment Governance Institute and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN or the European Union