Disease Transmission Risks Tourists Pose The Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

I first heard about Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) while working as a veterinary technician at Fifth Avenue Veterinary Specialists in Manhattan. One of the internists had interviewed someone with work experience at CTPH and told me to check it out. I was very much interested in conservation, primates, and healthcare development work so I did my research and kept it in mind. Two years later in the first weeks of my MSc course in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University I was speaking with my supervisor Dr. Catherine Hill and I told her that I was interested in sustainable development and conservation medicine. Conservation medicine is the health interface between people, animals (both wild and domestic), and the environment. She immediately directed me again to CTPH and CEO/founder Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka in Uganda. There was a reason that this NGO was pointed out to me several times. We share the same values and mission. The CTPH mission is to conserve wildlife by improving the primary healthcare of people in and around protected areas in Africa. I feel passionately about all people having a basic right to primary healthcare and safe drinking water and that the health of people and animals living near one another is interconnected. I think that in order to achieve good conservation you must work with the local people and allow them access to basic necessities and the health of the whole ecosystem depends on it. It is very hard to protect endangered species without addressing the problems within the region. I am particularly interested in primary healthcare and clean drinking water development projects, conservation, conservation medicine, veterinary medicine, ecotourism, and primates. I have done a lot of research and I don’t think there is another organization out there that aligns so well with my interests. So when my supervisor gave me Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka’s contact information, I sent her a list of potential MSc thesis projects immediately. We conversed for months through email and I am now here in Uganda doing a study on the disease transmission risks that tourists pose the mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Forest edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

I arrived in Kampala about three weeks ago. I was in the capital for two weeks, much longer than expected for research permits. However, when I arrived here they told me I received clearance fairly quickly. To make up time spent in the capital I began my pilot study immediately.

My study has three main activities. They are to distribute questionnaires to tourists, conduct interviews with tourists after their treks, and collect saliva samples from tourists, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) staff, and vegetation of three habituated tourist groups of mountain gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP).

Briefing and collecting saliva swabs from Uganda Wildlife Authority guides and trackers Sunday, Albert, and David.

I am also interviewing locals and staff for a greater understanding and to possibly put together a documentary for CTPH, UWA and/or myself. I am working every day and making good progress. I have finished my pilot study and soon need to draft my final interview questions and questionnaire. I aim to complete a sample size of 25 formal interviews and 250 questionnaires. I have collected about a quarter of my projected 75 saliva samples. The toughest and most time consuming feat will be to track gorillas, identify them, and reliably collect fresh gorilla saliva. Especially since some of the groups are a round trip hike of eight hours up into the mountains and in my first trek I collected one trustworthy sample. However, I have only been working one full week and a lot of that time was spent meeting and briefing UWA staff, lodge staff, and locals about my research plans. Now I know a great deal of the people in both Buhoma and Bwindi and I have a schedule to move things along quicker. I normally wake up at 6:00am, arrive at the briefing area at 7:15am to depart on an advanced trek, return with samples, brief staff and tourists on my research and answer questions, distribute questionnaires to tourists, request interviews and swabs from UWA staff and tourists, and return to lodges to interview tourists. I often don’t get home until dark after dinner via boda boda and I am very tired.

Second day of tracking group Rushegura with female adult gorilla in tree above me.

Nonetheless, I am enjoying every moment of this experience. It is rewarding to know that UWA and CTPH find this information helpful and practical. Plus I get to enjoy the gorillas while fulfilling my MSc dissertation requirements. I hope to make a large contribution to both organizations, the gorillas, and local people.

CTPH community volunteer meeting that included discussions on washing household utensils, contraception, and the ECOLIFE Aquaponics project.

Young girl at orphanage organizing the artwork sold to tourists after their daily 5pm dance performance.

I will be here for about one more month, a total of only nine weeks. I am very grateful and happy to be here. I am honored to work for such an amazing organization. Thank you CTPH for having me!

Rushegura group Kibande baby checking out tourists while climbing tree.


First day with the gorillas.

May 18th 2011

Today was very special. I met with UWA warden Gessa at 7:30am and he sent me with tracker William to find the Rushegura (R) group of 20 gorillas with the advanced team. Rushegura group was very close today, just a short walk from Gorilla Forest Camp Lodge. As we approached two additional trackers Albert and Michael, I saw my first glimpse of a mountain gorilla hanging from the trees. We were able to watch 3-4 individuals for a few minutes before they began to move. Being that close to these rare animals in the forest is one of the most unique experiences I will ever have. It makes you feel alive and closer to nature more than ever. And when you are among all of them at once it is truly how some people have described to me as magical or a spiritual experience.

Buzinza with her baby breast feeding, one of my first sightings.

They were very calm with us in their presence but kept moving away to forage. Today I wanted to see how feasible it would be to obtain their saliva from plants and fruits but there were two main issues this Wednesday morning. They weren’t eating fruit, which are easiest to get the saliva from and this part of the forest was extremely thick on the forest floor. A really good fruit that I wanted to catch them eating, marenthas, wasn’t ripe enough for them to eat. We followed them for about two hours, cutting our way through the bush with machetes. Michael was an excellent leader full of knowledge, William was the best at identifying individuals often from behind several metres away, and Albert was very practical to consult about samples. We found some plants that one female had been chewing on, a plant that kind of looks like a chive. They peel and rip the exterior parts of the afromomum stem in order to eat the inside portion. While they are ripping away at the plant the stems slide through their mouth and saliva falls onto plant stems that they discard on the ground. I skipped the first plant that we inspected because I wasn’t confident about how much saliva was on it. Remember that there is a lot of dew on plants in the jungle and even more so in the morning. At the field station my clothes and blankets are often damp in the mornings until the sun comes out.

Outside stems of plants that gorillas peel off while feeding.

So we moved on cutting through the bush some more. The terrain is often quite steep and very slippery. We came across Buzinza, an adult female probably in her mid-twenties. She was eating on the root plant that I am still not certain its name. I need to learn a lot of names and plants in the next for weeks. I was very excited to see what she left behind. After a half hour we found what remained of her meal.

The remains of Buzinza’s meal.

Unfortunately, she ate the whole root vegetable I looked forward to sampling but we found some plants that she definitely had chewed on. I swabbed the inside of the plant stems as shown in the picture. These plants had more saliva on them than the first pile.

Afromomum plant believed to be a medicinal plant used by the Batwa local people for back ache. They eat the fruit and peel the outside stem to eat the inner portion.

I tried to get as much of the swab saturated in saliva while trying to avoid as much plant debris as possible. I was confident in this sample so I put my gloves on and swabbed the plant. I placed it in one of my many vials that is filled with blue lysis buffer. Lysis buffer prevents the DNA within the saliva from denaturing and will allow the sample to be stored for months at room temperature, and if needed a much more extended period of time in a freezer. I plan to collaborate with either a laboratory in the Netherlands or Germany. They will run PCR, polymerase chain reaction, in order to make a large number of copies of the gorillas’ DNA and then the samples can be screened for diseases. We will focus on viruses that both humans and apes carry, especially Tuberculosis and respiratory viruses like Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Influenza, Human Metapneumovirus (hMPV), and Adenoviruses. There was a recent 2011 published paper on Metapneumovirus in gorillas in Rwanda, where both a mother and infant died. They discovered from DNA analysis as well that this was from a South African strain. Many people believe this could be the first case to show that viruses have been passed from tourists to mountain gorillas (Human Metapneumovirus Infection in Wild Mountain Gorillas Rwanda; Palacios et al., 2011) I am also swabbing 25 tourists and 25 Uganda Wildlife Authority staff.

Briefing and collecting saliva swabs from Uganda Wildlife Authority guides and trackers Medad, Alex, and Catherine.

I believe there are just under 20 trackers and guides whom are in the most contact with the gorillas but we will also swab some administrative staff within the headquarters office in the park.

My first gorilla sample from Buzinza being placed in a lysis buffered vial.

Shortly after this we heard word via radio walkie talkies that the tourists were approaching for their trek. The advanced team finds the exact location of the gorillas in order to make sightings easier for tourists and they make sure the area is safe. The Congo border is only three kilometres away and today we trekked exactly toward its border.

All of a sudden the bush opened up to a path and we were with the tourists. Where did this path come from? It was awfully convenient. From there we were all only a few steps from the gorillas. I followed behind to see what the tourist trek was like.

The gorillas were doing an assortment of playing, eating, sleeping, and lounging. The adolescents in particular are very playful and goofy. At one point the dominant silverback, Mwirima, came towards us in a stern serious manner on his way to the blackback. We were very close at this point so were instructed to back off slowly. I was the closest to him on the far left of the group of tourists and I was very frightened at that moment. Gorillas have been known to weigh up to 270kg (600 pounds) and Mwirima is a large silverback.

Mwirima, silverback dominant male passing tourists very close on his way to Kabukojo, blackback.

Although we started at the seven metre rule it is really hard to keep that distance because they all move about us, often from all sides. The bush was not as thick here and the gorillas were playing and resting enough in order for us to have a wonderful experience with them. It is remarkable to be this close to such a magnificent animal, especially when all 20 of them surround you and don’t mind you being there. It is almost as if we are invisible to them. This part of the forest was much more open and the time of the day made the sun shine down on the animals making it ideal photography conditions. It was especially enjoyable to watch the infants playing and falling out of trees. The older ones will fall out of a tree and somersault/roll down a hill to break their fall but infants will often fall and you can’t see them but you hear a thump and see them pop up again.

Kibande baby gorilla taking a look at me while climbing a tree.

I was told they start napping at about 11am and they did exactly that at around 10:45am so we headed back to the briefing point at that time. In one of the bandas we talked about the trek, I gave a short talk on the research I am undergoing, and the tourists received certificates for their completion of gorilla tracking. The tourists were very happy and inquisitive at this time, asking numerous questions. I think it will be easy to distribute questionnaires and ask for interviews at this time in the future when the tourists will be very keen to assist efforts in gorilla conservation.

I then returned to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) headquarters to discuss research plans and write some colleagues. I have been given a desk and will soon get some gum boots and a poncho. The Uganda Wildlife Authority staff and all Ugandans have been very kind and professional throughout my whole time here. I look forward to the days ahead and it will be really hard to leave. I have already been asked to stay longer and return for consultancy work or my PhD. They are going to email me their current research priorities, which is apparently long. I am shocked there is a lot to be done on such a high profile great ape species. I am very grateful and happy to have this opportunity, especially to be given a rare privilege to track mountain gorillas daily with the people that know these incredible animals best.

Today one of my close friends now at UWA said to me “you have to come to this other part of Bwindi to see some gorillas…they are located near Ruhija…they are very special…you must see them…you really must see them…we will go when you finish your work…promise me you will see them?” I replied “what is so special about them?” And he said “They are the FUNNIEST gorillas I have ever seen!” Gorillas are already very funny at times, I can’t wait for this!

Baby gorilla dangling upside down in tree.

Rain in the tropics.

May 16th, 2011

I am at the Buhoma Rest Camp and it is pouring buckets of rain, the hardest I have seen it come down yet. I had to move my table in from the ledge about 20 feet up, practically to the bar because of the wind. I met the actual conservation area manager (CAM), Pontious today. He is lovely and hilarious. Pontious and Gessa told me that I should not go back to Oxford and I should stay here. And there is too much work for me to do. I told them if I could live in one of the luxury lodges it is a deal! They are going to email me their research priorities, just in case for a PhD. I hung out at Gorilla Forest Camp (GFC) this morning and Ian fed me. I saw all these green round fruits, maranthas. I thought the gorillas would love those and while I was thinking that walking to the bathroom right near the “toilet” sign were heaps of gorilla dung. I could see nuts or large seeds in them, so it is true they are seed dispersers very important to the rainforest habitat!

One of the maranthas fruits remaining on the GFC lodge path.

Maranthas seeds within gorilla dung.

I then heard them screaming and barking all morning with the UWA staff. They were above GFC eating and it took UWA staff a good four hours to ‘haze’ them down away from the GRC staff tents. I never managed to see them but heard screaming from everyone all morning. I will wait my turn. I have a tourist trek with Rushegura group on Thursday but tomorrow I meet a lot of the guides and trackers that will probably let me join them 7am every morning beginning Wednesday. Tomorrow I am giving them a talk on my work and we will try to figure out a schedule for me to come with them to identify animals and collect fresh saliva from their vegetation. I will be going with their ‘advanced’ team that carries out treks before the tourists to make sure the area is safe and that they know where the gorillas are for the tourists. UWA staff also block them from leaving to the Congo; apparently they are always trying to get to the Congo just three kilometres away. ‘Advanced’ treks have ensured that tourists have had almost a 100% sighting record. I will probably have to go every day for my whole time here to get all the individual samples we want. It is going to be intense, especially when it pours down tropical rains like just now. It should be interesting and I’m not in the best shape of my life either. I am so excited though, it will be worth the pain!

Young Lohest monkey hanging around Gorilla Forest Camp Lodge.

If the rain stops I will head to the orphanage again. I do spend all my free time there because there are always mzungus and I love the kids. Alexander is really nice, one of the first orphans and he helps manage and present the dances to the tourists. I am making friends with everyone there, in town, and the lodges. I think I will know everyone in a month. Kids like to walk me between Buhoma and Bwindi, which is up to an hour. It is really sweet.

Bwindi orphanage dance that takes place everyday at 5pm.

Young girl at orphanage watching the dance ceremony.

Children playing with a wooden scooter in the center of Bwindi.

I think my tolerance with bugs is lower than the past. I hate them, well besides the baby grasshopper that jumped into my hand out of nowhere today and hopped all over me for an hour. My favorite thing to do is take a shower! Another irritating thing is that two days ago Alexis got two bags, clothes, and some sneakers stolen. It really is a shame because she is here doing something for the community, something really amazing. Alexander was saying people just don’t know that, they are ignorant and just see mzungus as money. This is starting to get old everywhere I go in the world, especially when I have a serious amount of university debt. It is a real shame people are robbing the ones that are trying to help. Knowing that someone has been creeping around our tents does not help me with the strange and random noises I hear at night. I hate going to the toilet (bathroom- I’m in the habit of writing British style for grad school and Uganda) in the night, it is awful! I think this owl hangs out near my tent and the other night I think a goat came into my wash bathroom area. This sounds funny but I hear it and it could be anyone from the village since we are right along the road. Someone come visit me, I have a spare single bed in my tent. No but other than these few things, I love this experience. I guess hard work does pay off.

Also Alexis and I secretly want to adopt Simon from the CTPH staff even if he is 20 years old. We love him. He just does the sweetest things. “Would you care to take a shower?” “Umm what time is it?” “7:30am” “No thank you.” Or “you are going to have to move to another tent.” “Why?” “Because it is falling down.” You just have to meet him.

I miss a lot of wonderful people especially since I haven’t been to the U.S. in almost a year. I am hoping to get some data analysis done here and make some time to visit my brother Phil and his girlfriend Anne in Paris. I so badly need to go to France.

Missing you all. Mbasiisire mwena.



I am slowly learning the local dialect.  I  tried to google the language here in Buhoma but I can’t find anything so everything here is Alexis or myself’s made up phonetic spellings.

Agande- Hi or good day.

Neejeh- I’m good.

Murira mutta- Good morning.

Wasiboda- Good afternoon.

Eiziina agange nibanyeata ni a Allison- My name is Allison.

Ninduga America- I’m from America.

Ninkora na CTPH- I work with CTPH. (Ninkora-work; na-with)

Webare- Thank you.

Nashaymererwa kubareba- Thank you or something similiar to that

Engagi- Gorilla

Maama wangye ni- My mother is

Taata wangye ni- My father is

Ninyenda okurya ekyenyanja.- I would like to eat fish.

Ninyenda okurya emboga.- I would like to eat vegetables.

Ihjeh – Come here.

Tujende-Let’s go.

Mbasiisire mwena- I miss you.

Kare kare- Bye

I read that a dialect in the northeast Karimojong has a vocabulary of only 180 words.  Maybe I can actually become a polyglot?   This also would explain why Emmy spoke 11 languages.


Taking a stab at blogging, the journey to Buhoma and getting settled.


I am trying to blog regularly and not sure how this will go and if it will bore people.  Some people really requested this and I think it is good I document one of my adventures for once.  I want to do this instead of a journal since I have a lot of work and a research journal.

It is my third night in Buhoma May 11th 2011, a small village an hour walk from the tourist town of Bwindi and across from the entrance of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.  It is only about three kilometres from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It has been raining a lot the past few days, apparently the rainy season has been delayed and it is hitting us hard now.  The mornings are always damp but now we are wet and I wear clothing equivalent to a rainy fall in the U.S. or England.  It is much colder than the UK right now.  I did bring some warm clothes so I am okay but I wish I wasn’t so damp or wet all the time.

Let me recap the past week and the journey getting here from Kampala.  Last Friday I managed to push my last research permit through with quite a lot of polite assertiveness and visits to the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST).  Leah who had been on leave was kind enough to sort everything in two days.  The process had taken so long because I am finding in Uganda if someone is away on leave they often do not pass responsibilities or authority to their colleagues.  I managed to sort this and pay for the permits as well as pay CTPH.  Everything is done in USD or Ugandan Shillings and in cash.  At one point I was carrying around 4,000 USD in Shillings, which fills up a small backpack.  That same day Richard handed me the phone with Alexis on the other end.  This was another CTPH guest working for an NGO ECOLIFE based out of San Diego (www.ecolifefoundation.org). She was very nice and offered to take me to Buhoma whenever was convenient for me so I picked up my final documentation and Alexis from the Sheraton.  She wanted to stay in the hostel I had been at so we stayed there one more night and managed to go out to Iguana for some clubbing.  This was where I found all the Mzungus (or Abmzungu plural; Omzungu singular) aka white people.  It was quite an interesting mix of people and music selection changed every 30 seconds, every fifth song being Bob Marley.  We tried to get in at a reasonable time because we wanted to get an early start.

That morning we said goodbye to our new English friend that was six months into his bicycle journey from the top of Scotland, all across Europe, the Middle East, north Africa, and down to South Africa.  There were some really interesting people at this hostel.  In fact the whole hostel was filled with working individuals not so much ‘travelers’.  And the actual travelers were families in camper vans.  I met some architects, mechanical engineers, journalists, medical students, epidemiologists, and so forth.  It was pretty amazing.  Africa may not be my favorite continent yet but it definitely provides people, projects, and issues I find exceptionally interesting.

Of course there was a delay of some sort.  Bank of America was blocking my accounts after I had warned them five times and Dr. Gladys wanted to have a meeting with Alexis about her aquaponics project so we ended up leaving Kampala at about 3:30pm, perfect Africa time.  We headed east to Kibale National Park.  It was great to get out of the city.  Fuel was quite expensive at about six dollars per gallon! The riots that had been going on were a direct response to the people’s confusion and distrust in the government for why gasoline and food prices kept rising.  We had some lengthy conversations with our driver/guide Emmy about the issues going on in Uganda over the past two presidential terms.  Museveni  has been in power for 25 years now.  We talked quite a bit about where all the revenue goes from the tourists who pay 500 USD per mountain gorilla trek.  I am debating how much of this I will use in my dissertation and how much I will discuss this in interviews with tourists, probably all of it.  It has already come up in interviews without any leading questions from me.

After about five hours of driving on mostly bumpy roads we arrived at a lodge to what felt like a honeymoon suite that overlooked the tea plantations and forests of Kibale.  I do love African tea (the key is to add plenty of milk) but it was sad to see the miles of private land deforested for the plantations.  We interrogated Emmy about everything you could imagine on the way to Buhoma and one of the things he told us was that there is hardly any forest left in Uganda that is not a National Park and there certainly is no primary forest outside of them.  Emmy knew everything and all exact kilometer distances and square areas.  He is also one of ten expert birders in Uganda so I know quite a lot about birds not just mammals here in East Africa and all of Africa.  We had dinner and chatted but tried to go to bed because the next day would be full of activities.  I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about everything.  Alexis wanted to see the chimps so we did a trek that next morning.  This was the last thing I wanted to do in Uganda especially because you have to pay but I joined her chimp trek because I didn’t know if I would have time to do anything for leisure on this trip and after all I was going to studying ape trekking.

We were able to spot one chimpanzee in a very very tall tree.  I could only make him out with my new 300m zoom lens.  A word of advice never pay for chimp trekking in the rainy season or on a Sunday when the church drums scare off the animals.  We were only informed about this after the trek.  We left slightly disappointed in what we paid but thankful we saw one individual.  I can now say I have seen a chimpanzee in the wild.  We made our way to Queen Elizabeth Park that night to stay at Simba Lodge.  We even managed to squeeze in a short game drive just before sunset.  I wanted so badly to see an elephant or lion.  I spotted the first elephants and Alexis followed with six lions.  The lions were very peaceful and relaxed exactly like house cats.  They seemed to be very satisfied like they had just made a kill.  The cubs even laid on their backs pawing for attention like kittens when we drove up to them.  Unfortunately, I had no battery life to get this footage.   It was much better than my day footage and much closer.  They were actually doing things like walking around, yawning, playing, drinking, rolling around, and so forth.  I love cats and it was one of my favorite experiences so far in Africa so hopefully Alexis will share those shots.  The next morning we woke at 5:45am to do an additional game drive.  We saw the same animals buffalo, bushbuck, warthogs, tons of birds, ele’s, and our six lions.  The only thing we didn’t see were leopards that are very hard to find and rhinos or giraffes not found in Queen.  We even got to see hippos in the Ishasha River and I threw a rock to the DRC.  Alexis got to interview some people living withing the park about their stoves and open fire cooking within households that cause respiratory diseases and burns.  There are about 11 fishing villages in the towns; Alexis has been telling me that people think that food tastes better with the open fires.

The Ishasha section of the Albertine Rift (place of high endemism extending down Africa) of Queen Elizabeth is higher in elevation.  It has great trees and is hotter so it has caused lions to climb trees and it is famous for the ‘tree climbing lions of Ishasha’.  By staying in the trees they avoid insects and can breathe easier.  We saw one gorgeous lion slow motion falling out of the tree.  I wish my driver wasn’t in such a rush to get to Buhoma by sun down to avoid driving dangerous bumpy roads at night or I could have watched him for hours.  We then stopped in Kihihi a small town an hour from Buhoma, but Alexis’ fish were not ready.

I was given a walk in tent like out of the movies, which is really nice.  There is no running water, a shower that is filled each time in a bucket (I found this out by finishing a shower covered in soap), and a drop toilet.

I have been able to start my pilot and most tourists are cooperative inviting me back to their lodges.  I then have to take a boda boda back each night. Boda boda or motobike came from the saying “border border” between Kenya and Uganda.  I usually grab the tourists at the orphanage that hosts a dance each day at five.  I have made a lot of friends this way.  UWA is also going to help me get to the tourists at their debriefing point after their trek.

The gorilla groups have been close and I have made friends who call me when they are close especially group Rusheguru ‘R’  that loves to crop raid, not a good thing.  I will try to attach a photo of the forest.  It is especially interesting to see where the crops and tea plantations end and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park begins.  I hang out a lot at Bwindi Community Camp and the orphanage.

I have gotten a lot done but it is really hard to write up my data and stay organized with this netbook and very slow unreliable internet.  I am lucky to have something though! I really wish I had something to edit my photos, it would be a good project.  All the photos I have I can’t crop or cheat to fix the exposure so I am not happy about the ones I am posting.  I try to post a few a day to facebook.

Today we had a great meeting at CTPH with the community health volunteers about cleaning food utensils and contraception.  Florence a nurse from Bwindi Community Hospital came to speak, I spoke about conservation medicine and the importance public health near conservation initiatives, and Alexis gave a tutorial on aquaponics, stoves, and other ideas she had for Buhoma and Uganda.  Aquaponics is so interesting and I love what Alexis and ECOLIFE are doing here.  I am glad to be here to see it in the making and how carefully the community is brought into their projects as well as sought out for advice on the projects.  They are really putting a great deal of thought into the long-term feasibility and local management of the project.  Everyone attending the meeting received a very long bar of soap, the longest I’d ever seen.  Alex and David in the meeting had said that these volunteers for CTPH act as ‘doctors’ for the communities, they educate their friends and family about what they learn and distribute items within their villages.  Conservation Through Public Health is brilliant.

I am trying to document just about anything I can here in the form of testimonial videos, photography, and so forth.  If anyone wants to help me make a documentary on CTPH, my work, or just the community here I would love the help.

Things look good with the research especially swabbing which I had been worried about.  I need to meet the Conservation Area Manager (CAM), wardens, and all trackers and guides.  In June the rainy season is supposedly over and the tourists should hopefully stream in so I can hopefully hit my sample size.   For now I am doing my pilot.  It is nice to have Alexis here for a few more weeks.

I must go work instead of blogging, Kare Kare!


Patience is a virtue, tomorrow tomorrow.

I’m still in Kampala.  I am learning there are always obstacles and delays in Africa.  The first were the riots within downtown Kampala.  I guess choosing centrally located accommodation is not always wise.  Friday was especially difficult.  I was about to head to another government office for my permits when crowds formed outside my hotel.  People were building road blocks with rocks and miscellaneous items.  The police and army both came in tanks.  People were throwing anything they could at the police, food and rubbish, causing angered authorities to take fire.  Six hours later after constant firing, fires, yelling, all types of authority vehicles moving about, tear gas seeping into our hotel, hundreds injured, 5 killed, and impeccable live coverage of the royal wedding I was picked up by my NGO with happy smiles.  Twitter of all sources had enlightened me about the political situation in the country of Uganda with immediate news and useful links.  The roads had opened up and I was brought to a new hotel out of the center of the city.  I was saddened by the situation in Kampala and was anxious to get out of the city.   I had to wait for offices to open back up on Monday and hoped to leave on Tuesday.

It is now Thursday night May 6th and I have been here 10 days.  I only accounted for 3 days and it doesn’t look like I will be leaving until Saturday or Sunday.  The president’s office must give me final clearance.  Each governmental office has “misplaced” my documents, original mailed hard copies and scanned emailed copies.  I of course brought more but this doesn’t necessarily move things along and I still hear “I do not have the authority” or “tomorrow tomorrow.”  I am frustrated and would like to get to work.  Time is wasting.  Things move slow.  Africa is not agreeing with my Manhattan geared mind.  But I am in their country; I am a visitor that must adapt.  I need to bring it down a notch, and then some more, and some more.  My brother told me that travel in Africa is hard work and I met an Aussie family yesterday that told me traveling in Africa is a full-time job.  What is it to work here? I’ve always known I lack patience; I am getting a crash course.

However, today I met Dr. Gladys, the CEO at my NGO Conservation Through Public Health.  I am very positive about things and the most excited I have been to start this project .  She is straight to the point which is refreshing, enthusiastic, and practical about all parts of my research plans.  She was especially helpful and hopeful of the additional saliva swabbing components of my study, which I am thrilled about.  If we can make this happen which is ultimately up to experienced trackers and rangers then I will have an even more interesting project.  I feel incredibly motivated again after speaking with Dr. Gladys.  I feel privileged and thankful to work with such an amazing person and organization so aligned with my interests.   As long as I do not let my impatience get to me this will be an amazing few months.  I think I can do it, these difficulties are counteracted by the notorious good spirit and smiles of Ugandans as well as my gratefulness for the opportunities I have in my life.  I am a lucky person to be doing the things I am doing.  Plus I got my taste of wildlife and animals at the hostel I am at now, which consists of lovely vervet monkeys, pigs, goats, cats, and dogs.  Animals and nature will keep me calm and happy.


A Review of wildlife crop raiding in Indonesia: patterns, local perceptions, and mitigation techniques.

by Allison Hanes

Indonesia serves as a good example of a country where the landscape is changing and in turn affecting wildlife and people.  Forests are being cut down at alarming rates for agricultural demands such as the palm oil industry.  Palm plantations cover 3,107,986 hectares of Indonesia and the government plans to expand plantations by an extra four million hectares in Sumatra alone.

The monoculture of palm decreases wildlife habitat and food resources pushing wildlife closer to human settlements.  Continuous forest conversion for the purpose of plantation development, wood extraction, and the opening of community gardens has virtually eliminated all lowland habitats.  This forces animals like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) endangered Sumatran elephant Elephas maximus sumatranus to forested slopes of mountain ranges where they more often will enter gardens and raid crops.

Many studies state that wildlife habitat destruction is the greatest cause for the occurrence of crop raiding.  At the same time like many parts of the world population growth is soaring which also increases wildlife and human niches to overlap.  Indonesia is a region of high human population density having the sixth largest human population in the world.  Lee & Priston (2005) state that there has been a spread of agriculture and human activity into areas that used to only be sustained by nonhuman primates and that most of the world’s subsistence farmers live in proximity to monkeys and apes.  Wildlife continually being forced to move will increase the scale and extent of encounters between humans and wildlife as well as crop raiding.

Journal articles were chosen specifically on crop raiding of all species in Indonesia but some references included general articles about Indonesia and other case examples in the world such as Africa.  Most crop raiding studies have been done in Africa.  Indonesia was an interesting location because of its high human population density, rapidly declining forests, and large variety of species that come into contact with crops.

Hockings (2009) describes crop raiding as wildlife venturing into cultivated areas to consume foods that humans see as belonging to them.  It can be an adaptation by wildlife to a loss of both natural habitat and wild foods and also an increase in access to new energy-rich food resources.  A study in four villages in North Sumatra showed that crop raiding by wildlife was reported by 94.9% of the interviewees as the single most important determinant of crop yields.  Thirteen vertebrates were reported causing damage to cultivars.  The most common were squirrels, porcupines, pigs, deer, elephants, and primates.  The ones perceived to be the most destructive were the primates.  Almost all families of nonhuman primates are shown by Lee & Priston (2005) to be crop raiders, cercopithecoids such as macaques being the largest culprit.  This is thought to be because they are intelligent opportunistic frugivores.  In addition, they often live near forest-edges.

Crop damage caused by raiding wildlife is a prevalent form of human-wildlife conflict along protected area boundaries and near logged areas on forest borders.  Primates tend to dominate as the major pests around reserves in Asia, responsible for over 70% of damage events.  Macaques on the Mentawai Islands comprise up to 35% of garden yield losses.  Macaques and other primates are clever, opportunistic, adaptable, and often manipulative.  Crop raiding is often an easy option for them.  In Way Kambas National Park, Sumatra wild elephants damaged 450,000 square meters of corn, rice, cassava, beans and other annual crops as well about 900 coconut, banana, and other perennial trees over an 18 month survey study of 13 villages.  Within a 12-year period elephants killed or injured 24 people near the park.

Specific culprits mentioned in the articles that raided Indonesian crops included wild boars (Sus scrofa), Thomas’ leaf monkeys (Presbytis thomasi), long tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), orangutans (Pongo abelii), tonkean macaques (Macaca tonkeana), Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus), Pagai Island macaques (Macaca pagensis), and sun bears (Helarctos malayanus).  Different species specialize in different crops and even plant parts of crops or development stages. Not just primates are known to cause severe damage.  Primates may be agile but elephants cause a great deal of damage due to their large size and nocturnal/crepuscular activity.  Raiding patterns can relate to population density, behavior of the species, wild food availability, rainfall, season, and proximity of farms to forests.  All these factors affect raiding frequency and intensity, which play a large role in the livelihoods of people and how they perceive wildlife.

Crop raiding can have large impacts on people such as human lives lost in human-elephant conflicts.  As seen from statistics above crop raiding can have large impacts on the livelihoods of farmers.  They experience devastating economic losses when crops are their only source of income.   Crop raiding impacts time spent away from tending crops in order to carry out mitigation techniques like guarding.  Schooling of children is disrupted in order to help guard family crops.  There is also risk of injuries and disease transmission from wildlife.

The perceptions of local people toward wildlife crop raiding species are extremely important for mitigating crop raiding and for wildlife conservation.  Areas with less human wildlife conflict and crop raiding as well as better management tended to perceive wildlife more positively and were more tolerant.  People said that they enjoyed seeing wildlife and having them around for their children especially if they were not damaging crops.  Riley & Priston (2010) observed farmers tolerating crop raiding because they saw macaques as helping them harvest crops like cashew nuts.  A Butonese farmer stated ,“ they eat only the fruit, letting the nut drop to the ground for us to collect.”  In the Mentawai Islands in Sumatra nonhuman primates are seen as “cousins” and magical sources of spirit and life force, and were believed to play integral roles in the governing system of Mentawai life cycle.  In Bali monkeys are treated with great tolerance because the Balinese culture emphasizes harmony between nature and mankind.  Tokean macaques have been regarded as kin and guardians although still feared.  Seeing the animals when they were not actively crop raiding resulted in more positive perceptions of the animals.

However, local people often reported being threatened both in terms of crop loss and personal safety.  People felt more at risk with larger species such as elephants and primates despite whether raidings were rare for that species.  For example, studies showed that people feared orangutans much more than smaller species and perceived them to cause the most damage even when it was not the case.  Articles continually showed fear of wildlife and often local legends of primates kidnapping women or children like that of the Sumatran orangutan which resulted in “an offspring which is restricted to the treetops and in the night you can still hear the cries of the this human-half-orangutan.”  If farmers and families felt they were in no physical threat they were more tolerant.

Mitigation techniques included fences, electric fences, dogs, chemical deterrents, taste aversion conditioning, playback alarms, guarding/chasing, noise/bells/shouting, contraception, painting individuals, stones/slingshots/spears, shooting/hunting, trapping/culling, translocation, change cropping patterns, and buffer zones.  All of which can be used in different contexts with advantages and disadvantages.  Shouting is often the most common.

Linkie et al. (2006) states that guarding is completely ineffective for a variety of species whereas Hedges & Gunaryadi (2010) concluded community-based guarding using conventional tools was more effective and less costly than sirens and chilli-grease fences in Way Kambas National Park.  However, the chillies could serve as an alternate elephant-resistant cash crop.  Lee & and Priston (2005) state traditional methods of mitigation are often ineffective because of dexterity and intelligence of primates.  Techniques largely depend on the crop raider and the region.  Many of the techniques are very costly and time consuming to farmers.  More research needs to be invested in monitoring techniques that are utilized.  Incorporating local input and views will have longstanding effective crop-raiding solutions.  Cooperation of local people is necessary to control pests and conserve wildlife.  Lee & Priston (2005) state that information about the attitudes and perceptions of wildlife as pests is a prerequisite to designing optimal and effective management schemes and introducing suitable preventative measures.

Education programs and community meetings that initiate management schemes are necessary.  Ecotourism can also be a used to supplement income to farmers and lessen tension between people and wildlife.  The value of forests to people and wildlife must be addressed.  Campaigns and policies lessening the rates of deforestation will decrease habitat overlap and crop raiding issues between people and wildlife.

As forests are cleared for demands in agricultural expansion and population growth continues to rise, human and wildlife habitats in Indonesia will continue overlapping.  Human wildlife interactions will increase as will the incidence of crop raiding.   Mitigation techniques have proved very difficult due to limited resources of famers and intelligence of animals.  Each location and species presents a particular scenario with different factors affecting the intensity and occurrence of crop raiding that will require unique methods or a combination of tactics.  Therefore, if crop raiding cannot be eradicated, it certainly must be minimized and managed to reduce conflict.  People’s perceptions are particularly important because crop raiding can reduce tolerance toward wildlife and affect actions taken by local farmers.  Local people play the key role in generating sustainable solutions and for conserving wildlife.