Saturday July 14 2018

World Chimpanzee Day: Conserving to save apes

A chimpanzee rests on a log in Kibale National Park

A chimpanzee rests on a log in Kibale National Park. The park is host to Africa’s largest population of the endangered primates. Photo by Matthias Mugisha 


Uganda joins the rest of the world today July 14 in celebrating the first World Chimpanzee Day, with a resolute determination to do what it can to protect the endangered species, whose habitat is continually threatened.
While announcing the day in May, Jane Goodall Institute said “After years of planning and wishing, today we finally announce the creation of the first ever World Chimpanzee Day to be celebrated on July 14, 2018. The Jane Goodall Institute global Network of Chapters and Roots and Shoots Offices celebrates World Chimpanzee Day, along with many other NGOs and individuals around the globe, in honour of the day in 1960 when founder, Dr Jane Goodall, first set foot in what is now Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to study chimpanzees in the wild. The day will be a celebration of our closest living relatives. It is also a rallying cry to invite participants around the world to take action in efforts to conserve this magnificent species, and improve their well-being and care in and outside of captivity.”
Dr Goodall said she hopes that the day will create awareness on the plight of Chimpanzees. “Because of the threats faced by the chimpanzees, because they are so special, I do hope you will join us on this very first World Chimpanzee Day, to highlight the amazing nature of these beings, and to shed light on the threats that they face. So please do join us. Join us for them”.

Situation in Uganda
With Uganda’s Chimpanzees continuously threatened by the habitat loss, disease, wildlife trafficking, and illegal hunting ,this year’s World Chimpanzee Day provides the ideal opportunity for Chimpanzee Trust to highlight its commitment to reduce conflicts between chimpanzees and humans as part of its mission to promote chimpanzee conservation and environmental management for sustainable development.
“In honour of humankind’s closest cousin, World Chimpanzee Day is a celebration of chimpanzees and an opportunity to raise awareness about the vital need for worldwide participation in their care, protection, and conservation in the wild and in captivity as an endangered species. The goals of World Chimpanzee Day are to celebrate our closest living great ape relative in the animal kingdom; raise awareness about threats they face in the wild including habitat loss, disease, illegal hunting and wildlife trafficking; and to promote their proper care in captive situations.” A message from Chimpanzee Conservation Trust says.
To the conservationists, nothing is more important than celebrating the day and dedicating it to the closest relatives of human beings. Lilian Ajarova, the Executive Director Chimpanzee Trust says this day gives her more impetus to continue with the conservation efforts.
“Having a day dedicated to recognise and value Chimpanzees supports our efforts to creating awareness and conservation of an endangered species, our closest relative. They are endangered species so a day dedicated to them shows how special they are. Be part this special day to save them,” she says.
Ajarova said over the years the chimp population has continued to face threats because of destruction of their habitat by humans and wildlife trafficking that has continued to take a toll on wildlife. She said her first encounter with the chimps in Kibale National Forest made her think of conservation.
“To chimpanzees it was my encounter with chimpanzees in the wild at Kibale National park where two chimpanzees were fighting when we were in the forest and I had an eye witness with this. They fought so hard until one plunged the teeth into the lower arm of the other one and pulled out and left the blood gushing.”
She said since then, she wanted to learn more about the chimpanzees and that led to the foundation of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Chimpanzee population
Uganda is home to 22 different communities of wild chimpanzees totalling approximately 5000 individuals, according to the 2002 chimpanzee census. Living in forest blocks along the western border of Uganda, over 75 per cent of the country’s chimpanzee population can be found in the forests and forest reserves of Budongo, Bugoma, Kasyoba-Kitomi, Kalinzu, Maramagambo and in Kibale National Park. These six forests collectively house an estimated 3000 chimpanzees with the remainder found in isolated forest pockets in between.
Chimpanzees are an endangered species. Millions of chimpanzees used to live throughout equatorial Africa from southern Senegal through Central Africa to western Tanzania. This is an area almost the size of the United States. Today, there are estimated to be merely 170,000 to 300,000 chimpanzees left in Africa, and their population is decreasing rapidly. One recent census in the Ivory Coast revealed that the chimp population there had decreased 90 per cent in just the past 20 years.

The primary threats to chimpanzees are habitat destruction, hunting and disease. The increasing human population is encroaching deeper into even protected areas of chimpanzee habitats, and large scale logging is now a major threat to the forest primates of Africa.
Subsistence hunting of chimpanzees as a source of meat is nothing new, but there is now a thriving but unsustainable commercial market for bush meat (the meat of wild animals), including chimpanzees. Increased contact with humans, both local people and eco-tourists, has also brought the threat of diseases which may be mild in humans but lethal to chimps.
Ajarova says these threats will continue as long as human beings continue to be unappreciative to the wildlife.
“We did a study few years ago and our findings show that 25 per cent (one out of four ) of the wild chimpanzees in Uganda have broken limbs. Two years ago, we had a big issue of big man traps which caught up one female chimpanzee. These things continue to endanger the lives of the chimps,” she says.

Conservation education at the core
One of the challenges facing the conservation efforts in the country is lack of awareness and many communities viewing conservation as a work of government and those employed to do the work.
Mr James Musinuzi, the Executive Director of Uganda Wildlife Education Centre at Entebbe said the World Chimpanzee day is welcome to the conservation fraternity and shows how important efforts in conserving the endangered species are.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to highlight the plight of the chimpanzees in the country and throughout the world. They are our closest relatives, they do amazing things, use tools and their intelligence is almost like human beings, which we all need to highlight, so this is a great opportunity for us to do that,” he said.
Mr Musinguzi said as UWEC, they are taking conservation education to the community so that they own the conservation efforts and ensure that wildlife is protected. This will also make the community understand the dangers of habit destruction that is threatening the wildlife across the country.
“We have habitat destruction and we are pushing the Chimps to a situation where they will be more in contact with the human beings and you know the dangers of this. We are going to engage the frontier communities and everyone in the country to ensure that they do not see the conservation as something very far from them, but are part of the efforts,” he noted.
Mr Musinguzi said the increasing population growth is putting a lot of pressure on the protected areas which is threatening the habitat. He also said government needs to balance development and conservation to ensure that development does not have adverse effects on wildlife conservation in the country.
“We need to plan for both social science and conservation science so that we don’t develop at the expense of conservation. Our chimpanzees are very precious and we need to protect them,” he warned.

Plans for growth
The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre Act empowers the UWEC to be the lead conservation education body in the country. Mr Musinguzi said they are already developing the national conservation education strategy that will give direction to the country on how conservation education will be handled.
He said many agencies have been doing great work in conservation education, but efforts have been uncoordinated. “We appreciate all the work they have been doing, but we are now coming with the national conservation strategy which will ensure that we coordinate the conservation education in the country.”
We need to appreciate that if we don’t conserve, the consequences are grave and therefore the best way is to involve everyone in the campaign to protect and conserve the wildlife,” he said
Plans are already underway to establish several wildlife education centres across the country. Mr Musinguzi said they are starting with regional centres, which may further be extended to districts if resources are made available.
He said the fact that tourism is the biggest foreign exchange earner in the country means that conservation is everyone’s business.
“We earn a lot of money from tourism and you know Uganda’s tourism is predominantly nature based. Many tourists specifically come to trek the chimpanzees and we should do more to protect them,” he said.