Lilly Ajarova: The ‘mother’ of orphaned chimpanzees

Saturday January 12 2019

Meal time. The new chief executive officer of

Meal time. The new chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board, Ms Lilly Ajarova, feeds a chimpanzee at Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary located on Lake Victoria. COURTESY PHOTO 


They call her “Mama Chimp”. She became a mother to bereaved primates at the Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary located on Lake Victoria. Ngamba sanctuary is home to dozens of orphaned chimpanzees rescued from across East Africa.
The Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust provides welfare to the chimpanzees at Ngamba Island Sanctuary as well as to contributing towards conservation of this endangered species in Uganda and Africa.
For the last 13 years, Ms Lilly Ajarova, has made sure rescued Chimpanzees have a home they can comfortably stay in without fear of being killed. And for conservationists, her appointment as the new chief executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) did not come as a surprise.
Ms Ajarova comes from Nebbi District and formally worked at Uganda Wildlife Authority. She has worked in different capacities across board. She has replaced Mr Stephen Asiimwe, who did not renew his contract at UTB after seven years. She will be deputised by Mr Bradford Ocieng, one of the directors at Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA).
In a family of medical background, her father is a medical doctor, while her mother is a nurse, who all worked at Angal Hospital, in Nebbi District. Ms Ajarova attended Angal Girls Primary School in Nebbi, Warr Girls Secondary School for Ordinary Level and Mvara Secondary School for Advanced Level. She pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences in 1991 at Makerere University. She also holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Hotel and Tourism Management from International Institute of Tourism and Management, Austria. She is also a holder of Masters in Business Administration from Maastricht School of Management and Eastern and Southern African Management Institute.
Last year, Ms Ajarova told this newspaper how she became a mother to orphaned Chimps.
“One day while working in the forests of Kibaale [District] with my colleagues, we reached a certain part of the forest and found two chimpanzee groups fighting over territory. The alphas fought each other while the two groups watched. I was so scared! I had never seen anything like that. These chimps were so strong in that they were throwing themselves miles apart but yet running back at each other so fast. It was rough,” she said.
She added that the fight was so bad that one alpha was badly injured with blood gushing profusely.
“The chimps hit each other harder every time biting deeper every minute. Then two chimps came from behind and attacked the alpha of the second group and let their leader bite deep into his thigh. I had never seen blood gush out of anything like that before and with a loud chimp whimper, the alpha from the second group ran faster than before looking everywhere until he found a herb whose leaves he tore off. He crushed them in his hands and added a bit of saliva to it and let the liquid fall into the wound. Slowly by slowly the blood started clotting and the bleeding stopped.”
“I was stunned and since then I wanted to learn more about these individuals. I wanted to know how an animal could treat itself. I wanted to know how it knew that, that particular herb could stop bleeding. As we walked out of that forest, my dreams got bigger and as fate would have it, an opportunity presented itself in form of executive director, a position I have held for more than 10 years,” she said.

Her work
Ms Ajarova has steered the Chimpanzee Trust, a global Conservation initiative that manages Ngamba Island, to greater heights. She was a leader of the Advisory Committee of Pan African Sanctuary Alliance and developed the policies, standard operating procedures and best practices for the 22 sanctuaries and wildlife centres in 13 African member countries.
She also served as a committee chairperson on the UTB. She was directly responsible for the development and implementation of quality assurance, grading and classification of hotels in Uganda. She excelled in her duties with distinctions and her work stood out.
Before joining Chimpanzee Trust, she was the Tourism Product Development Manager at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). She championed the development of tourism products in the national parks of Uganda; including butterfly and bird watching, forest walks, mountaineering, great apes and primate tracking.
Fondly called “Mama Chimp”, she has scooped awards for her contributions to the economic development through tourism marketing and wildlife management. She is the proud recipient of the prestigious National Golden Jubilee Award, Tourism Excellence Award, Wildlife Conservation Award, Top Africa 100 Women in Travel, Africa’s most Influential Women in Business and Government.
She is a champion in Women in Conservation programme which mentors Uganda young women in the conservation career paths.

What others say about her
“Lilly is such a great team leader. One who has taught us to pray every morning as a team during morning meetings, one who values individual growth, holds family matters in high regard, but above all, empowers individuals. Lilly’s open door policy will be missed; you walk in to her office any time you have an idea and she asks you to embark on it. Her work with chimpanzees at Ngamba, communities in the Albertine graben, the women in conservation programme are memorable. Lilly is a down-to-earth team leader. Perhaps what many don’t know is that she worked at UWA, Sheraton Hotel, Tour and Travel Company, sat on different boards, hence it makes her an all-rounder,” Mr Eric Ntalo, the public relations and information manager at Chimp Conservation Trust, said.
Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, said: “In appointing Ms Lillian Ajarova, we knew we had the best. She has steered Chimpanzee Conservation Trust very well for so many years. She has worked in different capacities and her quality cannot be doubted. In her, we have appointed the best that could be there. I know she will deliver Uganda as the most preferred destination and I have no doubt about that.”