Chimpanzee conservation in Uganda

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) occur across Africa, from West Africa to Uganda and Tanzania in the east. The Eastern chimpanzee (P.t. schweinfurthii) is a subspecies that occurs in Uganda,Tanzania, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is one of the most extensively studied subspecies of chimpanzees, having been studied by Jane Goodall and others for over 50 years at some sites. These studies have shown that they are very like humans, have infants every 3-4 years, become sexually mature at around 9-12 and are one of the few animal species to regularly use tools. For instance they fashion different tools to break open termite colonies or bee hives and then to fish out the termites or honey. Eastern chimpanzee numbers are highest in the DRC but Uganda is home to a sizeable population estimated at about 5,000 individuals according to surveys WCS led with the Jane Goodall Institute in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Research stations that continue to study chimpanzees in Uganda include: The Budongo Conservation Forest Station (BCFS) in Budongo Forest Reserve, the Makerere University Biological Field Station (MUBFS) in Kibale National Park, and the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Much of what we know about chimpanzee biology comes from research at these stations, together with those in Tanzania (Gombe and Mahale). WCS conservation scientist, Andrew Plumptre, has surveyed populations of Eastern chimpanzees in most of the countries where they occur. He estimates that there are 5,000 in Uganda, 2,700 in Tanzania, 350 in Rwanda and 450 in Burundi. It is clear that after the DRC, Uganda has the largest numbers of this subspecies of chimpanzee.


WCS activities to conserve chimpanzees in Uganda

WCS has undertaken several projects to conserve chimpanzees in Uganda over the past 15 years including:

Population count:  WCS conducted a nationwide survey of this species in Uganda with the Jane Goodall Institute in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  The survey estimated that there are 5,000 individuals living in Uganda and led to the development of a conservation action plan for this species in Uganda

Regional conservation:  we developed an Eastern Chimpanzee Conservation Action Plan across the entire range for IUCN.

Conserving critical corridors:that link large forest blocks in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape for forest conservation. Several of WCS’s surveys showed that the number of chimpanzee populations in places such as Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserves were borderline viable.  We recommended the maintenance of critical corridors for gene flow and identified where these occur for the species in the Murchsion-Semliki Landscape. We are currently working with other partners to create incentives for farmers to conserve these forests.


Main threats to chimpanzees in Uganda

Chimpanzees face different threats depending on where they occur in Uganda. In the National Parks and Central Forest Reserves the main threat comes from accidental snaring in wire snares that have been set for ungulates. Snares such as these can maim or kill individuals.Estimates in Budongo Forest and Kibale NP show that about 20% of all individuals have been maimed in some way from snares.  Chimpanzees at the edge of Protected Areas can be targeted because of crop raiding activities. Many have been speared or caught in leg-hold traps that are set to deter them. Where chimpanzees occur outside protected areas they are vulnerable from habitat loss to agriculture as human populations expand.  Disease is also a potential threat with studies in Kibale NP showing that the gut parasites of chimpanzees are very similar to those found in the people living near National Parks or interacting with them as tour guides or researchers.

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