“Leopard Village”: Community Ecotourism & Resource Center in Muhokya

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Updates from the Field

Wednesday
Apr272016

Oakland Zoo Celebrates Earth Day!

Our thanks to Oakland Zoo for hosting a fun #EarthDay celebration! We had a great time talking with zoo visitors about our conservation work and teaching them about carnivores!

Friday
Jan152016

Scout Program

Village Scouts Robert Mugabe, Loice Natukunda, and Shafi Byaruhanga and Community Scout Kenneth Mugyenyi

A long time goal of ours has been to directly involve community members in our research and conservation work.  This is because we recognize long term, local direct involvement and management in conservation is the best way to ensure the continued survival of the wildlife we monitor.   Likewise, in a survey we conducted in three local villages a few years ago, a consistent comment from the respondents was the desire for local community members to be employed as rangers and in other positions related to conservation, research, and local tourism.

Thanks to The Disney Conservation Fund, we are finally able to achieve our goal!

We have just launched our scout program.  After much consultation with village elders and UWA, research on what has worked and not worked in other parts of the world, and reflection on what we think will work best locally, we developed a two-tiered program, involving a community scout and village scouts, that we hope will build local capacity that will enable our work to continue into the decades to come.

This is the first time local community members have been directly involved in community conservation at this level and the first scout program to be established in the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park.  We are thrilled to be able to build local capacity in research and conservation in this way.

Community Scout

The Community Scout will be coordinating all our community activities throughout the many villages in which we work.  He will respond to human-wildlife conflict events and focus on preventing them in the future, maintain our ecological monitoring program, work with village teachers on creating environmental curriculum, and assist in developing sustainable community enterprises.  

The Community Scout will also manage the village scout program that we are putting in place.

We are lucky to have Kenneth Mugyenyi in this position.  Kenneth was born in Kisongora village, which is at the northern border of Queen Elizabeth National Park.  He has a strong commitment to volunteerism within his local community.  He started volunteering for the Kisongora Women’s group and is now their general secretary.  He is also the volunteer general secretary for the Kisongora Cattle Keepers Association.  

Kenneth says, “Growing up in an area where most communities are often enemies to wildlife simply because of the high rate of human wildlife conflicts, my goal as a UCP community scout is to create co-existence of man and nature.  This shall be achieved through community & school education on environment, ecological data collection, and wildlife and livelihood improvement, which I'm doing already with the help of the UCP staff.  I'm so grateful for this opportunity and hope to help UCP meet its intended goals.”

Village Scouts

This was the idea of the Hamukungu village leaders and elders.  They wanted us take on three additional young adults to train as scouts. The elders hand selected the three village scouts.  They are given a very small monthly stipend and are primarily acting on a volunteer basis in exchange for training.

The Village Scouts will perform duties similar to the Community Scout but will focus almost exclusively on their home village of Hamukungu.  

Our village scouts are Loice Natukunda, Shafi Byaruhanga and Robert Mugabe.

Loice was born in Hamukungu and is a member of the Mutooro tribe.  During school, Loice was the chairperson of the school council, assistant debate prefect, and girls captain.  She has also volunteered at Hamukungu Primary School.  We will look to Loice to help coordinate our activities with the Hamukungu village schools.

Shafi was born in Hamukungu and is a member of the Mutooro tribe.  Shafi has been a member of the Hamukungu Beach Management Unit and was chairperson of the youth council of Hamukungu Parish.  Shafi is a fisherman, and so is well aware of the need to protect the environment and of the importance of sustainable livelihoods.   We will look to him to help work with the secondary school on livelihood training and environmental studies, as well as respond to incidences of human-wildlife conflict.

Robert was also born in Hamukungu village and is a member of the Musongora tribe.  Robert was the youth chairperson in Lake Katwe sub-county and was a volunteer for Community Through Public Health (CTPH).  Robert has lost many of his livestock to carnivore attacks.  Because of this, we will look to Robert to help lead our response team when villagers alert us to human-wildlife conflict events.

When leaders in two other villages learned of our new scout program, they requested that young adults from their villages be involved as well.  Before we expand our scout program further, we want to first complete the training of our initial scout cohort.  But we take this as such a positive sign of the local communities strong desire to work with us.

We and the communities we work with are immensely grateful to The Disney Conservation Fund for their support, which has enabled us to involve these young adults in our important conservation and research work.

 

Sunday
Nov012015

Q&A on Nat Geo's Cat Watch Blog

Thanks to fellow conservationist Michael Schwartz for taking the time to interview us for a blog posting on National Geographic's Cat Watch blog.  

To learn more details about what we do, please be sure to check it out:

Saving Uganda's Lions Through Community Participation

Sunday
Oct182015

Poster Presentation at ZACC 2015

We presented a poster, Connecting Communities to Conservation: the Development of 'Leopard Village', at the 2015 ZACC (Zoos & Aquariums Committing to Conservation) conference at the Denver Zoo during the week of October 12.

We shared our experiences in creating a community-led ecotourism initiative, which is part of our program that is more actively engaging local villagers in wildlife conservation.

We also participated in their "Conservation Marketplace", where we sold crafts made by the communities we work with in Uganda.

Many thanks to ZACC and the Denver Zoo for hosting an outstanding event.

 

 

Sunday
Oct112015

Great Day at the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo

Thanks again to the Wildlife Conservation Network for a great Expo Day!  We are always inspired after a day spent networking with fellow conservationists.  We also thank WCN for providing us with the opportunity to talk to the Expo attendees about the work we do in Uganda and for the opportunity to sell crafts made by the communities we work with.

 

 

Monday
Aug102015

Happy World Lion Day!

As we take a moment to reflect on lion conservation since last year’s World Lion Day, we are grateful to be able to share the news that none of the lions we actively monitor, nor any of their pride members, have been lost to direct conflict with humans over the last 12 months.

 

This success in helping lions and people live side by side is due to our intensive monitoring of lion movements, which provides insight into their behavior and enables us to warn local communities when lions are nearby so that they can graze their livestock elsewhere. We also continue to collaborate with local communities on environmental education and improved livestock husbandry, as well as working together to find ways to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

Our program's successes have also been achieved thanks to the work and support of many other groups: 
  • the local communities and their continued patience and understanding, even after suffering continued losses from wildlife; 
  • the Uganda Wildlife Authority for their overall leadership and park management; 
  • the many safari companies and their clients who visit Queen Elizabeth National Park, spend time with us in the field, and support our ecotourism initiatives in the local villages. 

We thank Oakland Zoo, Förderkreis für Ugandas Tierwelt, and individual donors for supporting our work. We also thank the many people who generously contribute their time and expertise to help us make a difference for Uganda's large carnivores.

A lot of hard work remains to be done, and human-carnivore conflict continues to be a daily challenge, yet we pause on this day to celebrate the successes of the last 12 months and to hope for continued conservation success for lions, leopards and hyenas in the coming year.

We look forward to sharing more good news with you in the future, as we work together for the future of Uganda's wildlife!

Here are portraits of some of the lions we are currently monitoring:

 

Monday
Oct062014

Community Monitoring Project

After several weeks of discussions and planning sessions with village leaders and community members, we have kicked off a pilot phase of a community monitoring project in the park enclave village of Hamukungu.  This village is adjacent to critical lion habitat.  There has been significant human-wildlife conflict here in the past, involving not only lions but elephants, hippos, and other species as well.

 

We are rolling this program out with the cooperation of 3 village leaders.  They will be collecting detailed data regarding wildlife attacks on humans, damages to property, and various ecological data.  Over time, other members of the community and secondary school students will also be involved.  

 

We will assist them in identifying trends so that jointly we might gain an understanding of why and where conflict is occurring.  This ideally will lead to the identification of management plans to reduce conflict.  The data will also help ensure that our limited resources are being correctly directed at addressing the real issues rather than perceived problems.

 

Additional goals of the project are to build skills within the community, increase local participation in conservation, and increase local voice in natural resource management.
Friday
Sep262014

Citizen Science in Hamukungu

We had discussions with Hamukungu Secondary School teachers and students yesterday proposing their participation in “eBird”, a global citizen science program sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

  

Why would a carnivore research and conservation organization encourage participation in a bird watch program?  Because we feel it's important to support any activity that promotes environmental education, natural history observation, and scientific undertstanding.  

 

Queen Elizabeth National Park is a famous birding hotspot.  When we looked through the eBird database, we saw numerous entries by tourists, but it didn’t look like there were any from local communities.  So, we discussed with the secondary school teachers and students about creating an account for them in the eBird program and how best to organize their participation in it.  We also talked about how they could perhaps offer bird walks to tourists, once they get proficient in identifying birds.  

 

Here are some photos of the teachers and students looking through bird field guides bought with support from the Oakland Zoo.  (Thank you Oakland Zoo!)

 

Mr. Eliphaz, the elder we are working with on human-lion conflict, is even excited about it.  Apparently, he really likes birds!  After we told him about our idea, he started taking photos of birds with the camera we had given him a few months back.  During our meeting at the secondary school, he shared the many bird photos he had taken. 

 

Hamukungu is a village surrounded by park land and situated on the shores of Lake George.  Given this location, we are excited to see what bird species the students will be able to identify in the months to come.  Their sightings in the eBird database will be listed under the username "Hamukungu Secondary School Environmental Studies".

Hamukungu Secondary School Students studying bird field guideHamukungu School Secondary School studentsHamukungu Secondary School teachers looking through bird field guideHamukungu Secondary School teachers + Mr. Eliphaz reviewing bird guideMarabou stork - by Mr. EliphazGrey crowned cranes - by Mr. Eliphaz

Monday
Sep012014

Wildlife Conservation Expo on October 11th

If you will be in the San Francisco area on Saturday, October 11, please be sure to attend the Wildlife Conservation Expo.  It is a day full of inspiring talks by conservationists working with local communities to save wildlife throughout the world.  

 

In addition the speakers, there will also be several other organizations participating in the day as exhibitors.  Uganda Carnivore Program will be there, so if you attend, please be sure to stop by and say “hi!”.

 

To find out more about the wonderful day and to buy tickets, go to the Wildlife Conservation Network websitehttp://wildnet.org/events/wildlife-conservation-expo-2014

 

Friday
Aug152014

Human-lion coexistence challenges in Hamukungu

It has been a challenging few months in terms of managing human-lion coexistence near the village of Hamukungu.

The core territory of Anna, a 17 year-old lioness, her two adult daughters, and their 6 cubs, is near Hamukungu.  The coalition of three males – Rudi, Papa, and Omukama, also frequently visit this area. 

It has been very hot and dry in this area of the park. Some prey animals have been heading to Lake George, where there is water and green grass, while many have been moving out of the area completely.

The lions are following them to the lake. This puts them very close to Hamukungu, a fishing village within park borders, situated along Lake George.  There are also many cattle owners in this village.

With little natural prey available, the lions might also attack cattle in order to survive.  This puts them at risk of poisoning by the livestock owners.  This has happened in Hamukungu in the past and is even mentioned in the November 2011 National Geographic article on the Albertine Rift. The gentleman described in the article as being a "lion killer" in the past is one of the two elders we have been working closely with the past two years in this village.  We have noticed a definite change in his attitude since working with him on conflict issues.  We greatly appreciate his tolerance and the leadership he has shown in collaborating with us.

Of course the situation is also very scary for the villagers of Hamukungu as well.

The past several weeks, we have been closely monitoring – almost daily – the pride’s movements near the village and have been warning the livestock owners of the presence of the lions.

There has been at least one recent lion attack on a cow while it was grazing during the day.  A few weeks after that, we received word from the villagers that 2 male lions had attacked an enclosure at night and killed a cow.  It had been quite a while since lions last attacked an enclosure here.

We met with two of the village leaders to discuss the situation.  They requested 20 sets of solar lights similar to those we gave the 2 leaders last year.  This would be enough for all the livestock owners.  In exchange for receiving the lighting, the leaders said the livestock owners would agree to strengthen their enclosures in other ways in order to make them more predator proof.

We have also given them our spare camera, along with a notebook and pencils, so they can begin to document these types of incidences themselves. 

In addition, we gave the family who lost the cow in the night attack a small compensatory payment to help offset the loss of her cow.  Cows cost about 1M Uganda shillings (~US$385 / €288), which is a significant amount of money to a rural Ugandan, aside from the cultural importance of cattle.  There have been mixed results in the use of compensation funds elsewhere in Africa – in some places, it is successful in reducing retaliatory attacks on carnivores, and in other places, it is not.  We feel giving a small amount to this family is an important gesture here in this particular case. 

Finally, we have begun preliminary discussions and plans about building a communal livestock enclosure for the poorer cattle owners in this village.  We believe this might be more cost effective than each family building their own stronger, predator-proof kraal.  More planning and analysis is required.  

The Hamukungu cattle owners have shown exceptional tolerance the last few months, so we want to continue to do what we can to support them.  We thank the many tourists this summer who have made donations to assist the villagers who have been negatively impacted by the lions.  And we also thank the tour operators and lodge owners who connect us with their guests and offer them the opportunity to learn more about carnivore conservation.

We will continue our monitoring patrols as well as our meetings with the villagers.

17-year old lioness "Anna" near Hamukungu villageAnna appearing very skinnyAnna and members of her pride walking near HamukunguTwo cubs of Anna's pride