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Jul 27, 2020

COVID-19 related poaching surge threatens Gorillas project progress report July 2020

The COVID-19 related poaching surge threatens Gorillas project was launched after Rafiki, one of Bwindi's silverback mountain gorillas from Nkuringo gorilla group, was killed on June 1st by bush meat poachers.

Rafiki's killing has been attributed to the absence of tourism around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, due to the national lock down and ban on primate tourism since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Uganda. This has left very many people jobless and impoverished around Bwindi where community members were previously heavily dependent on tourism for employment. The park has seen a spike in people entering the forest illegally to hunt for animals such as duikers and bush pigs which share the same habitat with the endangered mountain gorillas.

We have raised $9,025 out of our target of $20,000 from 16 donors, with 1 monthly donor and 1 fundraiser since the project was launched 4 months ago. Funds raised from this project will provide nutritional support to people around Bwindi with nutrient-rich, fast-growing, low-maintenance food crops which can be grown with minimal inputs and space. 

The following activities have been accomplished to date:

  • Developed an implementation strategy to reach the target groups.
  • Conducted internal planning sessions and developed a budget for the program.
  • Implemented a survey around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to identify crops and vegetables which are preferred by target communities and are suitable for the prevailing climatic conditions. 

The following activities are scheduled to be accomplished between August and December 2020.

  • Procurement of planting materials including seeds such as tomatoes, onions, cabbages, kales, spinach, beans, groundnuts, maize, sweet potatoes and amaranth
  • Nursery bed construction
  • Mobilization and identification of most at risk and most in need beneficiaries
  • Sensitization and training of beneficiaries
  • Distribution of the ready to grow garden kits
  • Monitoring and follow up of beneficiaries. 

At the beginning of July 2020, Conservation Through Public Health was selected to receive a $1,000 micro grant from GlobalGiving which will be a great boost towards achieving this project’s planned activities.

Thank you very much for all your invaluable support.

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Jul 7, 2020

Gorilla Guardians of Bwindi, Uganda Report, June 2020

Dr Gladys demonstrating how to use a thermometer
Dr Gladys demonstrating how to use a thermometer

The last report was posted on March 6th 2020.

To date we have raised $2,100 from 16 donors since the start of the project. Two of the donors are monthly recurring donors.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) set out a COVID-19 preparedness plan to train all Gorilla Guardians on how to manage and prevent COVID-19 spread amongst people and from humans to gorillas. 

On 24th March 2019, we started out with training park staff including wardens, head rangers and head trackers at all the tourism trekking sites of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. This training was done in partnership with Uganda Wildlife Authority, Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Bwindi Community Hospital, International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Max Planck Institute and the Uganda Ministry of Health. The training was requested by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and included sharing guidelines on the following measures to prevent spread of COVID-19:

1. Every person visiting the gorillas, including park staff, tourists and researchers must have their temperature tested using non-contact infrared thermometers before setting off for gorilla trekking

2. Mandatory wearing of face masks by every person visiting the gorillas including park staff, tourists and researchers while viewing gorillas

3. Park staff, tourists and researchers with signs of illness, flu or cough should not be allowed to go to the forest.

4. Mandatory hand washing using soap, water and disinfectant before trekking.

5. The rule of viewing gorillas at a minimum distance of 7 meters at all times was re- emphasized. 

Although tourism was suspended in Uganda’s protected areas the day after the trainings took place, and this was followed by travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines, the trainings and agreed protocols will be very important when Uganda does open up again to tourism, ensuring all those concerned are ready and prepared to handle primate tourism safely in order to prevent COVID-19 transmission between people and from people to the endangered mountain gorillas. In addition, the guidelines continue to apply to rangers and others who have to access the forest to check on the health and safety of the gorillas and other wildlife in the forest.

CTPH conducted another series of COVID-19 prevention and mitigation trainings between 24th April and 26th May 2020, in partnership with Arcus Foundation and Solidaridad. At that time, travel for non-essential vehicles was prohibited. However, CTPH, considered essential due to its work in One Health interventions and in the prevention of zoonotic disease transmission, was given a sticker from the Ministry of Health to continue operating, in line with guidelines set out by the Government of Uganda. CTPH was granted permission from Kanungu District Local Government to train Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs) who are community volunteers providing health and conservation information and services at the community and household level and Gorilla Guardians who are Human and Gorilla Conflict Resolution Teams who safely herd gorillas back to the park when they range on community land. The trainings were conducted whilst observing social distancing of two meters between people. When sensitizing the VHCTs, we engaged with 10 individuals per day (5 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon), finding them in their villages to ensure all COVID-19 prevention protocols were observed. All the 256 VHCTs and 119 HUGOs were trained.

At the end of the training sessions, all Gorilla Guardians and Village Health and Conservation Teams were provided with personal protective equipment, including face masks, hand sanitizers, cloth masks and soap. Gorilla Guardians were also given posters with information on how to stop the COVID-19 spread amongst people and from humans to gorillas, for onward dissemination in the communities.

Conservation Through Public Health donated 4 Infrared thermometers to Uganda Wildlife Authority to help park staff record their temperatures before the visiting the gorillas.

These activities would not have been possible without the generous support of those who donated through GlobalGiving.

In May 2020, we received the good news of the birth of two baby Gorillas in Nshongi and Muyambi gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

Sadly, however, at the beginning of June 2020, we lost Rafiki, the lead silverback of Nkuringo gorilla group. He was killed by a poacher, who claims that he killed the gorilla in self-defence after he was attacked while setting snares for duiker and bush pigs. Rafiki’s death was the result of increased poverty resulting from COVID-19 which has led to a surge in unemployment around the protect areas, after the cessation of tourism. Following Rafiki’s death, CTPH adjusted the focus of our GlobalGiving project to incorporate issues specific to the COVID-19 crises and the new challenges it has brought about, including providing nutritional support to community members on the outskirts of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to reduce the need to enter the forest illegally to meet basic needs.

CTPH donates infrared thermometers to UWA
CTPH donates infrared thermometers to UWA
Rafiki. Photo by Uganda Wildlife Authority
Rafiki. Photo by Uganda Wildlife Authority
VHCT holding posters after the  training
VHCT holding posters after the training
Adult female Kabagenyi from Bwindi with her baby
Adult female Kabagenyi from Bwindi with her baby
Adult female from Muyambi gorilla group in Bwindi
Adult female from Muyambi gorilla group in Bwindi
Group photo after the training of park staff
Group photo after the training of park staff
Training of park staff
Training of park staff

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Mar 6, 2020

The Gorilla Guardians of Bwindi

Whilst the fundraising campaign did not reach its ambitious target, CTPH is very grateful to our many supporters who contributed to the project. Funds raised though GlobalGiving were put towards the on going Gorilla Guardians program which has achieved the following.

  • In April 2019, 212 Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers in Bwindi and Mgahinga Conservation Areas were trained in gorilla health monitoring.
  • By the end of 2019, 119 Gorilla Guardians were trained in gorilla health monitoring and ranger based data collection, including non-invasive sample collection and safely herding gorillas back to the forest, especially when they ranged in the community land.
  • By the end of 2019, 119 pairs of gum boots were purchased and distributed to 119 Gorilla Guardians.
  • 10 new gorilla guardians were recruited from Buremba and Mpungu parishes bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. They received the same training as existing gorilla guardians.
  • 500 sample pots were purchased for the practical training of gorilla guardians. Other training materials purchased included rulers, note books and stationery.

There is a plan to hold another refresher training in April 2020 and fundraising for this refresher training is ongoing.

Whilst we did not meet our fundraising target for the Gorilla Guardian campaign, we learnt from the experience and anticipate our next project benefitting from the lessons learnt.

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