Hoima District is said to have the biggest forest cover in the country but most of the forests are also home to hundreds of chimpanzees and baboons. This does not make it a favourite place for farmers to grow crops because the apes destroy them. Farmers in this place have therefore fought the animals, sometimes killing them as a way of protecting their crop.
This continuous killing of chimpanzees and baboons is not only endangering the animals but, is also a threat to lives of people living near the forest communities as animals have in past identified human beings as their threat to survival.
Studies from environment researchers show that the ever increasing human population dependent on an already depleted resource is vital to survival of the endangered animals that are on verge of extinction due to habitat encroachment, poaching for bush meat and pet trade that causes conflicts between the animals and farmers.
However this is set to change, as man’s closest cousins are already living in peace with human beings.
“We used to hunt them because they were eating our groundnuts, beans, cassava, potatoes, sugarcanes, maize and bananas but we have learnt that we can live with these animals together and later earn a living from them,” Ms Sunny Mbeera, a farmer at Kyamalera, said.
She narrates that through interventions from various organisations, they have learnt not to kill the animals but give them food when they come out of the forest.
This has attracted tourists to their areas, who in return buy their home grown products like crafts and farm produce. According to Ms Mbeera, organisations like Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust has given them money to start up piggery projects and craft making than encroaching on forests.
This money is collected from tourists who visit their area to see the apes.
“I no longer wait for seasons to have something to fend my family but earn money throughout the year,” she adds.
Ms Mbeera says, the prices for crafts are negotiable but can earn between Shs5,000 to Shs10,000 a day and about Shs200,000 from a pig that grows in three months.
Mbeera recalls the day people tried to spear a chimpanzee after it ran away with a baby to the forest but on giving it something to eat, it dropped the child showing that they are not dangerous animals to people but are just looking to survive.
Giving back to the community
Mr Godfrey Kayilakura, a farmer at Kyabigambire says that from the time they stopped hunting these animals; Uganda Wildlife Authority started giving them 10 per cent of the money from their collections.
He said the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust supplemented by giving them apiaries to stop them from encroaching on forests and hunting the animals. The conservation promotion farming activities earned farmers money instead of destroying the forest.
There were series of human-chimpanzee conflicts in forest patches of Kyabigambire, Muteme, Mparangasi, Budongo and Bugoma in Hoima District caused by impoverished farmers who cut down forests to grow crops, but in the long run, led to chimpanzees destroying their crops.
Mr Steven Bakwate Apuuli, the Kyabigambire Sub county security officer says the chimpanzees eat the crops when crossing from one forest patch to another or when the fruits in the forests are scarce and insufficient.
Ms Lilly Ajarova, the executive director for CSWCT says, they want the people to appreciate chimpanzees as their own resources and stay harmoniously without conflict because they are of benefit to the community in one way or another.
CSWCT is a body taking care of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary established to care for chimpanzees rescued from within Uganda, in addition to providing a safe home and ensuring their welfare.
Ms Ajarova says they have tried to create linkages between human and natural environmental management through a series of educational programmes and development initiatives to alleviate the farmer’s financial constraints and reduce pressure on the environment. In return, the farmers in these areas have appreciated conservation of nature.
She narrates that they constructed an educational centre in Kyabagambire area to sensitise the communities, especially targeting on-going school children about the importance of co-existing with chimpanzees.
“The animals are crucial to the forest’s ecosystems for dispersing seeds and fruit, creating gaps in the canopy that allow seedlings to grow, and serving as predator and prey,” Ms Ajarova says, adding, “They are an important part of the biodiversity we should strive to protect and are a charismatic flagship species in our efforts to promote environmental conservation”.
She said despite most forests in Hoima being privately owned, the trust has managed to work with 84 forest owners to provide them with an alternative livelihood than encroaching on the forests.