Chimpanzee Monitors in the unprotected areas of Uganda

During a Nature’s Frontline trip to Uganda in 2014, Liz Bourne, Bea McIntosh and Meg Schofield interviewed Executive Director, Dr Lilly Ajarova, at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Trust about the work of Chimpanzee Monitors in local communities.

‘In the daily newspaper there was a report of a baby that was killed by a chimp. Unfortunately it is not in the area that we cover. I was talking to four of our community guys to see what exactly happened, but their lives were threatened - they couldn’t get out of their houses because they feared they would be killed by the neighbouring village where the kid was killed. They say ‘you are the people who want the chimpanzees to survive at the expense of our children’ so they are in hiding because that family and their village are still in mourning for the death of their baby.

‘And this happens many times for the reason that the forests are being cut down. And the chimps themselves act the way they do and end up injuring or killing somebody because they are trying to defend their own lives. Not just for food - we have had several incidents where we have been told that the chimps are out of the forest and by the time we get on site somebody has mobilised the whole community, they have all kinds of equipment and tools and whatever weapons to just enter the forest and kill the chimps. And once they start throwing their spears or whatever kind of weapons they have, the chimps are threatened and sometimes the chimps are killed.

‘From the story we had about the kid, the chimp didn’t ‘kill kill’, but the child had a serious injury and I think it is in a village which is so remote, so far away from a good health facility that could help with emergency treatment, so the child died on the way to hospital. Human lives are being lost, human lives are being injured by the animals.

‘I recently visited one of the forest patches that in 2007, when we first started monitoring, had about 40 chimpanzees. But now this forest has completely gone, completely cut down. And the most recent information I have got from the monitors is that they can only count about 20 chimpanzees. We don’t know where the other 20 have gone. They could have been killed. They might be dead. But the other 20 have managed to move to the neighbouring patch of forest. But there is also a lot of pressure in the village where the chimps have moved to. And they are saying, ‘now the problem has moved to us, these animals have come here so we have to either cut down all our forest, or we target them and kill them’. So it’s that challenging.

‘But for me what is so impressive is that these local men and women who are there, they are the people faced with the day to day challenges of wildlife where their gardens are being destroyed by wildlife and their own relatives are being injured, but at the same time they can stand up and talk for wildlife to their own people.

‘Where we have the 24 Chimpanzee Monitors there’s more positivity and if anything happens they are instantly able to respond to the situation, including if someone sees a group of chimpanzees or if they see a chimpanzee on their farmland they are able to call these community monitors who is able to immediately run to the farm and try and calm everyone down. They have also been able to help teach the communities on how to behave and also for them to understand the animal behaviour. ‘So if you are digging and all of a sudden a chimp appears in your garden, don’t take your hoe and aim at it because immediately the chimp will know you are trying to attack so the chimp response will definitely be different to if you just lay down your hoe and maybe sit down and quietly look away and don’t show that you are trying to stand up to it. And we have had testimonies from some of the communities who understand, and say that ‘the chimps just pass by our compound and when they pass all I do is enter my house, keep quiet, don’t do anything. If I can’t enter the house I just sit down and wait for them’. So as long as they don’t make any unnecessary movement they will just pass and they will do nothing. That is part of the education that the chimp monitors are doing which is quite impressive. I’m so proud of them.

‘Ideally we need hundreds of chimp monitors. The 24 we have are only within two districts that are covered with the forest that are totally unprotected. But for us, we don’t really don’t have the resources, we are doing this to really try and pilot and try and get evidence that it can work. So our next step is to put reports together and try and lobby the government and campaign because seriously this needs a lot of resources and even if we fundraise, there is a limit to how much we can raise as a non-governmental organisation, but if the government would fundraise then it would bring a lot more.’