The Budongo Forest in Uganda teems with a wild variety of living beings, from trees to birds to butterflies to primates. Being there is like being in a jungle dream, where the musical sounds of the forest seem beyond imagination. One of the best things about being the Conservation Director at Oakland Zoo, is the occasional privilege of visiting such places on our planet.
Along with this privilege comes the knowledge gained around the challenges of sharing our planet. Deep within this lush forest habitat of blue monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons and hornbills- are people, who also need shelter, space and food.
Some people living near the Budongo Forest seek their protein from bushmeat, illegally snaring a pig or deer. The snares, made from a thin wire, are nearly invisible against the foliage, and as chimpanzees walk through the corridors, their hands or feet can become trapped in the snares. In two of the forests where chimpanzees are studied, researchers have observed up to 30 percent of chimpanzees are maimed due to snare injuries. More die.
Researchers in the forest name the chimps that they observe: Flora is missing their right hands at the wrist. Kigare, his right foot. Zig’s right hand is badly deformed by snares. Kigere’s name literally means ‘missing foot’ in Kinyoro and refers to an old snare injury which removed her foot at the ankle.
Human-wildlife conflict is an issue here, and all over the world, from chimpanzees and humans in Uganda to mountain lions and humans here in our own habitat in California. The challenges that many species face can feel overwhelming.
Now for the best part of my job: hope. The Budongo Snare Removal Project gives me great hope that compassion and creativity can still reign in the human heart and mind. This project sends teams of two men (anti-snare teams) to locate and remove snares and mark the spot with a GPS devise. An education center reaches out to the local community and provides education around ecology, wildlife and the treasure that is the chimpanzees. A nanny goat program rounds out the project, offering ex-poachers an opportunity to raise milk, meat and money for their families in exchange for a promise to cease the use of snares.
When our Oakland Zoo team of intrepid travelers last visited the project in 2011, we got to experience hope the size of Africa herself. Speaking to an anti-snare team, I learn that Ofen now owns land for his family, as well as 20 goats, and Moses feels he has more knowledge of the forest and sees this work is a source of survival. We spent an exuberant day helping the veterinarian team de-worm over 100 goats that are now owned by sworn anti-poachers, and best of all, we saw chimpanzees. They hooted and called as they searched for fruit and built nests above us for sleeping. Despite some of their injuries, they lived in a forest where people are trying to live in balance with wildlife. They lived in a forest where people, trees, chimps and hope are alive and thriving. Please watch our short video about our chimpanzees at the Zoo and our conservation work in Budongo.
The Oakland Zoo adopted this project in 2001 and the support covers the salaries for four field assistants, two educators, two eco-guards, the nanny goat program and allowances for transportation, bike repair, gum boots, rain gear, backpacks, and compasses. The zoo is the only supporter of this project. We are proud of its compassion and respect for animals, people and the entire ecosystem.
Funds raised at an annual fall lecture and silent auction go toward this project. This year’s event will feature author Virginia Morell on September 26th.