What do trees and chimps have in common? Well, not very much. One is a plant, the other is an animal, and they don’t look very much alike. But, trees and chimps truly rely on each other- a symbiotic relationship that makes one dependent on the other. Chimps need trees for food and shelter, and in turn, the chimps eat fruit from the trees and pollinate the seeds throughout the rest of the forest.
People and chimps have at least one thing in common- they both need to eat! In the Kibale Forest region of Uganda, where both chimps and people live, this can cause big problems. While the chimps can dine on leaves and fruit in the raw, people need to cook their food, and their preferred fuel for their fires is wood- wood that comes from trees where the chimps live and eat. More people means more food, which means fewer trees and fewer chimps. In Kibale, some people started asking if this trade-off was really necessary- if we could have food for people and a home for chimps.
The result has been a fabulous program called the Kibale Fuel Wood Project. Supported by the Oakland Zoo since 2006, this innovative program has developed a few strategies for helping people learn about their natural resource while leaving trees behind for the chimps. This has included planting fast growing native trees for firewood use, a community science center where people can visit, and movie nights in local villages. But my favorite program this outfit runs is one of its newest- fuel briquettes made from trash!
On our recent teen trip to Uganda, 16 of our Oakland Zoo teen volunteers got the opportunity to learn first hand how these round little briquettes get made! First, we start with raw materials- organic trash donated by the villagers. This can include peanut shells, newspaper, wood chips and other natural materials. By donating this unneeded trash, the villagers get finished fuel bricks in return- while also getting rid of their waste in a helpful way.
Next, the materials need to be ground up and prepped. This involves grinding it up using a big mortar and pestle like contraption- and let me tell you, it takes some practice!
The ground shells and newspaper then get soaked in water and mixed together in a big bowl, making a chunky, soupy mixture. This is then put into the specially made mold.
Once the mix is ready, the water needs to be squeezed out. To do this, you place the mold in a big wooden press. Pushing the handle down puts pressure on the mold, and the excess water quickly runs out the bottom into the bowl below.
Now, all you have to do is pull the mold out and pop out your finished round briquettes! After drying in the sun, canola seeds will be added so that the oils will make the bricks burn hotter, making them more efficient.
The best part of the day- when we all got to enjoy a delicious lunch cooked for us over a fire of fuel briquettes! Tasty, delicious…and eco-friendly! Thanks to all at the Kibale Fuel Wood Project, especially project coordinator Margaret Kemigisa. We had a great time!