Situated in the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon, Uganda’s Kibale National Park is at the interface of Central and East Africa, and this extraordinary location has led to an immense diversity of plants and animals. The park is home to one of the densest populations of chimpanzees and other primates on the African continent. The forest is classified as an Important Bird Area, with 335 bird species, as well as 60 species of mammals and 70 species of reptiles and amphibians.
Since 2006, the Kibale Fuel Wood Project has been working to protect Kibale National Park from encroachment and deforestation, and to improve the relationship between the National Park and the local people by facilitating energy stability in surrounding villages.
Deforestation and Habitat Destruction
With a human population that has increased seven-fold since 1920 and continues to grow at 3-4% each year, the future of the Kibale Forest is far from secure. Wood and charcoal are the sole sources of energy for more than 98% of the people living near Kibale National Park, far exceeding the average reliance on fuel wood in other parts of Africa, which is 40%. With forests outside protected areas in such intense decline, many locals see no alternative to illegally harvesting wood from the National Park. Even small-scale logging for fuel wood can severely damage plant and animal populations. From 1990-2010, Uganda lost an average of 90,000 hectares of forest per year, most of it felled for fuel, and deforestation continues to accelerate as the human population increases. An alternate source of fuel is an immediate need.
Building Eco-Friendly Stoves
The project helps local families construct fuel-efficient “rocket stoves” as an alternative to open-fire cooking. Each family supplies the majority of the materials (bricks and mud) themselves, with harder-to-find sheet metal sold to them at cost. The cost to build a stove is just slightly over $2, making it affordable for those living in rural areas. At community stove workshops, participants are taught how to build their own efficient stove, then witness a cooking contest between traditional open-fire and fuel-efficient stoves. The rocket stove wins every time, cooking the same food in less time using about 1/3 less wood.
As of January 2013, more than 1,320 stoves had been built with the project’s assistance, and many people have also begun building stoves on their own. Fuel-efficient stoves are having a major impact on the amount of firewood being used by villagers surrounding Kibale. On average, families using rocket stoves burn 40% less wood than those using traditional stoves. Not counting the independently built stoves, this adds up to over 8,921 lbs. of wood being saved each day, (3.3 million pounds per year!) much of which would have been cut or collected inside Kibale National Park.
Planting Trees for Sustainable Harvest
Sesbania sesban, a tree native to Uganda, is prized for its fast growth. If farmed properly, this tree can provide immense amounts of fuel wood, even on very small pieces of land. Just one year after planting a seed, the tree is over 15 feet tall and ready to be cut for firewood. As a bonus, its root nodules fertilize surrounding crops. At tree workshops, participants help plant trees at one of the project’s demonstration areas, then learn how to start their own tree nursery at home. A yearly tree growing competition boosts interest in Sesbania and has helped increase the number of people growing their own firewood. By creating a legal, convenient and sustainable wood source to satisfy human needs, the project will better protect the natural forest and provide a more secure future for both wildlife and humans.
Outreach and Education
In addition to practical education about environmentally-sustainable practices, the project seeks to enhance local people’s appreciation for the National Park and its wildlife, empowering communities through knowledge and inspiring a love of nature that will benefit future generations of animals and humans alike. The project’s Science Centers provide books and videos and display natural artifacts, giving local citizens the opportunity to learn about Kibale’s amazing wildlife. The Science Centers also host art, singing and dancing competitions, as well as Traveling Movie Shows in local villages. These events create opportunities for community discussion about conservation, where individuals can ask questions about wildlife and the park, and share solutions.
Oakland Zoo provides conservation grants for the Kibale Fuel Wood Project and their efforts.
Conservation Speaker Series: Oakland Zoo has hosted the Kibale Fuel Wood Project in our Conservation Speaker Series. This series reaches a wide audience and serves as a benefit for the project.
Outreach and Education
Oakland Zoo connects to our public through docent tours and stations, special events and a variety of outreach and education programs with messages about chimpanzees and the other residents of Kibale forest and what can be done to help.
Our gift shop sells Kibale Bead jewelry, which is hand-made in Uganda. Guests can make their own beaded crafts at a special ‘Beads For Chimps’ Station in the Zoo. These beautiful beads are constructed from recycled magazines, rolled up, strung and polished. Purchase of these beads supports a group of sixty talented women who live close to Kibale National Park, giving them a source of income that does not harm the forest.
Our teen and adult ecotours to Uganda visit Kibale National Park and the Kibale Fuel Wood Project, spending time with project staff at the Science Centers and other events. Participants gain invaluable insight into the challenges facing both human and wildlife populations in this biologically diverse part of Africa.