By Emily Otali and Erik J. Scully; Photos by David Mills
Chimpanzees are a flagship species for tropical forest conservation. Beyond Kibale National Park, chimpanzees inhabit numerous reserves throughout Uganda, including Budongo Forest, Rwenzori National Park, Kalinzu Forest Reserve, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and Semliki Wildlife Reserve. The expertise of the field assistants and ranger guides who spend so much time with these animals is critical for research, conservation, and ecotourism. The success of these efforts requires that these individuals provide accurate information about chimpanzee behavior and ecology to visitors and locals alike.
To achieve this goal, Makerere University Biological Field Station, in partnership with the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, conducted a 3-day refresher course for 43 ranger guides, field assistants, and supervisors working with chimpanzees across Uganda. By integrating lectures with group discussions, the workshop engaged participants in the intricacies of chimpanzee behavior and ecology, while highlighting the relevance of these endeavors to the local economy and public health. After discussing chimpanzee habituation and conservation, participants debated the impact of human activities on local wildlife, and the relevance of ecology to patterns of pathogen infection and transmission – issues of increasing importance in this emerging hotspot for infectious disease.
Most importantly, the workshop provided an opportunity for guides and field assistants to share their diverse knowledge and experiences. By doing so, each group gained a more comprehensive understanding of these complex and fascinating animals. We have long known that chimpanzees exhibit a tremendous degree of cultural variation, and no individual field site can fully capture their ecological and behavioral diversity. Participants will now have the opportunity to share their new knowledge with others at their home sites. We hope that these workshops will foster more extensive collaboration between field sites – among both field assistants and researchers – in order to better understand one of our closest living relatives.