Albertine Rift

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Elephants (Loxodonta africana) and hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius) are major architects of habitats. Where they occur at a natural density elephants can change woodland to grassland savannah and in forests play an important role in seed dispersal and maintenance of many species of tree. Hippos on the other hand create grazing lawns around lakes and rivers and through trampling damage can increase woody cover where overgrazing takes place. They also destroy wetland when at high densities such as fringing papyrus swamps to lakes. As a result both species need to be monitored and sometimes managed to avoid major changes to ecosystems and the subsequent impacts to other species. This is necessary because many protected areas, particularly in the Albertine Rift, have become islands surrounded by agriculture and there are no options for species to move elsewhere when densities become very high.
 
The WCS Albertine Rift Program has been studying these two species in the Greater Virunga Landscape as well as monitoring elephant populations in the Kahuzi Biega National Park.

 

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WCS has been active in Queen Elizabeth National Park monitoring and studying the population of tree-climbing lions in the Ishasha sector of the park.  Our results show there are only two prides of lions found here and only one within the tourism circuit of Ishasha. Numbers fluctuate between 20 and 30 individuals because of cub mortality and emigration. Modeling of the viability of such a small population indicates that it is crucially important to maintain transboundary connectivity with other lions in Virunga Park over the international border and also through the Maramagambo forest to lions in the north of the Queen Elizabeth Park. We are able to recognize every individual in Ishasha and have been able to determine that currently there are movements of lions from both the north and from Virunga Park.
 
The main causes of mortality of lions have been trampling of cubs by buffalos as well as the snaring of adults. Snares are set in the park mainly to catch ungulates for meat and there is little targeted killings of lions here but the loss of adult female lions to snaring has caused major repercussions on the viability of the lions in Ishasha. We have lost three adult females out of only 8-12 in the past 4 years alone. In the north of Queen Elizabeth Park, poisoning of lions has been the major cause of mortality. Here pastoralists regularly graze their cattle in the park and the lions either kill the cattle in the park or follow their trails out of the park and kill them on the pastoralists grazing land.  In retaliation the pastoralists lace the cattle carcass with a poison, such as a carbofuran insecticide, and when the lions return to the carcass they are killed along with any other animal that feeds on the carcass such as vultures or hyaenas.
 
We are now starting a program to work with the pastoralists at the edge of the park to undertake three key objectives:

  1. Improve their rangeland outside the park so that they don’t bring cattle into the park. We are doing this by funding the removal of invasive Lantana which covers much of the land and once this is achieved we will work on improved grazing methods that prevent the cattle from being so selective on what they eat so that all grasses are selected instead. This stops unpalatable grasses taking over the rangeland.
  2. Improving access to water for livestock and people. Currently most of the pastoralists households rely on very few water sources outside the park and these often dry up so that they have to access the park for water for themselves and their cattle. Providing boreholes and watering troughs for livestock will help minimize the need to bring livestock into the park.
  3. Looking at options for fencing certain areas or compensation for livestock loss. Fishing villages exist in the Greater Virunga Landscape and several of these contain livestock. It may make sense to fence these areas to stop lions coming in and killing livestock or people and we want o make a feasibility analysis to assess the cost effectiveness of establishing fences. We also want to assess options for some form of compensation to livestock owners if they lose livestock rather than resorting to killing lions instead.

We have also been undertaking a valuation of lions for the tourism industry to obtain an estimate of how much they contribute to the national economy in Uganda. Lions after mountain gorillas are a main draw for tourists in the country. If tourists fail to see them in Uganda they are likely to switch destination to Kenya or Tanzania with a short visit to Rwanda to see the gorillas rather than opt for a circuit in the region. Fines for lion killings and poaching need to be made at a level nearer their economic value to the country and we believe this valuation study will raise awareness about the need to make the penalty of killing lions more commensurate with their true value.

Our results of the lion and hyaena surveys across Uganda as well as the detailed radio-tracking research in Ishasha and Murchison Falls Park were put together with UWA staff to develop a national large carnivore conservation strategy for Uganda. This ten year plan identifies the main threats to each of the five large carnivores and projects needed to address these threats. It also summarizes the lion and hyaena census together with the detailed study results of the lion population in Ishasha.

We worked with Dancefort Multimedia to develop a film highlighting the plight of lions in Uganda which has been shown on Uganda Television several times. A YouTube version of this film can be accessed here.

 

 

Conservation Challenges

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Threats

Accomplishments

The largest landscape in the Albertine Rift the Maiko-Itombwe landscape stretches from the Maiko National Park to the Itombwe Reserve in the south encompassing the Kahuzi Biega National park and Tayna Community Reserve. The whole landscape occurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and it contains more species endemic to the Albertine Rift than any other landscape. The Kahuzi Biega National park is a World Heritage Site and the landscape as a whole conserves most of the World Population of the Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri). 

About 41% of the natural habitat in this landscape is protected in some way with a lot of the landscape in between these three protected areas still containing natural forest. There are several proposed community managed protected areas between Maiko and Kahuzi Biega National Parks which still remain to be gazetted but many have some form of local support. The Itombwe Reserve has been officially gazetted but its boundaries remain to be fully defined. Species of conservation concern include Grauer’s gorilla, Owl-faced monkey, chimpanzee, elephant, bongo, yellow-backed duiker, yellow-crested helmet shrike, Itombwe nightjar, Congo Bay-owl, Prigogine’s greenbul, Rockerfeller’s sunbird, Itombwe Xenopus, Itombwe golden frog, and Itombwe puddle frog amongst others. Several species have only been observed in the Itombwe massif making this site one of the most important for endemic species in the Albertine Rift and one of the most important sites for conservation of species in Africa.
 
The total number of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and plant species recorded from this landscape to date number 3,205, of which 216 species are endemic to the Albertine Rift and 77 species are threatened (CR, EN, VU) under the IUCN Redlist (2010).
 

 Landscape Mammals  Birds Reptiles Amphibians Plants
 Endemic species 25 38 13 21 134
 Threatened species  19  17 0 13  28
 Species number 169 651 86  73  2,226

 

Conservation Challenges

The on-going civil war in DRC has hampered conservation efforts in this landscape. Armed rebel groups have chosen to hide out in all of the protected areas in the landscape and regularly terrorize villages in and around the protected areas. In response to the insecurity people have also fled other parts of the region and settled in places such as the Itombwe Massif to avoid the insecurity that exists elsewhere. The break down in law and order has also led to many people entering protected areas to search for minerals such as gold and columbo-tantalite (coltan) and has led to the creation of villages. 

Areas of the Kahuzi Biega National Park have been invaded for agricultural land, particularly the corridor region connecting the highland sector of the park to the lowland sector. The influx of people into the protected areas and the presence of armed groups has led to widespread poaching of large mammals for bushmeat and as a result numbers have declined precipitously since fighting began in 1996. More recently large mining companies have been taking up mineral exploration concessions in the landscape, notably BANRO which has a concession between Kahuzi Biega National park and the Itombwe Massif, including parts of the proposed Itombwe Reserve.

 

Conservation Approach

WCS has been active in the region since the early 1990s where we led the first survey of the Grauers gorilla and estimated about 17,500 individuals in the whole landscape. Since then we have been supporting management of the Kahuzi Biega National Park , providing uniforms, field gear, rehabilitating patrol posts and helping management expand its sphere of operations as the security has slowly improved. We also led surveys to the Itombwe massif and Maiko National park  in the late 1980s and early 1990s which showed their importance for conservation.
 
Since the creation of the Albertine Rift Program WCS has been leading several surveys to Itombwe and Kahuzi Biega to establish the current status of wildlife in these areas, following the civil war, as well as undertake surveys of Grauer’s gorilla, chimpanzees and elephants in particular.  Surveys show that the number of gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National park are only about 20% of the early 1990s numbers although we haven’t been able to survey all of the areas that were surveyed at this time. Chimpanzee numbers have also declined drastically with about 30-40% of the initial estimates still remaining and elephants have virtually become extinct in the park. In the Itombwe Massif large mammal numbers are also very low but we have been able to extend the range of Grauer’s gorilla to an area that had not been explored previously. In undertaking these surveys we have expanded ICCN’s ability to patrol and manage the park, often entering areas previously considered unsafe, and we have helped  ICCN establish a new patrol post in the west of the park which has not existed since the early 1990s.
 
WCS worked with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) to pilot a conflict resolution approach around the Kahuzi Biega National Park to improve relations between the local community and ICCN, the parks authority and to build the capacity of ICCN staff to implement a conflict sensitive approach to conservation. There was initial conflict over the creation of the Itombwe Reserve as it was established with no consultation with local communities and conflict resolution was needed to involve the communities in the reserve planning.  An agreement was reached to zone the proposed reserve with the local communities, creating core protected, multiple use and development zones.  WCS has been working with ICCN, WWF, Rainforest Foundation, AfriCapacity and the local communities to develop this zoning plan which is almost completed. We have also been undertaking biodiversity surveys in the Itombwe Massif to better define where core conservation areas should be located. The creation of development zones will identify areas where development NGOs can help improve the infrastructure and livelihoods of the people in the massif. At present most people are living in small hamlets of a few houses and as a result cannot easily be helped.  The aim is to create a few centres where schools and clinics can be supported as well as access improved so that people will voluntarily shift to these centres and their health and education improved. 

Goals

Activities

Threats

Accomplishments

Mammals

41 species of endemic mammal are found in the Rift. Many of these are small mammals such as shrews, rats and bats. A few of the larger ones include the Rwenzori duiker (Cephalophus rubidus) which only occurs at high altitudes in the Rwenzori massif and the Golden monkey (Cercopithecus kandti) which is confined to the Virunga Volcanoes. A few larger mammals are near-endemic species, such as L’hoest’s guenon (Cercopithecus l’hoesti). A list of the endemic and near endemic mammals is provided in the table below. The IUCN classification is given (CR=Critically endangered; EN=endangered; VU=vulnerable; DD=data deficient; NT=near threatened). AR=Albertine Rift endemic; NE=near-endemic species.

 

Family

Species

Common name

IUCN

AR endemic

Bovidae

Cephalophus rubidus

Ruwenzori Duiker

 

AR

Cercopithecidae

Cercopithecus mitis kandti

Golden monkey

EN

AR

Cricetidae

Delanymys brooksi

Delany's Mouse

VU

AR

Cricetidae

Dendromus kahuziensis

Kahuzi Climbing Mouse

CR

AR

Cricetidae

Dendromus kivu

Rwenzori/Kivu Climbing mouse

 

AR

Hominidae

Gorilla beringei

Mountain and Grauers gorilla

CR

AR

Muridae

Dasymys montanus

Montane Marsh Rat

EN

AR

Muridae

Grammomys dryas

Montane Thicket Rat

NT

AR

Muridae

Lophuromys cinereus

 

DD

AR

Muridae

Lophuromys medicaudatus

 

VU

AR

Muridae

Lophuromys rahmi

 

EN

AR

Muridae

Lophuromys woosnami

Woosnam's Brush-furred rat

 

AR

Muridae

Mus bufo

Western Rift Pygmy Mouse

 

AR

Muridae

Praomys degraafi

 

 

AR

Muridae

Praomys montis

 

 

AR

Muridae

Thamnomys kempi

Kemp's Thicket Rat

VU

AR

Muridae

Thamnomys venustus

Charming Thicket Rat

VU

AR

Rhinolophidae

Rhinolophus hillii

Hill's Horseshoe Bat

CR

AR

Rhinolophidae

Rhinolophus ruwenzorii

Ruwenzori  Horseshoe Bat

VU

AR

Rhinolophidae

Rhinolophus willardi

Willard's Horseshoe Bat

 

AR

Rhinolophidae

Rhinolophus  kahuzi

Kahuzi horeshoe bat

 

AR

Rhizomyidae

Tachyoryctes ruandae

Mole rat/Desmol

 

AR

Sciuridae

Funisciurus carruthersi

Carruther's Mountain Tree Squirrel

 

AR

Sciuridae

Heliosciurus ruwenzorii

Montane Sun Squirrel

 

AR

Soricidae

Crocidura kivuana

Kivu Shrew

VU

AR

Soricidae

Crocidura lanosa

Kivu Long-haired Shrew

EN

AR

Soricidae

Crocidura lwiroensis

Kabogo Crocidura

 

AR

Soricidae

Crocidura niobe

Ruwenzori Musk Shrew

NT

AR

Soricidae

Crocidura stenocephala

Musk Shrew

EN

AR

Soricidae

Myosorex babaulti

Mouse Shrew

NT

AR

Soricidae

Myosorex blarina

Ruwenzori Mouse Shrew

EN

AR

Soricidae

Myosorex bururiensis

Bururi Forest Shrew

 

AR

Soricidae

Myosorex jejei

Kahuzi Swamp Shrew

 

AR

Soricidae

Myosorex kabogoensis

Kabogo Myosorex

 

AR

Soricidae

Myosorex schalleri

Schaller's Mouse Shrew

DD

AR

Soricidae

Paracrocidura graueri

Grauer's Montane Shrew

DD

AR

Soricidae

Paracrocidura maxima

East African Montane Shrew

NT

AR

Soricidae

Ruwenzorisorex suncoides

Osgood's Montane Shrew

VU

AR

Soricidae

Sylvisorex lunaris

 

VU

AR

Soricidae

Sylvisorex vulcanorum

 

NT

AR

Tenrecidae

Micropotamogale ruwenzorii

Ruwenzori Otter Shrew

NT

AR

Cercopithecidae

Cercopithecus hamlyni

Owl-faced monkey

VU

NE

Cercopithecidae

Cercopithecus lhoesti

L'hoest's monkey

VU

NE

Cercopithecidae

Lophocebus ugandae

Uganda mangabey

 

NE

Galagonidae

Galago matschiei

Spectacled Galago

 

NE

Viverridae

Genetta victoriae

Giant Forest Genet

 

NE

Viverridae

Osbornicitis piscivora

Aquatic Genet

DD

NE

Soricidae

Crocidura maurisca

Northern Swamp Musk Shrew

 

NE

Soricidae

Crocidura montis

Eastern Montane Musk Shrew

 

NE

Soricidae

Scutisorex somereni

Hero Shrew

 

NE

Soricidae

Sylvisorex granti

Least Long-tailed Forest Shrew

 

NE

Rhizomyidae

Tachyoryctes ankoliae

Mole rat/Desmol

VU

NE

Muridae

Hybomys lunaris

Ruwenzori Striped Mouse

VU

NE

 

 

Conservation Challenges

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This site is under construction. We will be creating an interactive mapping facility that will enable users to map particular species from the region using data we have collected on our biodiversity surveys.

 

Conservation Challenges

Conservation Approach

Goals

Activities

Threats

Accomplishments

The Marungu-Kabogo region on the western shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an area of very low human population density. Most of the area is Miombo woodland together with highland grasslands but there is also a contiguous block of forest of about 1000 km2, the Ngamikka forest, north of the town of Kalemie. The only protected area in this landscape is the Luama Katanga hunting reserve which has not had any staff present since the early 1980s through lack of conservation support. An aerial survey made by WCS in 2006 showed that most of the Marungu massif to the south had been converted to highland grassland for cattle and did not seem to hold much opportunity for conservation. Subsequent surveys by Eli Greenbaum of the University of Texas here have shown that there are amphibian species that only occur here and need some form of conservation action.  The aerial surveys did show that the Ngamikka forest was intact and worth surveying and this led to a conservation program in the region for WCS.  Only about 10% of the area of natural habitat in this region is conserved. Species found here include chimpanzee, elephant, bongo, Prigogine’s colobus, red colobus, Kabobo apalis, yellow-crested helmet shrike, red-collared mountain babbler, itombwe nightjar, and several amphibians and small mammals which are in the process of being described and are endemic to Ngamikka Forest.
 
The total number of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and plant species recorded from this landscape to date number 1,605, of which 76 species are endemic to the Albertine Rift and 32 species are threatened (CR, EN, VU) under the IUCN Redlist (2010).
 

 Landscape Mammals  Birds Reptiles Amphibians Plants
 Endemic species 5 22  2 4 48
 Threatened species 6  4  0 2  20
 Species number  75 445  11 27 1,047

 

Conservation Challenges

This part of the Albertine Rift has much lower human population densities compared with further north. The Marungu highlands were extensively farmed for cattle prior to the civil war in DRC but since then most cattle have been stolen or killed. However much of the region’s natural habitat was lost more than 50 years ago. The miombo woodland west of Kalemie and the Ngamikka forest, however remain pretty intact. Artisnal mining for gold affects some of the streams and rivers in the forest but it is not too extensive because the yield is very poor. This forest was the hideout of Laurent Kabila when he was fighting president Mobutu between 1960 and 1980 and subsequently has been insecure so that few people settled in the region. More recently mining exploration concessions have been established in the area which may pose a threat if any significant mineral deposits are found.

Conservation Approach

Following the initial aerial surveys WCS led a biological survey to the Ngamikka forest, together with the Chicago Field Museum, IRST Lwiro  and WWF, which found six new vertebrate species for the World (4 small mammals and two amphibians).  Given these findings we made a socioeconomic survey of the households living around this forest. This survey, amongst other questions, asked whether people thought the forest should be conserved and if so what sort of protected area should be created. 

Most people wanted to conserve the forest and wanted to create a national park. The findings of the surveys were presented to the village chiefs around the forest and agreement was reached to work together to create a new national park. Since then WCS has been working with each village around the forest to participatively map and agree on the boundaries of the new park. We have also started the process of creating the protected area at provincial and national level in DRC.  The proposed Ngamikka National park would be connected to the Luama Katanga hunting reserve to create about 4000 km2 of natural habitat and conserve at least 1,500 chimpanzees as well as the only habitat of the endemic species of the Ngamikka Forest.

 

Goals

Activities

Threats

Accomplishments

Inadequate methods are not often thought of as a challenge or threat to conservation. Yet the inability to monitor conservation targets, for instance, provides a severe limitation on the capacity of a protected area authority to assess whether its interventions are succeeding or to adapt to changes in threats in their landscapes. WCS has been developing several methods to improve monitoring and management which are highlighted here together with links to more details about the methods.

Surveying Primates

Estimating primate population numbers is usually made with line transect surveys. Andy Plumptre, WCS’s Albertine Rift Program Director, has been improving these methods together with Steve Buckland at the University of St Andrews.  Initially this involved devising a survey method for chimpanzees that avoids the need to calculate nest decay rates for the night nests constructed by chimpanzees. Decay rates are very variable and can strongly affect the estimate of a survey and they should be calculated across a study region but rarely are. As a result avoiding calculating decay rate can offer a significant advantage in a survey. The method uses repeated surveys of the same transects counting new nests that appear over time and is called the ‘marked nest count method’. This method was published as a paper:

Plumptre, A. & Reynolds, V. (1996) Censusing chimpanzees in the Budongo forest.  International Journal of Primatology 17, 85-99

Some subsequent papers also provided additional information on nest construction rates and the power to detect changes in animal numbers:

Plumptre, A.J. & Reynolds, V. (1997) Nesting behavior of chimpanzees:implications for censuses. International Journal of Primatology 18, 475-485

Plumptre, A.J. (2000) Monitoring mammal populations with line transect techniques in African forests. Journal of Applied Ecology 37, 356-368.

More recently two papers have been published that critique a common but flawed method use to survey primates in the scientific literature and to provide a summary of how primate population densities should be estimated:

Buckland, S.T., Plumptre, A.J., Thomas, L. and Rexstad, E. 2010. Line transect surveys of primates:can animal-to-observer distance methods work? International Journal of Primatology, 31, 485-499

Buckland, S.T., Plumptre, A.J., Thomas, L. and Rexstad, E. 2010. Design and analysis of line transect surveys for primates. International Journal of Primatology 31,833-847.

 

Aerial survey methods

Aerial surveys are commonly used to survey large mammal populations in savannas. The basic method used was published by Mike Norton Griffiths in 1978  and hasn’t changed greatly since that time. However, the technology available has changed greatly and we now have better aircraft systems, GPS units as well as software for planning surveys that can ensure that the method is rigorously followed. WCS Albertine Rift Program has been working with the WCS flight program over the past 10 years to undertake surveys of wildlife as well as mapping of habitat. David Moyer who managed the WCS flight program teamed up with Howard Fredricks who has been improving aerial survey methods and data management within the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI). Howard was contracted to develop an aerial survey manual which, rather than cover the statistics of the methods used in Mike Norton Griffiths publication, covers the basics of planning a survey, setting up the plane, training and calibrating observers and actually carrying out the survey.  The two publications are intended to be complimentary and be used together.

Ranger-based monitoring

Rangers in parks and reserves are going on patrols on a daily basis and, as a result, see what is happening and where it is taking place. Protected area managers do not get out as often because of other management commitments and so usually don’t know so well where the latest threats are occurring. Traditionally, rangers would communicate anything new or unusual in daily or monthly reports to the protected area headquarters. However, this leaves the onus on the ranger to decide what to report and what is ‘unusual’.  In the late 1990s a GTZ supported project to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) started to develop a software program that would enable rangers to collect data while on patrols, enter the data in a computer easily, and provide simple analyses of the data useful for protected area managers. This software was called Management Information System (MIST). It was piloted in the Murchison Falls National Park in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape. At the end of the GTZ project the software was partially working but had several bugs that caused problems with its use. Since 2001, the WCS Albertine Rift Program has been working with UWA and the software developer (Ecological Software Solutions) to fix the bugs in MIST and roll out its implementation to all of the protected areas managed by UWA in Uganda. The program has been successfully used at most sites in Uganda and is used to create:

1.       Monthly patrol maps that show protected area managers where patrols have been

2.       Maps of sightings of key species and illegal activities in the protected area

3.      Encounter rates of sightings of key species and illegal activities corrected for patrol effort

4.       Trends in encounter rates of key species or illegal activities over time.

The data entry is designed to be simple and can be done by a trained ranger freeing wardens to be able to analyse the data and use the results. The analyses listed above are easily produced and can also be generated by a trained ranger.

The success of the program led to it being adopted in all the national parks in Rwanda, in four parks in DRC and it is now being established in Burundi, Gabon, at all MIKE sites across Africa where the monitoring of the illegal killing of elephants takes place, and it is now being adopted in some countries in Asia such as Thailand and Cambodia.

WCS has more recently engaged other international NGOs to work together to create the next generation of software that will replace MIST in due course. Called SMART, this software will be open source and will aim to improve the analysis of ranger-collected data which is inherently biased and hence is difficult to analyse.

Conservation Challenges

Conservation Approach

Goals

Activities

Threats

Accomplishments

WCS was supported by the MacArthur Foundation to assess how global climate change was likely to affect the Albertine Rift region.  Anton Seimon and Guy Picton-Phillipps led this assessment and produced a couple of white papers and created a web site giving the results of this assessment.

In summary,  the findings of climate modeling  (white paper 1) up to the end of this century show that temperature is likely to increase relatively uniformly across the Albertine Rift and that rainfall will increase over much of the rift except in the south (southern half of Lake Tanganyika) where it will decrease.  Much of the predicted increase in rainfall (up to 17% increase by end of this century) will occur during the two wet seasons of the year that exist across most of the Albertine Rift , particularly during the September-November wet season. This is likely to increase the chances of flash-flooding and erosion.  By the end of the century global climate change will lead to a 3.6oC rise in temperature which would translate to a 600-720m displacement in altitude for most species that are thermally intolerant.  Crops that are traditionally grown in the region, beans, maize and pasture grasses for cattle, will likely not yield as much as they do now and there will be a need to select for more tolerant strains or change staple crops over time (White paper 2).

 

Conservation Challenges

Conservation Approach

Goals

Activities

Threats

Accomplishments

We have purchased automatic climate stations to be established in several of the protected areas in the Albertine Rift: Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi Impenetrable, Kahuzi Biega, Nyungwe, Gombe and Mahale Mountains National parks. These stations will record maximum and minimum temperatures, rainfall, humidity, sunshine hours and wind speed. Together with other automatric stations established in the region (notably in the Virunga Volcanoes and Rwenzoris) these will form a network of sites from which climate changes will be monitored.  We are liaising closely with national meteorological departments to ensure that these data flow into the national climate collection databases.

WCS has also established a monitoring program to assess how different species are adapting to climate change.
 
Plants
Working with the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi we established permanent alpine plant plots in the Rwenzori Mountains and on Mt Elgon in eastern Uganda as part of the global GLORIA program which is monitoring alpine flora and the effects of climate change. These are the first GLORIA plots in Africa. These plots will be monitored at regular intervals over time to assess changes in plant composition as climate changes.

We are also supporting the monitoring of flowering and fruiting at several research stations in the Albertine Rift as results from monitoring these sites to date show that many are showing major changes in plant phenology. For instance in Budongo Forest, phenology monitoring established by Andy Plumptre in 1992 and continued since then by the Budongo Conservation Field Station is showing about a 30% decline in fruiting by trees since the early 1990s. In Nyungwe Park a similar decline at the peak fruiting period is also occurring. Why these changes are happening is unknown and over the next few years we plan to look into this.

We are also using aerial photographs from the 1950s to map vegetation types on the Rwenzori massif and Virunga Volcanoes to compare with maps from detailed satellite imagery from the present time. The aim is to assess whether there is any movement of the main vegetation belts upslope over the past 50-60 years.

Amphibians
Amphibians are likely to be very sensitive to climate changes because of their need for water to breathe and reproduce.  We are working with Michele Menegon of the Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali in Italy to establish permanent monitoring plots along elevational gradients in the Albertine Rift region to monitor changes in amphibian fauna over time. To date we have established plots in Nyungwe and Kahuzi Biega National Parks and plan to establish others in Bwindi Impenetrable and Rwenzori Mountains in the near future. Michele is also undertaking genetic analyses of the amphibians collected in the region to improve the taxonomy and understanding of species richness of amphibians in the rift.

 

Conservation Challenges

Conservation Approach

Goals

Activities

Threats

Accomplishments

WCS’s history of work with mountain gorillas is long and distinguished. George Shaller was the first scientist to attempt to study this species in the wild and all scientists who followed him recognize the quality of this pioneering work. Bill Weber (previously Director of the WCS North America program) and Amy Vedder (previously Vice-President and Director of the Living Landscapes Program) were the first people to establish mountain gorilla tourism in Africa as a way of providing an economic incentive to halt the destruction of the forest.
 
Mountain gorillas only occur in two protected sites: the Virunga volcanoes and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. WCS has supported the monitoring of the Mountain Gorilla population in both the Virunga Volcanoes and Bwindi for many years. George Shaller estimated the population in Virunga Volcanoes to be about 450 in the late 1950s. This dropped to about 230 in the late 1970s and steadily built up to 320 in 1989 and 480 in 2006.


In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park WCS supported the first survey by George Shaller in 1960, followed by other surveys in the 1980s, 1997, 2002 and 2006. These showed a gradual increase in numbers from an estimate of 150 to 310.

The income generated by mountain gorilla tourism now funds conservation of these parks as well as other protected areas in the region and tourism in Uganda and Rwanda now earns more foreign currency than any other business for the country because of mountain gorilla tourism. This is a likely reason why this is the only ape to be increasing in numbers in the World. As a result there is less need for direct support for interventions for this species as the national protected area authorities are able to fund their conservation. Instead there is a need to support research, capacity building and monitoring of threats to their survival, including threats from tourism such as disease risks and effects on behaviour of the apes.

Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation

Currently WCS provides technical and financial support to the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, a research station linked to Mbarara University in Uganda which undertakes research for the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks. The types of research projects made there include:

  • A study of the impact of tourism on gorillas
  • A study of the ecology and ranging of the gorillas
  • Censuses of mountain gorillas in Bwindi and Virunga Volcanoes
  • An evaluation of conservation strategies in and around the parks.
  • Methods to reduce human-wildlife conflict
  • Monitoring of human use of the forest
  • The importance of edge effects on forest composition and human impacts.
  • Monitoring the impacts of climate change

Other Research

WCS has also supported research projects in and around the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda (part of the Virunga Volcanoes) to look at the extent of crop raiding and the impact of the civil war on large mammals in the park. In general the findings showed that buffalo, bushbuck and duiker numbers have declined or remained stable but are still reasonably healthy. The findings of the crop raiding study showed that stone walls are the most effective barriers to cropraiding animals where they are maintained but that most animals are coming out of gaps in the barriers which are used by local people to enter the park illegally.

In 2002 WCS worked with the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, and CARE Uganda to carry out a socioeconomic survey of the people living around Bwindi, Echuya Forest, Virunga Volcanoes and Nyungwe Forest. Understanding the behaviour and needs of the people in this region is deemed as important as understanding the ecology of the gorillas because it will help conservation agencies target their resources to help local people more effectively and thereby reduce the conflict they have with the parks.

More recently WCS has been supporting projects to reduce gorilla-people conflict in the Virunga National park in DRC where some gorillas have started moving several kilometers outside the park because of their level of habituation to people.

Conservation Challenges

Conservation Approach

Goals

Activities

Threats

Accomplishments

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