The Diary of a Muzungu’s latest – From the Edge of Kibale Forest


(Posted 31st July 2020)

In the sixth of a series, Charlotte Beauvoisin shares some of her #LockdownDiaries from Kibale Forest in Western Uganda.

No. 1 Cabbage patch inspiration

No. 2 I had been wondering where the elephants are

No. 3 Locked down and locked IN with elephants

No. 4 Exactly how fast can you run?

No. 5 Bingeing on the great outdoors

In the first stories in this series, we walked along the edge of Kibale National Park with Charlotte as she recounted her daily sightings of birds and wildlife. This week she discusses some of the local conservation issues.

This week I had my first meeting in four months. It was wonderful to have a purpose to my day. The subject of our meeting was bees, elephants and humans!

Although there is evidence that virus transmission rates are low when you’re outdoors, we decided not to take any risks. Here in the village, people are very relaxed about social distancing and the wearing of masks. However, in time we will be encouraging visitors from Kampala – and beyond – so we take our responsibilities seriously. However, wearing a mask and talking (while heavy rain is battering the tin roof above you) is not all that easy, I tell you!

George Owoyesigire is Director of Community Conservation at the Uganda Wildlife Authority and hails from the nearby town of Bigodi. We met at the Village Bird Club, a small shelter next to the elephant trench that borders Kibale National Park, in walking distance from my home.

I wanted to catch up with George to learn more about UWA’s beekeeping project. You can never entirely solve human wildlife conflict, so the challenge is to try new and complementary methods.

Through the National Geographic-funded “Beekeeping for human elephant conflict mitigation and rural income enhancement project” UWA distributed 500 hives to five community groups in the Kibale area.

A survey commissioned by Owoyesigire’s department confirms that crop raiding animals are the biggest challenge to villagers living on the edge of Kibale National Park. The study shows that maize – the most widely grown crop – is the most vulnerable to crop raiding. (On my morning walks I regularly see maize husks discarded by baboons). Cassava and beans are also popular with baboons, elephants and monkeys. Oh yum!

How the beehives work

It’s well-documented that elephants will avoid bees (you wouldn’t want a bee sting inside your trunk, would you?) Wooden beehives are hung along a metal wire next to the elephant trench to add extra protection to the farmer and his crops. If an elephant pushes hard against this ‘beehive fence’, they may upset the bees. The fence therefore serves as a physical barrier – and one with attitude – if the bees are disturbed. An added benefit to the farmers is that they can harvest honey. Here in the village, there are few job opportunities so the extra income is precious.

Uganda can’t produce enough honey to meet market demand. In fact, did you know that in Kampala, jerry cans of honey are watered down? Unscrupulous vendors have been known to throw a handful of dead bees in to make the honey look authentic!

Back to the survey and George Owoyesigire explained that over half of the survey respondents said that crop raiding has decreased thanks to the beehives.

It was good to hear that people surveyed strongly agreed that beekeeping:

· has become a source of income to the community (82.7%)

· has transformed communities previously involved in unsustainable resource harvesting such as poaching (70.2%)

· has facilitated community participation in conservation and park protection programmes (70.2%)

· has facilitated enhanced protection of elephants and the park (along the park boundary) (76.0%)

· has reduced human-elephant conflict (80.8%)

· has increased the collaboration of UWA and local people (82.7%)

The additional income from honey was the most welcome benefit. This is great news for the villagers – and for conservation – as Uganda Wildlife Authority is directly improving the livelihoods of people who feel the full force of destructive wildlife. Owoyesigire’s passion for helping the community is palpable. Next, he and his team will be at the forefront of implementing the long-awaited crop raiding compensation scheme for farmers. There are no easy answers to managing wildlife or addressing poverty in the villages. However these are small, positive steps.

What is the Village Bird Club?

The Sunday Village Bird Club became instantly popular with local children when it was launched two years ago by local NGO In the Shadow of Chimpanzees. The hope is that the children appreciate nature and learn to conserve it. Who knows which of them will become rangers or guides one day? It’s a shame that they can’t be out birding now but hopefully Village Bird Club will be relaunched very soon.

Human wildlife conflict is a subject dear to my heart since my days with the Uganda Conservation Foundation. It’s very humbling to now live on the edge of a National Park where our neighbours have this daily battle.

If you enjoyed this story, look out for the next one in this series, exclusively here on ATCNews, written by Charlotte Beauvoisin.

Charlotte is best known for her blog Diary of a Muzungu. She is a travel writer, influencer, marketing manager and trainer. She lives at Sunbird Hill on the edge of Kibale National Park.