In Africa there is always room for a little bit more….our 2 cyclist finally reach Bwindi.

4 Jul

An ” overloaded truck ” drives past Murray Baumont in Uganda….In Africa any load is possible !

After leaving Johannesburg on 2 February Alex Antrobus and Murray Baumont , who have now cycled more than 6000 km , finally arrived at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, home to the elusive and threatened Shelley’s crimsonwing finch.

This is what Alex and Murray had to say about their final stretch to the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation ( ITFC ) in Ruhija, the ITFC are the valued ground partners to the RFCG. Ruhija is a very small village based on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest .

” It was a great relief to arrive in Uganda, where people once again drive on the right (meaning left) side of the road. Well, at least they’re supposed to. We also noticed that police and traffic officers were dressed in a combination of blue/grey/white camouflage and crisp white uniforms respectively. For a place where the only snow seen in the last several million years is on top of the Ruwenzori or Mount Elgon (where we assume crime rates are fairly low) we thought these uniforms a little queer.

From Lake Bunyoni to Ruhija, near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, all we did was climb. climb, climb and climb again. And maybe cry, a little. Who would’ve thought that, when cycling into an “Impenetrable Forest” it’s not the forest that’s the problem. It’s the mountain the forest is sitting on! The road to Ruhija passes through a short section of the forest. It is an absolutely incredible experience moving through this ancient ecosystem. We felt like T-rex or at least a pterodactyl would pop out from behind a tree at any moment, but all we saw were monkeys, a black-faced duiker and LOTS and LOTS of birds.

Our reason for visiting Ruhija was an invitation from another South African based organisation which is trying to do something special for our continent. The Rare Finch Conservation Group (RFCG) was founded by a group of South Africans, and an Australian, with the intention of identifying and conserving  one of the world’s most endangered and rare finch species. They’re currently focusing on the elusive and threatened Shelley’s crimson-wing finch, a pretty little bird about which we know almost nothing. The Shelley’s is endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley, a very narrow stretch of the continent from northern Rwanda through southern Uganda. Furthermore, it is an Afro-montane specialist, depending on these fairly high and cold altitudes (and now extremely fragmented) forests for its survival. Luckily the threatened long-haired mountain gorillas ( made famous by Diane Fossey and later popularised in the classic movie ” Gorillas in the Mist” ) share this specialised habitat dependence and so their fame has helped conserve the last few pockets of forest. Still, hardly anyone has seen a Shelley’s crimson-wing finch! In the past 10-odd years, only three or four sightings have been reported and only one photograph is currently available on the Shelley’s ! This is despite the numerous bird enthusiasts who visit these areas and the gorilla trekking that happens alongside.

Murray and Alex at the gate to the Impenetrable Forest in south-west Uganda

World’s only known photograph of the Shelley’s crimsonwing. Visual courtesy http://www.gorilla.org

So the RFCG have been working with the Ruhija based Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) to try to find some Shelley’s and establish how many there are, why they’re so rare and if they’re getting rarer! The ITFC consists of a great group of people who facilitate all sorts of research in Bwindi. Their deputy director, Miriam van Heist, welcomed us warmly and showed us around the institute, explaining the wide range of work they do on everything from gorilla conservation work to weather and carbon monitoring, to developing sustainable models for harvesting rights within the forest and support for local communities. One example is the Batwa, an ethnic group of pygmy people who inhabited these forests for hundreds of years. Having been displaced by the declaration of the National Parks, the ITFC is helping them conserve their cultural heritage, historic knowledge of medicinal plants and their ties with places of spiritual importance located within the forest. For more info on the Bwindi forest conservation, the projects that they do and volunteering, visit the ITFC blog at http://www.bwindiresearchers.wildlifedirect.org.”

The RFCG would publicly like to thank Alex and Murray for helping to raise the awareness of the RFCG and the work that we do . For more info on their exciting trip visit their website at www.amanziawethu.org.

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