Shelley now needs our help

2 Nov

Drawings of Mountain Gorillas done by young orphaned children at Buhoma village in Uganda which is where the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Head office is based. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Conservation work is not about lofty ideals coming from an ivory tower or simply being an arm-chair critic. It’s all about working with and understanding why a particular species maybe threatened in a certain area and then very importantly engaging with the local community and its culture. Life for those communities living on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable forest ( which as we know is home to the threatened and elusive Shelley’s crimsonwing ) is not easy. Many children have sadly been orphaned from parents dying of HIV/ Aids.

Orphaned children in Buhoma entertaining tourists to help raise some much-needed money. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Fortunately the orphaned children living at Buhoma village have been taught not to beg, but to rather have some self-pride and raise money by using their talents in the world of art, music and dance to entertain eco tourists that now visit Bwindi to do Gorilla trekking and birding activities. Most of the locals living around the forest are subsistence farmers. For many witchcraft is still very much a way of life. Living next to the tropical rain forest means that virtually anything they may wish to plant will grow. So the conflict of interests between man and wildlife over land usage is a reality that cannot be ignored. Locals for centuries have used the forest as a valuable source for building materials, food and traditional medicines etc. All this activity has led to an ever shrinking forest and a dramatic loss of habitat for the worlds last remaining Mountain Gorillas, not to mention other living species such as the Shelley’s crimsonwing that may have been affected by it.

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on the left. And a crop of tea planted on the outside of the forest. Mountain Gorilla’s don’t enjoy tea as part of their diet.

The locals often viewed Mountain Gorillas as a threat to their livelihood  On many occasions the gorillas would come out of the forest and raid the valuable life-sustaining crops. Needless to say retribution was  a reality. Today thanks to the outstanding educational work done by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority ( UWA ) and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP ) local village people now realise the value of mountain Gorillas as a sustainable eco tourist resource. The locals were taught that Mountain Gorillas don’t enjoy tea leaves as part of their diet and so today one can see more and more tea crops planted on the edge of the forest. Social upliftment is beginning to happen. A percentage of all Gorilla trekking permits sold is used to build much-needed clinics and schools in the area. Literacy levels are improving and slowly jobs are being created to support the growing influx of gorilla trekkers and birders. Bwindi which is only 332 sq kilometres in size has more than 350 bird species ( 43 are finch species )

UWA Warden of Tourism Godfrey Balyesiima and RFCG birdguide and field manager Benson Bumatura in front of a Shelley’s finch educational poster. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The Rare Finch Conservation Group, with the in valuable support of its ground partner the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC ), has now completed two field studies ( the second study was  a 12 month study period ) in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and sadly no Shelley’s crimsonwings were netted or seen during that period. The good news however is that the bird has now been sighted on 3 separate occasions in the Ruhija area and local awareness, on the rarity of the species, has grown significantly. Educational posters have been put up at park offices, tourist lodges and at the ITFC in Ruhija. Benson Bamutura, the RFCG field manager and bird guide has been upskilled and today is  highly qualified. The RFCG recently completed its first successful fund raising EcoTour to the area and the UWA have introduced a 4 hour Shelley’s finch birding hike. The UWA charge 50 US$ per person for a permit to do the hike, which includes a bird guide and an armed ranger. The trail is well supported by international birders and now provides a valuable fund raiser and employment opportunity for locals.

The RFCG is currently raising funds to support a third field study, which will  include field work in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park as well as the Rwenzori Mountain Park. All 3 parks are high altitude parks in Uganda. If you would like to become a donor, sponsor or participate in one of our exciting planned fund-raising EcoTours then please contact Russell Kingston at indruss@bigpond.com or Eelco Meyjes at editor@avitalk.co.za. The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered as a non-profit organisation

Hopefully one day we will see young children in the area drawing the threatened Shelley’s finch, which has now become one of Africa’s rarest finches

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

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