History of Budongo The BCFS was founded by Professor Vernon Reynolds in 1990. At that time it was called the Budongo Forest Project. Prof. Reynolds had first studied chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest in 1962 and written a book about […]
The BCFS was founded by Professor Vernon Reynolds in 1990. At that time it was called the Budongo Forest Project. Prof. Reynolds had first studied chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest in 1962 and written a book about the forest and its chimpanzees (Reynolds 1965).
During the 1970s and 1980s two major civil wars raged in Uganda, with a complete breakdown of law and order across the country. In 1988 Prof. Reynolds read a report in the New Vision, the main Ugandan newspaper, to the effect that chimpanzee infants were being captured in Budongo Forest, taken to Entebbe airport, and smuggled out to wealthy pet-owners in Dubai and other places. After a year seeking funds he returned to Uganda in March 1990 and, together with Chris Bakuneeta, who had recently obtained an MSc in Forestry at Makerere University, established a base at Budongo from which to discover whether there were still chimpanzees in the forest.
The result was positive. The Jane Goodall Institute made some initial funding available to Prof. Reynolds and this provided a salary for Chris and additional funds to employ six Trail Cutters to make a grid of trails in the forest, and six Field Assistants to go into the forest each day, find chimpanzees, and attempt to follow them, taking care to win their confidence and not alarm them. In those early days the chimpanzees were terrified of human beings and it was a long, slow process to habituate them. By 1995 however, the number of chimpanzees we had recognized and named had peaked at 50, and it remained stable at that figure until 2000 when, largely as a result of immigration, it started to rise again.
In 1991 Dr Andrew Plumptre joined the Budongo Forest Project as Co-director. Andy made a series of studies of the forest and its wildlife, many of which have subsequently been published. Funding for the project from 1991-1997 came from the ODA’s Forestry Research Programmer. In 1997 our funding source switched to NORAD, which was supporting forestry in Uganda through Makerere University. At the same time Dr Fred Babweteera (D.Phil Oxon) took over as Director of BFP.
From 1991 the project’s field site in the middle of the Budongo Forest started to take shape. The main houses we now occupy were initially built for the managers of the Budongo Sawmills Ltd, but the sawmill site was abandoned during the collapse of Uganda under Idi Amin and we were able to obtain two derelict houses. Renovation work was done during 1992 under the supervision of Dr Jake Reynolds with a team of six local builders. As a result we had two fine houses by the end of that year. The team also built 12 units of staff accommodation, new kitchens, washing and toilet facilities. All this work provided a fine base for staff and students, of whom we had an increasing number, to enter the forest along our trail system and make observations and studies of the forest and its wildlife. Our publications list began to grow and has continued to do so each year.
From 2005, our core funding has been provided by RZSS at Edinburgh Zoo, which continues to support us at the present time. We also receive funding from a variety of other sources (see Home page). Also in 2005 Prof. Klaus Zuberbuhler took over as our Scientific Director, with a particular focus on studies of primates. In 2007, largely thanks to the hard work of Dr Babweteera, the Budongo Forest Project achieved the status of a Ugandan NGO and was re-named the Budongo Conservation Field Station. Today, in addition to research, BCFS makes a considerable contribution to the life of the surrounding community in terms of conservation education and help for local schools, assistance towards secondary and higher education for staff children, support for small business initiatives, provision of veterinary services for livestock, and close liaison with local Government authorities. We are trying to conserve the Budongo Forest and its wildlife, notably the chimpanzees, from the many threats to its trees and its boundaries. We welcome researchers, students and volunteers from within Uganda and universities worldwide. From small beginnings, BCFS has achieved an international reputation as a centre of excellence for research and conservation in Uganda. This has not been achieved by any one individual but by the combined efforts of a very large number, working cooperatively together over the years since 1990.
Recognizing the severe threats to the forest and its species, the Budongo Forest Project (now Budongo Conservation Field Station) was founded in 1990 by Prof. Vernon Reynolds with a grant from Overseas Development Agency (now DFID). One early objective was to conduct research into the effects of logging on biodiversity. In addition, the local community of chimpanzees (named the Sonso community) was gradually habituated and has been under daily observation for almost 25 years making Budongo one among a few long-term chimpanzee research sites in Africa. More recently a second community has been habituated, providing interesting comparative studies. BCFS has long established itself as a leading research institution in Africa and has developed a number of linkages with key local and international conservation institutions.
Locally BCFS has worked closely with the School of Forestry, Environment, and Geographical Sciences at Makerere University in providing research and training facilities for the staff and students. Also, the National Forestry Authority (the custodian of Budongo Forest) use scientific information generated by BCFS researchers to make management decisions. We are also very thankful to the UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) and JGI-Uganda with whom we have worked closely on chimpanzee health monitoring, interventions and training of our Veterinarians.
Internationally BCFS has worked with major donors including Overseas Development Agency (UK), Norwegian Agency for International Development (Norway), National Geographic Society (USA), Oakland zoo (USA) and Conservation International (USA). Currently, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (UK) provides the core funding for BCFS. The funding from these institutions has enabled BCFS to establish itself as a key player in the long-term conservation of Budongo Forest.
The Budongo Forest is a moist, semi-deciduous tropical rain forest located at the top of the Albertine Rift, situated between 1° 37 N – 2° 03 N and 31° 22 – 31° 46 E. It is classified as a Central Forest Reserve and comprises 435 km² of continuous forest cover, which is large by Ugandan standards.
In addition there are numerous strips of riverine forest, perhaps some 100 km in total, forming arms of forest that stretch out into the surrounding areas, mainly sugar cane plantations and other cropland.
The forest is of a medium altitude (average 1,100m). The land slopes from southeast to northwest, and its four main rivers, the Waisoke, the Sonso, the Kamirambwa and the Siba, flow towards the northwest towards the Albertine Rift.
Annual rainfall varies between about 1200 and 2200 mm (average 1600 mm). Most rain falls between March and May and between September and November with a dry season between December and February. At this time, the daytime heat can be substantial, food supply is low, and chimpanzees spend much time on the forest floor in deep shade. In general, however, temperatures are relatively even during the year varying between 19°C and 32°C.
The nearest large town is Masindi, but much of the land around Budongo Forest is under cultivation with houses, villages, schools and markets. The Nyabyeya Forest College is nearby as is the Nyabyeya Trading Estate. To the west down the escarpment are Biso and Butiaba and the fishing villages along the beautiful Late Albert (now threatened with the ravages of oil extraction) and to the north is the Murchison Falls National Park.
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