As we depart Kibale after our final day in the forest we are loaded down with over 1,500 fecal samples from 6 different species across the 795 km2 moist, mid-altitude forest in the western part of Uganda. We have encountered all the diurnal primates (i.e., those that are active during the day) in the park and spanned pristine old growth forest as well as young regenerating forest. We have relied on the help of countless park rangers, the strong team of field assistants that make research in Kibale possible, the goodness of random strangers as well as the support of many colleagues. We have used funding from the Explorer Club’s Eddie Bauer Youth Grant, the National Science Foundation, The Canadian Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We worked closely with the Uganda Wildlife Authority who granted permission to conduct this research and who maintain and manage the park. In particular, without the help of Dr. Patrick Omeja and Dr. Dennis Twinomugisha, both in the field and behind the scenes, not nearly so much work would have gotten done.
The central idea of our research is that understanding the effects of environmental change on natural populations is critical for making informed conservation efforts. The climate of Kibale National Park is changing; Kibale receives ~300 mm more rainfall per year than it did at the start of the 20th century, there are less frequent droughts, an earlier onset of the rainy season, and a 4.48°C increase in average maximum monthly temperature over the last 40 years. In a few months we will have analyzed these 1,500 samples and will be able to understand a piece of the puzzle and what the effects of these changes are on the primates of the park. By incorporating disease information into a spatial epidemiology analysis, will enable us to understand the environmental and behavioral factors that predict primate diseases across the landscape. We hope to get a sense of where the areas of risk for disease emergence are as well as the environmental and human factors responsible for this elevated disease risk. Ultimately we hope this research will inform conservation initiatives and allow for better management of the park, not only for the primates living within its borders but also the people who live around the park.
As I am heading back to the lab to analyze samples and continue working towards my Ph.D, I would like to offer a thousand thanks (or in Rutooro: Webale Mono!) to all those who made this project possible and who made this expedition such a great success.
If you would like to contribute to conservation efforts in Kibale and Uganda, I recommend the Kibale Health and Conservation Clinic, a small clinic inside the boundaries of Kibale National Park. The purpose of the clinic is twofold, first to provide much needed medical care and treatment to a region in desperate need. The life expectancy here is only 45 years of age and over 30 percent of deaths among young children are caused by malaria, which can be easily prevented. The second major goal is to improve relations between the National Park and the villagers living around it, hopefully aiding in conservation and creating the foundation for a lasting and sustainable relationship. Unlike many charities, the clinic has no overhead costs; every single penny goes to the people in Uganda who need your help by providing medical supplies, bringing a nurse to the clinic, and promoting education initiatives on the ground. Every little bit helps and a little goes a long way in Uganda; for example fifty dollars can pay the school fees of a small child, enabling a child that would otherwise not be able to attend a school to have the benefits of a formal education. Please contact me or Dr. Colin Chapman if you are interested in paying school fees or contributing to the clinic.
Thanks to all of you for reading and feel free to get in contact if you have any comments, suggestions or ideas.