MEET JENNY. Jenny is a twelve year old female chimpanzee, born in the Bulindi group of chimpanzees in Uganda’s Hoima District. Less than a week after her mother Joyce died after being injured by a farmer’s trap, Jenny left Bulindi and went on a remarkable adventure. It is common for adolescent female chimps to leave their natal group and emigrate to a neighbouring group when they are between nine and 14 years old. This avoids them breeding with fathers, uncles or brothers, and helps maintain a healthy gene pool. But as the riverine forest corridors are fast-disappearing – cut down for timber and farming – how will Hoima's female chimpanzees find neighbouring groups?
Following Jenny’s disappearance from Bulindi in April 2018, BCCP received intermittent reports of her whereabouts as she travelled south through various villages, searching for other chimpanzees. The local human communities in these areas were less used to seeing chimpanzees than villagers in Bulindi, and Jenny’s wanderings caused some alarm. We visited the communities and also put out radio announcements to explain about the ‘lost’ female chimp seen roaming near villages and trading centres, crossing roads, and helping herself to villagers’ jackfruits, mangos and sugarcane.
Sadly, after 10 months of searching Jenny has still not found another group of chimpanzees! The nearest groups of chimps range 10 kilometres to the north and west of Bulindi, across busy roads and an agricultural landscape with little cover. Instead, Jenny has followed a system of swamps and streams that flow in the wrong direction: to the south, where there are no nearby chimpanzee groups. Shortly before last Christmas she even found herself in Kinubi, – a densely human-populated and urban area on the outskirts of Hoima Town!
While it’s a relief to know Jenny’s still alive, the human-dominated matrix outside Bulindi is extremely dangerous for wandering chimps, with threats including dogs, speeding cars (two chimpanzees have been killed by speeding vehicles on Hoima roads since 2015) and villagers not used to chimpanzees. Chimpanzees can also be caught in steel traps and snares set by farmers to protect their crops. Moreover, chimpanzees are intensely social animals and Jenny can’t stay alone for much longer. We can only imagine how Jenny feels, having not seen or heard another chimp in over 10 months. We hope that Jenny successfully finds other chimpanzees soon or else returns safely to Bulindi. In the meantime, we’ll keep monitoring her movements and sensitizing the local communities.
ABOUT CHIMPANZEES IN HOIMA:
In Uganda’s Hoima District a population of about 300 wild chimpanzees inhabit shrinking forest fragments on local people’s land. The loss of these unprotected forests threatens the immediate survival of the resident chimpanzees.
Despite their unprotected status, Hoima’s small degraded forests have strong conservation value as a ‘corridor’ linking chimpanzee and other wildlife populations in two protected areas (Budongo and Bugoma Forest Reserves, separated by 50 km). The ‘Hoima corridor’ was identified as a “chimpanzee conservation unit” in the IUCN-commissioned 2010–2020 Conservation Action Plan for eastern chimpanzees (link: https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2010-023.pdf)
ABOUT THE BULINDI CHIMPANZEE & COMMUNITY PROJECT (BCCP):
BCCP was established to conserve the highly threatened wild chimpanzees living in unprotected, disappearing habitat alongside rural farmers in Hoima, and to identify appropriate mechanisms to aid sustainable human–chimpanzee coexistence outside of protected areas.
Because conservation of Hoima’s chimpanzees is ultimately in the hands of the local people living alongside them, BCCP's approach is to identify and address constraints faced by villagers and offer support in key areas. Thus, BCCP conserve chimpanzees and forests primarily by helping local people. BCCP provide them with alternatives to deforestation, invest in their children’s education, support alternative livelihoods, and help to improve their quality of life (for example, through provision of village boreholes and energy stoves). Additionally, BCCP monitor the local chimpanzee populations and work to promote greater local tolerance of, and understanding about, chimpanzees.
Visit Bulindi Chimpanzee & Community Project at their website (BulindiChimpanzees.co.uk) and Facebook page, and watch for future updates.