Chimpanzee conservation in Rwenzori in Uganda

Innocent Kiiza

The consequences are stark. Chimpanzee populations in Mt. Rwenzori National Park. Uganda over the past few decades have been endangered, facing a near-universal decline – vanished, killed by disease, or poachers.

The once-vibrant chorus of the forest is now a haunting echo, a reminder of the delicate balance that has been disrupted. A key aspect of the chimpanzees in Rwenzori is the totem of the Abthangi clan one of the major clans in Rwenzori following Abahiira, Abakiira, and Abahambu. Some of the apes targeted by poachers include chimpanzees, monkeys, blue monkeys, Angola colobus monkeys, and black-and-white colobus monkeys. These apes are in insatiable demand for bush meat.

Joseph Mhugheki

Joseph Mbugheki, a resident of Kyondo and an ex-poacher, revealed that he was introduced to poaching by his father and grandfather in the late 1990s.

 Bush Meat Demand and Poaching Practices

They hunted for money and consumption. Bushmeat, like hyrax meat, was considered healthy for their bodies because it had no bladder on its liver, and they believed it was beneficial for genetic building.

Mbugheki explained that skins of apes like the red monkey were used to make local bags, which could carry matchboxes, knives, and other items during poaching. However, chimpanzees were spared from being hunted because they were considered a totem to relatives. It was taboo to kill them, as it was believed that those of the same totem who consumed their blood and meat would develop scabies.

Michael Kyalihe

Michael Kyalihe, a 48-year-old ex-poacher, said that the love for bush meat was inherited. They believed that consuming the meat of wildlife apes would grant them a long life on Earth. He confirmed that those who consumed bush meat were less prone to sickness compared to those who ate fish or cow meat.

Remegio Thembo, a tour guide, lamented that due to poaching, chimpanzees are no longer seen, and their ecosystem has been tampered with. Indigenous trees in forests that provide friendly habitats for chimpanzees have been destroyed and replaced with exotic trees.

The 2018 Uganda Wildlife Trafficking Assessment report produced by TRAFFIC indicates that with the recent increase in wildlife crime, more than half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, 50% of African bird species, almost 40% of mammal species, and 19% of Africa’s amphibian species in Uganda are at risk.

Hunted chimpanzee meat on display for sale

According to the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, a non-governmental organization advocating for the conservation of great apes like chimpanzees, the extent to which communities actively engage in conservation, especially of great apes, is not established. Exposures to diverse cultures and influences from non-indigenous religions, multicultural communities, and rural-urban migration have impacted the transmission of indigenous knowledge about the value of nature and its conservation from a cultural perspective.

While culture has eroded in some respects, cultural identity remains crucial for communities linked to their social organization. The Bukonzo people’s reverence for nature is evident, viewing the chimpanzee as a symbol of strength and intelligence, a creature to be respected and protected.


Milton Bakulirahi, a clan leader of Batangyi, highlights the Ekibanda clan’s dedication to chimpanzee preservation, safeguarding a vast natural forest in Nsenyi on the Kisinga sub-country. However, intermarriages with neighbouring communities have introduced new cultural influences, distorting tradition and making the revered ape a target.

JuliouJuliuss Kaganda, clan leader of Batangyi in Bunyangabu district, established an organization to care for chimpanzees, conserving habitats for generations. According to Frederick Nsibambi, Deputy Executive Director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda, sustainable wildlife conservation practices require the integration of cultural values, practices, and indigenous knowledge in contemporary wildlife management.

Hangi Bashir of the Uganda Wildlife Authority acknowledges that wildlife crime, especially poaching and trafficking, remains a significant obstacle to conservation in Uganda. UWA has promulgated laws prohibiting bush meat consumption, but the practice persists. Livelihood interventions such as apiary, piggery, poultry, and cattle/goat rearing are provided to ex-poachers in communities neighbouring protected areas.

“Conservation efforts are crucial, as poaching threatens wildlife, including chimpanzees, in the Rwenzori region. Cultural perspectives on conservation and love for bush meat pose challenges, necessitating regional coordination in the fight against wildlife crime,” Bashir said.

Kule Walyuba, a conservation expert, emphasizes the need for community sensitization to combat wildlife crime.

“The conservation areas neighbour communities. These are the people who directly benefit from these resources, but also they are usually the local points of contact in the poaching and trafficking,” Walyuba noted.  Ericana Baluku, Minister for Culture and Tourism in Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu, stresses the importance of conserving wildlife for current and future generations.

“We must conserve for today and tomorrow,” poaching is threatening millions of precious wildlife species like chimpanzees are at risk of extinction if the current poaching levels are unabated,” Baluku said Remegio Thembo, a tour guide, expresses concerns about the impact of cultural perspectives on chimpanzee conservation and bush meat consumption on the tourism sector.

UWA and cultural institutions must collaborate to sensitize people on the importance of conserving wildlife. Strict enforcement of wildlife laws, increased security presence at local levels, and empowering ex-poachers are suggested measures.

Fredrick Nsibambi emphasizes the collective responsibility of the current generation to future generations in successful wildlife conservation.

“It is the duty of every Ugandan, every leader, every national, civic society, sub country and district unit to protect wildlife; provide information on poaching groups and contribute to wildlife conservation. It is much easier and more affordable to protect the animals we have than replacing them when they are gone,” Nsibambi said.

The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda supports initiatives for chimpanzee conservation, promoting the utilization of community and cultural resources.

Addressing the cultural perspectives on chimpanzee conservation and the challenge of bush meat consumption requires a multi-faceted approach involving community sensitization, law enforcement, and collaboration between government agencies and cultural institutions. Conservation efforts are not only essential for preserving unique species but also for the sustainable development of the region.


Africa Change Stories platform is established to tell African stories which are empowering and are at variant to stereotypical views of wars, famine, diseases. At African Change Stories, we believe narrative and angle matters. So we responsibly tell stories ethically. The platform therefore pushes forward great and energizing stories which will propel its people to consciously strive to do more. You have a story?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top