After I earned my first degree in forestry at Makerere University, I had the idea of volunteering at the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) based in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Bwindi). I had heard lots about ITFC, and was motivated to join them. When the opportunity arose in 2008 I seized it with both hands. After volunteering for a year, ITFC received some new funding from the TEAM Network of Conservation International (CI) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). This meant that new jobs became available, for which I applied. I felt like I had proved myself, and hoped that the directors had seen my potential through my hard work and reliability – which they must have because I was given the job!
For three years now, I have worked as the Bwindi TEAM Network site manager. Bwindi is a 321 km2 national park located in the Southwest Uganda. TEAM is a global network of field sites that monitors the numbers and variety of plants and ground dwelling animals throughout the tropics, in relation to climate change. TEAM is currently implemented in sixteen forests around the world. Being part of this global initiative, I have been lucky to take part in very fascinating activities, including setting up automatic cameras (camera traps) inside the forest to record images of ground dwelling animals. I have also established six, 1-ha plots in the forest for vegetation monitoring and set up, maintained and collected monthly weather data from the automated climate station.
I have learned a lot in these three enjoyable and exciting years with TEAM. One of the major interesting aspects of what I do is contributing to a global cause. The problems affecting tropical ecosystems occur on too large (global) a scale to be explained by observations from a single forest. Such problems (e.g. climate change) are global threats to life (plants and animals), which need to be addressed using a global approach. This is exactly what TEAM is doing. My being part of TEAM has given me an opportunity to contribute to solving world problems. This way, my work goes beyond generating large yearly data sets, but goes an extra mile to produce data sets that can be used to influence conservation decisions and actions, not only in Bwindi but across the tropics.
Like with all biological work, there have been hurdles to cross on many days of the fieldwork, particularly climbing hills (some so steep that you have to crawl up, rather than walk!) in thick bush of stinging nettles and thorny herbs and sleeping in tents during cold nights. We have to cross swamps and rivers to reach some of our locations, which is very worrying and it is always a huge relief to reach the other side! We also had a tree collapse on a tent while camping in the forest—very scary! Though these activities are tough to implement, the results are worth every effort. It is so thrilling looking through over 30,000 camera trap images, and identifying each and every animal. The images reveal surprises ranging from beautiful portraits of curious chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, feeding elephants and hunting wild cats to birds, small mice and squirrels. Nothing can make a job more fun and exciting than seeing animals no one has physically seen or recorded in Bwindi.
A typical workday for me at ITFC consists of organizing, implementing and reporting on different kinds of TEAM activities. During field days, I often lead a team of 8-13 people and I must control the quality of their work. Communication between people is a key part of my job. I like to “make things happen.” In my spare time, I like to read more about TEAM, and many other biological subjects.
I love the fact that lots of my work is hands-on. I had not had experience working on plots, camera traps or even weather data before, and I find it very enjoyable. It is also great to realize how I am gaining experience each day in communicating information as well as in management. My work with TEAM has taught me that biology is far more than just trees and animals. It is also about identifying and understanding threats and trends in our environment to aid their conservation.