Honors Summer Adventures: Life in a Ugandan Forest

by Stephen Todey

My name is Stephen Todey and I’m about to start my senior year at Iowa State. I’m majoring in Global Resource Systems and Chemistry, and this summer I interned at the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda with a friend from Globe. While there, I worked on a project called Alternative Livelihoods for Forest Dependent Communities, which targeted villages located around the forest and provided beneficiaries money for goats or onions to reduce their dependence on the forest. Many of the people targeted were ex-hunters, so this protects wildlife in the forest, especially the chimpanzees who can be maimed by snares set by hunters.

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The most exciting days, however, were the days I was able to go chimpanzee tracking. There are two different communities of chimps – Sonso and Waibira. Sonso habituation (the process or getting chimpanzees used to the presence of humans) began in September of 1990. It normally takes 10 years to habituate populations, so the Sonso chimps are very comfortable around humans. You’re supposed to stay 7m (~23 feet) away from the chimps at all times for various reasons, like prevention of disease transmission. However, the chimps don’t know this, and at times, I would almost step on a chimp because they’d just pop up out of the brush. We were following a group who were patrolling the boundary of their territory, and at one point, my friend and I were stopped. We happened to turn around, and a couple of feet behind us a chimp was staring up at us, waiting for us to move on so she could follow the others. Of all times not to have a camera out… Later, Zig, a one-eyed chimp notoriously comfortable around humans, passed within a couple of inches of my friend and sat a few feet from me to eat some fruit. What amazed me the most, though, is how comfortable the mothers were with their infants around humans. While the mothers and infants would stay a little further away than chimps like Zig, they still would get very close to you.

I just returned to the United States last Sunday, and it is nice to be back. I miss the chimps, but I made some amazing memories. Below are some pictures I was in Uganda.

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