Deforestation threatening Uganda's apes

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New Vision, Paris

Deforestation and industrial agriculture are threatening the future of the humanity's closest animal relatives– the apes.

This is according to the new State of the Apes book launched at the Global Landscapes Forum at the ongoing Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. It explores the impact of industrial agriculture on ape conservation in the world.  

The fresh book by Arcus Foundation is a second volume. The first volume published in 2013 focused on the impact of extractive industries on ape conservation.

It contains research, analysis, case studies, and best practices recorded from a range of key stakeholders worldwide relating to the interface between ape conservation and industrial agriculture.

Apes are primates characterized by long arms, a broad chest and no tail. They include chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons among others.

In Uganda, the new book explores the effects of tobacco and sugarcane farming in and around Bulindi, in Midwest. It focuses on Budongo and Bugoma forest reserves. The two forests are a home to over 1000 eastern chimpanzees in Uganda.

The book calls for an end to soaring cases of forest clearing to pave way for the commercial growing of tobacco and sugar cane.

"Unless upward trends in forest clearance and interactions between people and apes are reversed, survival aspects for the chimpanzees are bleak," the book insists.

Deforestation has cost Uganda nearly two-thirds of its forests in the last 15 years.

In an interview with New Vision at the launch of this book, Dr. Helga Rainer, the Director of Conservation Great Apes Program stressed the need for striking a balance between economic growth, and conservation to benefit people and wildlife.

"We need to develop economically but we also need to protect our environment. But often the two are in conflict. Concerted efforts are required on several fronts to protect apes and their habitats," Rainer noted.

Rainer acknowledges the importance of industrial agriculture in development of communities but insists that this should be on the inhabitants.

"There is a need for land-use planning that considers key habitats," she stresses. 

The book brands tobacco growing as an aggressive driver of deforestation stressing that it requires virgin soils which forces farmers to resort to forest land. Tobacco also needs large amounts of wood for curing and construction of drying barns which means cutting down of forests which are habitants for these chimpanzees.

The other threat to the future of chimpanzees in the region is the growing of sugar cane in Masindi which is blamed for forcing some farmers to clear forests to pave way for planting.

According to the book, the clearance of forest lands is increasing interactions between human beings leading to illegal hunting and other pressures on these wild animals.