Budongo during COVID-19 pandemic
April 21, 2020
With the number of COVID-19 infections increasing across the globe, the situation became more and more uncertain. It wasn’t long before the whole world was shaken and the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Although Uganda had not recorded any positive cases as of mid March 2020, we feared for the worst and braced ourselves for it. This involved drastic measures because we desperately needed to protect the chimpanzees alongside other primates in Budongo Forest.
Social distancing (one of the measures deemed to reduce the spread of COVID-19) did not only apply to our teams and researchers, we continued to strictly observe the seven meter distance rule during primate research. However, given the potential risk, primate research was suspended. All the student researchers and volunteers had to halt their research as they caught the next flight to travel back home in bid to keep safe. This was quite unusual but these were no usual circumstances either. Further on, all BCFS research projects were affected. BCFS long term tree phenology and primate research as well as the ornithology and herpetology long term studies were scaled down. A handful of research assistants continue to monitor the two chimpanzee communities for limited time periods. Wearing facial masks in the forest is now compulsory in addition to encamping (at the field station) all staff that are involved in the minimal ongoing monitoring work. This was to ensure minimal contact between the staff and the surrounding communities. All the other staff have been sent home on “leave” as we remain hopeful that COVID-19 shall soon be defeated and we return to normalcy. Our presence in the forest had to be minimized. The potential for trans-infections of zoonotic diseases between humans and wild primates has been and continues to be a major concern in primate conservation. But there was another challenge; the number of snares set in the forest alongside other illegal activity was on the rise thus endangering chimpanzees and other wildlife. This could be attributed to the crippled economic environment in the country at large. Many businesses and other sources of income in communities have been paralysed amidst the lockdown and curfew. This is in addition to other measures instituted by the Government of Uganda to try to curb the spread of the Corona Virus. Consequently, we have maintained the eco-guard team to traverse the forest in search for poaching equipment especially snares. All on going work is constantly under review and could be suspended if deemed to cause significant threat especially to the primates. This is important as we continue to aim towards conserving primates especially chimpanzees in Budongo Forest Reserve.
Follow the link for more details on the measures and practices important for preventing the spread of respiratory infections in the wild http://www.budongo.org/media/1310/bcfs-respiratory-outbreaks-prevention-protocols.pdf.
We at BCFS hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well during these difficult times. We remain hopeful that there will be happier times and brighter days ahead.
Jacintha N. Lwebuga
BCFS Communications Coordinator
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