Next to the school compound TECO Munteme borders on a large area of indigenous forest of approximately 350 hectare as well as almost 150 hectare of open bush and grassland. At the end of the 1980´s TECO was able to secure a 49-year lease on these areas. The land was measured and the lease secured. The importance of the forest for the school’s future was recognised despite the fact that the amount of valuable timber was very low at that time. We can thank Seezi Mugisa, a longstanding member of staff, for his dedication to prevent all attempts of encroachment but also the execution of many trials of nursing native tree seedlings to look after the work in the forest. Without him the forest would no doubt have been cut down and the land turned into agricultural land.
Fauna and Flora
At the beginning, the primates living in the forest were a grave nuisance. Especially the great number of baboons, which raided and destroyed the fields of the school and neighboring farmers on a regular basis. Neither guards nor fences could stop these very intelligent animals from intruding. Chimpanzees were rather rare and very shy guests at that time. The very nosy black and white colobus monkeys and the vervet monkeys however came up to the houses. Mangabees and red-tailed monkeys kept hidden in the canopy and were hardly seen. Until the 1980´s large areas of virgin forest still existed in the area alongside rivers and streams. The Itohya forest supports a huge variety of birds and insects, which live from it and nowadays help to secure its future.
The large bio-diversity of the forest is cited in various publications. Even though Uganda is well known for its abundance of species the Itohya appears to be a very important `bio-diversity hotspot` with its great variety of trees, bushes and shrubs. In addition it acts as a very important water reservoir with all of its branching rivers and swamps and its groundwater supply.
Pressure on the Forest
Increasing population levels in the area lead to more and more indigenous forest and bush being cleared for farming purposes. Remaining forests like the Itohya also suffered greatly from illegal logging. As a result, the still largely intact Itohya forest became a refuge for primates, birds and numerous other animals. In turn this development attracted illegal hunters and trappers with all of its consequences.
In 2007, due to the negotiations of Raphael Eribankia and some fortunate circumstances, the Ugandan organisation CSWCT (Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, known as The Chimpanzee Trust) became involved. An agreement, the `Memorandum of Understanding` was drawn up which was renewed in 2013 and is still valid today. The aim of this memorandum is the protection of the primates and other wildlife by preserving the forest in its original size and maintaining the animals’ habitat. Numerous surveys describe this area as a particular `hotspot of bio-diversity` in flora and fauna.
Reforestation of timber
In the late 1980´s and early 1990´s an intensive effort was made to increase the variety of indigenous trees through replanting and the cultivation of seedlings as well as care and maintenance.
In addition to this the school set aside some of the bushland to cultivate fast growing trees to be used for building, firewood and commercial sale. Some of these trees have reached a considerable size by now although a lot of them have already been harvested.
The bushland in the west of the forest has been completely cleared by tenant-farmers. They have now been asked to hand back their land to be reforested, when it came to light that their use of the land had no legal grounding.
To protect the primates from being displaced and hunted as well as to study their migration patterns, the Chimpanzee Trust opened an observation post. Students and student apprentices of the Jane Goodall Foundation and Makerere University are regularly on site to count and observe the primates.
The Chimpanzee Trust is running and looking after various projects in the surrounding area. The aim is to increase the acceptance for coexistence with the primates in the local population as well as to compensate for the loss of hunting grounds and sources of firewood. This input is of upmost importance if there is to be a shift of paradigm in the local communities surrounding the forest. The forest should not be conceived as a threat or self-service shop but a unique chance for new areas of employment and sources of income such as eco-tourism, learning opportunities and specialised agricultural products. Above all the message to be conveyed is that the future of the forest is important for the future of people and animals alike.
Friends of TECO support these activities strongly. The Itohya forest is a key element in the continuity and survival of the school, not least because the clearing of forests in this part of Uganda is carrying on at a large scale.