Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Visit to a Chimp Sanctuary


After six days of Internet-free life we are back in circulation. I am writing this from the solar-powered office of Dr. Lawrence Mugisha, who is chief veterinarian and sanctuary manager at Ngamba Island, where forty-five chimpanzees rescued from poachers live out their artificial lives. Here are two of the group next to an artificial termite mound

It is a chilling thought that almost all of these chimps are by-products of the bushmeat trade, as are all the other in the several sanctuaries scattered across Africa from Senegal to Johannesburg in the Pan African Sanctuary Association.

This morning our students have been afforded the privilege of working on health-checks of chimps during the routine annual health-checks of the group.

Lawrence and his team do a thorough work-up and most important they make sure that each adult female has retained her birth-control implant. The island, about a two-hour boat ride from Entebbe, is only one square kilometre in area, which is about enough for one chimp, so the animals have to be intensively managed and their entire food supply comes from their four daily feedings supplied by the dedicated staff.

We were, through the generosity of Pfizer Animal Health and the Canadian branch of Vets Without Borders/ Vétérinarians Sans Frontieres some of the essential supplies and pharmaceuticals that are needed to help make this program a success. Pictured here is Dr. Mushiga with some of our Canadian students and a packet of the drugs used to reverse the effects of the immobilizing drugs that are needed to carry out this work.

Most exciting, I discovered from Dr. Mugisha that a serious look is being taken at the possibility of rehabilitating some chimps back into the wild. A small section of suitable forest has been found in the Labongo area of Western Uganda and teams of investigators are currently taking a hard look at the many components that will need to mesh to make this effort got forward. It will take some time, so maybe there will be something to report next year if things go well.

Just before the boat left for the return to Entebbe we watched as the chimps were given their 2.30 pm feed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An injured lion in QEP

The last day in Queen Elizabeth NP was productive but exhausting. We started the day with a brief meeting with the Community Conservation Warden, Wilson Kagoro, and made arrangements for day trips for senior pupils from both Kasenyi Primary School and Equator Highway Primary School to have a day out. Forty children from each school will be picked up and brought to the park HQ where they will be fed, shown around, and given some conservation classes. The highlight of the trip will be the two-hour boat ride on the Kasinga channel, the same ride that we all took last Friday.

I dropped by Kasenyi Primary School to how the solar equipment was working. One DVD had already been shown to the kids, and Gorrit had prepared two meals with the solar oven. I asked her to pose outside her home with this useful piece of equiemt as I had managed to forget to take a pic the other day.

Then we set out to continue our research efforts with buffalo. This proved pretty frustrating and for four hours we were unable to get near enough any animals to dart one. However, the group traveling with me in the university Land Cruiser did see a very lame female lion with three half-grown cubs Both her left hind and right front legs were obviously hurting her and she would have had a hard time hunting, even with hundreds of kob around her. By the time we caught up with the rest of the team we had also found a sick buffalo.

We decided to try and examine the buffalo first, as the lioness was unlikely to move far. We did get one dart into her, but unfortunately it deflected of a wisp of grass and we were never able to get close enough again to do any more. Eventually we left her and returned to the lions.

It was not long before Dr. Ludwig Siefert had a dart in her and we were able to make a very detailed examination. This picture shows the small lesions on her gums and where she had recently lost a tooth in her lower jaw. She had obviously been in a fight.There were several bite wounds in her legs, and a claw on her rear leg had been torn off. The worst lesion was a deep penetrating bite mark low down on her right front leg. An hour later she had been weighed, her wounds had been cleaned up and she had been given a healthy dose of antibiotics. I took a bunch of pictures of the bite marks with my new cell phone, as well of a couple of short video clips of her being weighed, but I have not figured out how to download them on to this computer. Sorry ‘bout that, all I have is a pic of her getting a much needed does of fluids under the skin. An hour after that she was up and moving.

Next stop Lake Mburo National Park, but complete lack in Internet until about the 25th.

Brucellosis in a buffalo

On Tuesday we got back to the veterinary side of our work. We were off at first light to look for a herd of Cape Buffalo as we are studying brucellosis in this species and in the park in general. It did not take us long to find an adult cow with an enormous swelling low down on her left from leg. Such swellings are one of the cardinal signs of this disease in cattle, bison and buffalo. We soon had a dart in her and found that she did indeed have severe problems.

The swelling was full of pus, and it was no wonder that she was lame. When we got back to the lab we ran a test on the serum sample we had taken, and yes, we confirmed brucellosis.

A primary school with Little

Monday’s highlight was the visit to a small school that has an interesting history. Four years ago the government decreed that the village children must attend a school about seven kilometers from their home as they had no school of their own.

The reaction of the community was swift and totally cooperative. Kiiza George, (the same Kiiza George who is headmaster of Kasenyi Primary School where we were on Saturday), donated a plot of land right next to his home. He also led a community group of parents to develop a plan for the physical structure. Grass thatch was collected in large quantities and lumber was purchased. A school of sorts went up, and then the government employed teachers to work in the Universal Primary Education program that provides free schooling to youngsters. Over a hundred children were enrolled, some fifty of them AIDS orphans being cared for by relatives or neighbours. We visited the school in 2007 and found mud, sticks and thatch divided into three rooms. No desks, no tables, not much at all. We gave each child a toy and some writing materials, as well as a ‘t’ shirt and left behind sufficient cash for some metal roofing to be purchased.

Meanwhile all the parents made bricks in their own or neighbour’s kilns and in later 2007 and early 2008 a brick building was standing. For mortar the local mud, which they call murram, was used, and another donor helped with metal roofing for this building as well. More toys arrived, including a whole bunch of knitted teddy bears made by the Saskatoon ladies group Teddies For Tragedies and some football uniforms for the school 1st XI. Our cash was used to buy desks.

This year we sat and enjoyed a super concert and some traditional dancing. Leighton again wowed the audience, pupils and staff alike, with his rendition of his composition “Uganda Is the Pearl Of Africa”. His guitar was a big hit with this little boy,
who could hardly tear himself away form the instrument and spent a long time strumming it as Leighton changed the fingering.

Gift highlights this year were teddies for the very youngest, who had not been at school last year, cloth tote bags for all the children and letters from many primary school children in Canada.

Then the soccer match. This time just ten minutes each way, but still enough to lose by 1-0, although Leighton came really close with a long range blast that shaved the cross bar. It was fitting that George’s eldest son scored the winner with a scorching header. Man U look out!

This little school needs so much that it is difficult to know where to start. George gave us a list of the most pressing needs so we will have to see what we can do once we have our donations totted up.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kasenyi Primary School, Uganda, solar system


Today (Saturday, as I write, although posted on Sunday) was the big day for the children at Kasenyi Primary School where we have been helping out with gifts of school supplies, sports equipment, musical instruments and toys for the kids for several years. One of these has been the generous donation of teddy bears for the smaller children that were knitted by a Saskatoon group of ladies who call themselves Teddies For Tragedies. This year we had been able to raise enough funds to set the school up with a solar energy system that will run four 7-watt bulbs and a 32-inch television along side a combination DVD/tape deck. The funds, a total of about $5000 US dollars came from such simple things as bake sales organized by the WCVM students to the sale of over 150 calendars, and a silent auction held at the WCVM. A major component was the generosity of many alumni of the Uganda Wildlife experience who dug deep to help out, and a few very generous corporate sponsors in the Saskatoon area.

First came a series of speeches village elders and Kiiza George, the school principal. Then it was the turn of park authorities. Dr. Margaret Driciru, who is herself a veterinarian, but works as the research and monitoring warden in the park was there as acting chief warden and had performed the ribbon ceremony with Dr. Jo Haigh (pictured here), challenged to school and the students to use the gifts of educational material to achieve as high a standard of academic excellence as possible and aspire to reach their life goals, which might even include warden status in their own park.

Then a highlight. The children put on a small concert and the one of our own, Leighton Coma, performed his wonderful new composition accompanied on his guitar. The leading line of the chorus goes like this “Uganda - The Pearl of Africa.” I will be recording it on my iPod and posting it later.

Then came the big moment – the playing of a video on hippo conservation. About 25 adults and some 40 children watched the whole thing as they ate big lunch that we had funded. An important element was that part of the meal had been cooked by Gorrit, the music teacher at the school and wife of George, in a solar oven that we had also supplied.

Many people present, including all the children, were seeing television for the first time. Unbelievably we do not seem to have a picture of the actual TV watching thing, although it is possible that there is one photo on a student camera that I have not been able to get at. This is because the students are out today with Dr. Ludwig Siefert as he tries to find a lioness whose radio collar needs to be changed as the battery is running down. For some reason the students chose to go with him, despite the fact that they have a day off. ☺ Furthermore they wanted to take their cameras with them. Amazing! ☺

The sessions ended up with a soccer game on the village pitch. Once again the school 1st XI trounced us, but luckily we only played 15 minutes each way. At the time the temperature was a steamy +35 degrees, so we were quite happy to just play the short version. A full match would have had to be ended with a mercy rule, mercy on score grounds, and mercy for rehydration of our team.

Queen Elizabeth National Park #1


This is the first of two blogs that I am posting on Sunday the 15th, as I have not had time to get to the Wi-Fi at the beautiful Mweya Lodge over the last couple of days. although the posting comes on Sunday, I am writing this on Friday morning early, as the first of the them.

We are now starting our fifth day in Queen Elizabeth National Park where the ten final year students form the Western College of Veterinary Medicine are continuing their studies on the wildlife x livestock x human interface. They too are struggling with the intermittent and rather slow Internet access, but have been trying to keep up their blog, which you can find here or at the above link

On Thursday I went with two students to Kasenyi Primary school where we met up with Robert, the installation technician from Ultratec who was there to install the new solar system that we have funded. It looks good, and we will do a formal opening on Saturday with the local village dignitaries and park authorities.

On Friday morning after our animal work visit to the school we paid a quick and checked that the power worked at the school. It did.

Here I have tried to add a short (44 second) video clip of a bull elephant's bullying attack on a hippo pod. The connection speed is too slow, and the link would not work. So, until we get to something faster, you'll just have to imagine it.

The Friday afternoon was set aside for the two-hour boat trip on the Kasinga channel that runs between Lake Edward and Lake George. The Canadians also paid for the two Makerere University veterinary students who have joined us. As usual it was a magic time, with tour guide Janet pointing out the dozens of bird species as we went along, and the snorting of hippos accompanying us along the shore. One very unusual sight was a bad-tempered and totally unwarranted attack by a big bull elephant on a pod of hippo. He seemed to be trying to stamp on one unfortunate juvenile that emerged as a tumbling rolling mass, and escaped, apparently unharmed, in the midst of the forest of legs that the bull must have presented. This clip was taken by Leighton Coma, one of our Canadian students

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Uganda students in Kibale National Park

Finally back into the connected world of the Internet, after six days in the tropical rainforest environment of Kibale National Park, famous for its diversity of both plants and primates, not to mention a wonderful array of birds.

The ten final year veterinary students who have accompanied me have been subjected to an array of new sounds and sights from both the human and animal world, and are beginning to gel as a team. We have been fortunate to work with dedicated Ugandan faculty and much enjoyed the quite humour of Dr. JB Nizeyi, who is a faculty member at the veterinary school in Kampala and also the local head of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program. Our instructors in Kibale, where we worked out of the Makerere University Field Station at Kanyawara, were Dr. John Kasenene, director of the station, and Dr. Gil Basuta. John is a forest ecologist with a vast knowledge of the plants in the forest, and a special interest in medicinal plants. Gils’s strengths lie with mammals, and he has an uncanny ability to excite entertain and educate students all that the same time. . This portrait of Gil shows him at his entertaining best. His discussion of chimpanzee politics is worth the wait, and something I would not miss, although I have heard it every year that I have been bringing students.

Yesterday we moved from Kibale to Queen Elizabeth National Park and here I am in the Mweya Safari Lodge using the rather slow dial-up that is the bets we can get. Pictures to accompany this blog are going to be hard to add. The students have already had close(not dangerous) encounters of the elephant kind, watching tiny infants rush under the bellies of their mothers, and we visited Kasenyi Primary school where the solar system that we purchased in Kampala will be installed in the next couple of days so that educational videos can be run. The official opening of the set-up is scheduled for Saturday, so I do hope that at least one picture will make it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Students in Uganda and Solar Techoloogy


The students crew for the 2009 Uganda Wildlife Rotation of the 4th year class from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine arive at Entebbe Aiport safe and sound last night and within the hour had reached the dormitory where they will spend the next 3 nights. After a 36 hour journey they did not stay awake for long.

This morning we headed out for money exchange at a local Forex Buraeu and then headed for the offices of Ultratec where Abhay Shah showed the students what he had designed for the Kasneyi Primary School in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The basis is a solar system that will support 3 hours of playing time for DVDs of Vidoetapes, and four low-energy light bulbs. We also had to be pragmatic, and realize, as Abhay stated, that this would also become the local spot for cell phone charging. Unless you have seen it, you will not believe the extent of usage of cell phones in this part of the world.

If we can arrange it we hope to have an offical hand-over and will make sure to have some photos, including one or two that we took today, but cannot post.

We plan to be in Kasenyi when the installation takes place and will certainly take pictures, but of course with the snail pace Internet we will not be able to post them. The most fascinating news concerend the technician who will do the installation. His name is Robert, and he was orphaned at an early age, subsequently supported in a program like the one we are engaged in, and managed to get to technical school and end up installing units all over the country like the one we have purcashed.

His wheel has come full circle.