Paul M. Mugisha started working for the Kibale Chimpanzee Project as a Junior Ranger with the Kibale Snare Removal Program (KSRP) in July 2008. Four years later, he was promoted to Senior Ranger status and this year to Head Ranger. When Paul started working with KSRP, he did not know much about snares. Paul didn’t know what they looked like or how to find them, but he did not let this discourage him. He remained an avid student and quickly learned from his senior mentors about how to detect snares and signs of poachers. Paul also learned how important their work was to the protection and longevity of the national park and its wildlife. He helped rescue snared wildlife, arrest poachers, and discourage other illegal activity in the forest. Even though the job can be quite risky–dealing with armed poachers, increasing elephant populations, dangerous hunting traps, and harsh climatic conditions–Paul’s love of the park’s wildlife, especially chimpanzees, kept him moving forward.
Unfortunately, some people believe chimpanzees rape women and beat and eat people. They hate certain animals because they are misinformed. It is through conservation education that communities will learn the truth about primates. – Paul M. Mugisha
Paul not only thrives in the field, but also enjoys working with youth to promote conservation education in the local schools through the Kasiisi Project and communities neighboring the forest. He educates local people on the challenges faced by chimpanzees and other wildlife in the forest. Recently, Paul helped implement and lead an activity about snaring in the national park and the dangers it poses to chimpanzees. Paul conducted the activity with the Wildlife Club at the Kasiisi Primary School and at an Earth Day event organized by UNITE for the Environment in Bigodi. Paul engaged the children by showing them the different types of snares that are set in the forest and how difficult it is to get free once entangled. The message really began to sink in as Paul taped (using masking tape) the fingers and hands of the children to mimic the injuries of and challenges encountered by snared chimpanzees when trying to travel, feed, or play.
The children quickly gained a sentimental attachment to individual chimpanzees affected by snares. Each child received a 'Snare Care Bracelet' after the activity to symbolize that they do not support snaring. At the end of the Kasiisi Primary School activity, one student shared that her father set snares, but that she was going to beg him to stop and explain the negative impact snaring has on chimpanzees and other wildlife. Paul and the other rangers complimented the girl for her courage and commitment. Two weeks later, she was still wearing her 'Snare Care Bracelet' and shared the good news that her father had renounced snaring!
In addition to implementing this new activity, Paul regularly visits 14 Kasiisi Project schools to give conservation talks to the Wildlife Clubs. Paul also visits local communities near his patrol locations to engage in conversations about conservation with people who are potentially setting the snares. Paul is not only our most experienced and dedicated ranger, but he is also our best educator! He truly cares about chimpanzees and the other forest residents. Paul possesses a deep love for conservation that is unique among most Africans. When he is engaged with children, his passion for conservation shines through and becomes contagious.
Ultimately, Paul hopes to identify the people responsible for illegal activities in the national park, especially snare setting, so that they can be targeted for conservation education and hopefully sensitized to the importance of indigenous wildlife. In the future, Paul would like to see other conservation agencies in the area concentrating on other developmental projects and activities that go beyond the scope of poaching in the national park.
For these reasons, I am proud to nominate Paul M. Mugisha as one of PEN’s featured primate educators.
This blog post was written by Dr. Jessica Hartel, a postdoc at the Centre for Biocultural History at Aarhus University and the Director of the Kibale Snare Removal Program for the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in the Kibale National Park. The Kibale Snare Removal Program employs six Ugandan rangers who regularly patrol the forest, removing snares and deterring other illegal activities, while also reaching out to local schools and communities. Their rangers implement chimpanzee-focused conservation education programs and activities by working collaboratively with the Kasiisi Project in 14 forest schools. They also collaborate with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Ngogo Chimpanzee Project.