At the recently-concluded second congress of the African Primatological Society (APS) hosted in Entebbe, Uganda, from September 3-5, 2019, the Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities, representing the Prime Minister of Uganda, Rt. Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda opened the event.
Sponsored by the Arcus Foundation, Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Houston Zoo, Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust, Solidaridad, San Diego Zoo, Primate Conservation Inc., Rare Species Fund, Zoo Victoria, Heidelberg Zoo, PASRES, and the West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA), the 3-day event brought together over 300 primate experts, including aspiring primatologists, researchers, conservation practitioners, tourism stakeholders, and policy-makers from Africa and across the globe to share ideas and research findings, to discuss this year’s theme: “Challenges and Opportunities in Primate Conservation in Africa,” and find ways to promote active participation of native African primatologists in the international primatology arena. With 250 out of the 312 delegates from 24 different African countries, the APS more than achieved its goal of providing an accessible platform for African primatologists, in particular, to collaborate, network, and discuss pressing challenges and issues, as well as opportunities and possible solutions facing Africa’s primates. The USA, Europe, UK, Asia, Australia, and Latin America were all very well represented at the conference as well.
Dr. Rugunda noted that gazetted protected areas and forests cover 20% of Uganda’s total land, he highlighted that Uganda’s leaders were dedicated to conservation, which is especially important given the competing demands for land-growing populations and a demand for energy. Uganda’s rich biodiversity includes 54% of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas; 11% of world recorded species of birds, constituting 50% of Africa’s bird species; 39% of Africa’s mammal species; and 1,249 recorded species of butterflies; among many other wildlife attributes.
Through a combination of efforts, he thanked UWA, conservation NGOs, and international supporters in particular that Uganda’s once decreasing mountain gorilla numbers have been reversed and are now showing positive growth. However, their habitat is threatened, which points again to why this conference is very important. Primates and their habitats are under threat from deforestation, disease, hunting for bush meat, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict. Rapid population growth is also a major problem facing Uganda’s protected areas, wildlife, and primates.
Kamuntu stressed the importance of protecting primates for conservation and sustainable development, saying it deserves a concerted multi-sectoral effort. He also noted that Uganda is very proud to host the second APS conference.
Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, APS Vice President, Founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health and Chair of the APS Conference 2019 organizing committee, provided an overview of the conference and thanked donors and partners for their support in making the conference possible and sustainable where reusable branded aluminum water bottles instead of plastic bottles and Gorilla Conservation coffee from farmers around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were given to delegates. The event was also punctuated by entertainment by the indigenous Batwa community of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Kalema highlighted the importance of the conference in supporting African primatology and conservation of African primates, noting that one third of primate species occur in Africa, some of which are endangered or critically endangered. The APS 2019 conference video was also played, highlighting threats to primates of Uganda, which has over 15 species of primates.
Dr. Inza Kone, President of the APS and Directeur General of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques in Ivory Coast, provided a brief background and overview of the APS. “Since 2012, prominent African primatologists have been working towards establishing a group that will promote more active and inclusive engagement of native Africans working in primate conservation and research, coordinate the efforts of African primatologists, enhance their experience and influence in their various areas of work and strengthen the impact of their conservation actions.” These efforts culminated in the formation of the African Primatological Society (APS) in April 2016. The APS held the inaugural meeting in Bingerville, Côte d’Ivoire, in July 2017.
The conference also witnessed a series of presentations by renowned primatologists and experts, including Sam Mwandha, UWA Executive Director, who put the importance of primates to Uganda’s economy into perspective by highlighting that 60% of UWA revenue comes from primate tourism. UWA receives around 60 billion UGX (equivalent to about 16 million USD) every year from primate tourism.
The APS conference witnessed rich presentations from researchers across Africa discussing African primates’ status on the IUCN red listing as well as the state of primatology in each of the 6 regions in Africa (East, West, South, North, Central Africa, and Madagascar). Sadly, there was a similar theme running through the discussions pertaining to each region, with primates across the continent coming under threat due to human activity. This perhaps set the scene for discussions the following day when delegates divided into groups depending on their areas of expertise. Key themes for day 2 included Conservation and Management; Ecology and Behavior; Diversity, Taxonomy and Status; Ecology and Behavior; and Health, Tourism and Education. There was also a special breakaway workshop to develop an action plan for the Red Colobus, which are the most threatened group of primates in Africa. Red Colobus monkeys are considered to be on Red Alert, facing an extinction crisis requiring urgent, targeted, and coordinated conservation action. Inspiring presentations on strides that have been made in building Ugandan capacity in primatology were given by prominent primatologists from the UK, USA, and Japan, Prof Vernon Reynolds, Dr. Jessica Rothman, and Professor Takeshi Furuichi.
Prof. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, discussed the potential for African leadership in primatology in shaping national and regional conservation policy. Dr Fabian Leendertz of The Robert Koch Institute followed with a discussion on epidemiological issues in primate research and conservation projects.
Also present at the conference was the Japanese Ambassador to Uganda, His Excellency Kazuaki Kameda and the Mayor of Entebbe, His Worship Vincent de Paul Mayanja.
Representatives from the Uganda Tourism Board, UWA, Conservation Through Public Health, International Gorilla Conservation Program, Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, Volcanoes Safaris, Great Lakes Safaris, and Arcus Foundation engaged in a lively round-table discussion about opportunities and challenges for sustainable development through primate ecotourism, focusing on the Uganda experience.
They shared their views, broadly agreeing that great ape tourism has boosted Uganda’s economy, but should be done sustainably and through a conservation lens. A specific recommendation was wearing of masks during visits to gorillas and chimpanzees in Uganda to minimize disease transmission between people and great apes as has been instituted at other great ape sites in Tanzania, DRC, and Ivory Coast. It was also recommended to develop primate tourism beyond the great apes where golden monkey and nocturnal primate tourism are already showing great potential in Uganda and that primate tourism in Africa should be guided by a common regional strategy.
As the conference neared its final sessions, the following 2019 Strategic Implementation Interventions and Declarations were agreed:
– There is a need for more Africa-based programs to build leadership and empowerment.
– It is important to strengthen regional and global integration of African primatologists for the good of primates across the globe.
– Through collaborations as the APS, effort must be made to review and implement proposed action plans.
– A multi-sectoral approach must be engaged in promoting conservation efforts including governments, local communities, the private sector, and NGOs.
Dr. Inza Kone brought to an end the event by declaring Africa the Primatological Capital and announcing that the next APS conference will be held in 2021 in Gabon.
Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) headed the APS 2019 organizing committee, working closely with Centre Suiss de Rescherches Scientifiques in Ivory Coast, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Tourism Board, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Makerere University, National Forestry Authority, Integrated Rural Community Empowerment (IRUCE), African Institute on Food Security and Environment (AIFE Uganda), Bwindi and Mgahinga Trust, Chimpanzee Trust, Jane Goodall Institute, Budongo Conservation Field Station, Institute of Primate Research in Kenya, other partner NGOs, Let’s Go Travel, Tourism Uganda, International Airtime Topup, Gorilla Conservation Coffee, Urge Uganda, PFT Events, and Add Value. The following donors supported the conference: Arcus Foundation, Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Houston Zoo, Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust, Solidaridad, San Diego Zoo, Primate Conservation Inc, Rare Species Fund, Zoo Victoria, Heidelberg Zoo, PASRES, and West African Primate Conservation Action (WAPCA).
At the Annual General Meeting held immediately after the APS 2019 conference, Wako Ronald, Senior Primate Keeper at UWEC, became the second Ugandan to be appointed to the APS Executive Committee where he will serve as the Captive Care and Breeding Officer.
Famed primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace, was most notable among those who received awards for outstanding service in building African capacity in primate research and conservation. The 85-year-old Doyen of primates who has dedicated over half a century to primatology research received an award at the evening dinner of day 2 held at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe.
Although she was not physically present, Dr. Goodall had joined the conference at the opening ceremony the previous day via a video link. She talked about her first years studying the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania. It was in her early days, after months of getting the chimps to accept her, that Dr. Jane Goodall discovered that chimps used tools. It was previously thought that only humans were able to use tools. She recalled being struck by how like humans the chimps were in so many ways and commented that “you can’t share your life with any animal and not know they have personalities.”
Other accolades received during the conference included Best Oral Presentation awarded to Ramanankirahina Rindrahatsarana for the presentation on “Female dominance, affiliation and aggression in western woolly lemurs,” best Poster Presentation awarded to Jonathan A Musa for his poster on “Population Estimates of Diurnal Primates on Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Sierra Leone.” For outstanding service in building African capacity in primate research and conservation, the following awards were presented:
– Professor Vernon Reynolds, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oxford, UK
– Professor John Oates, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Hunter College, New York, USA
– Professor Jonah Ratsimbazafy, President of the Madagascar Primate Research Group (GERP)
– Professor Isabirye Basuta, retired Professor from Makerere University Department of Zoology who has trained most of the primatologists in Uganda
– Dr. Russ Mittermeier, APS Patron and Chief Conservation Officer at Global Wildlife Conservation, for outstanding commitment and support in building African Leadership in Primatology.