By Caesar Abangirah
About 20 years ago, Ngamba Island, one of the 10 islands that make up Kome Sub-County in Mukono district, was just a vast piece of land inhabited by about 500 members of a closely knit fishing community.
Today, the island – a non profit organisation managed and cordinated by the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust – is home of 49 orphaned chimpanzees rescued from across East Africa. It opened with 19 chimps in 1998.
According to Byron Ssemambo, a senior caregiver and educator at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, three of the chimpanzees have been born at the sanctuary, including the youngest, Eazy aged three. There are five chimps aged between 38 and 40 years. Twenty of the chimpanzees on the 100-acre rainforest island are male.
‘Most of the chimps are rescued from Congo, Rwanda and Burundi,’ Ssemambo told journalists during a conservation media camp organised by the Sanctuary at the weekend.
‘Usually, about eight to 10 chimps have to be killed for just one chimpanzee to be orphaned. That is the sad fact.’
Lily Ajarova, the Sanctuary’s Executive Director says, ‘Twenty five percent of chimps in Uganda’s wild have missing limbs as a result of mantraps and snares.’
One out of every 10 chimps has a missing finger.
The orphaned chimps are usually intercepted and rescued enroute the United Arab Emirates where market is readily available. Baby chimps cost between USD 20,000 -USD 30,000.
Ssemambo estimates that there are about 200,000 chimps worldwide, down from about one million 100 years ago.
About 5,000 of those are in Uganda’s wild, according to the 2002 population census.
However, poaching and unregulated hunting are not the only major threat to the existence of chimpanzees.
Ajarova says mismanagement of natural resources and climate change has led to the depletion of the chimpanzee population in the country.
‘People have encroached on forests especially for farming, which drives the chimps out of their natural habitats.’
It is estimated that 800sq kms of forest have been cleared in the past 15 years.
Ngamba as a model sanctuary
Hailed as a model sanctuary by the Pan Africa Sanctuary Alliance, Ngamba Island which is about 23km away from Entebbe (two hours by motorised canoe) celebrates two decades having registered a number of achievements.
Eric Ntalo, the Sanctuary’s public relations officer says the numerous successes that stand testament to the fact that the Trust, Partners, Donors, and Government have been dedicated to conserving chimpanzees.
These achievements include;
In 2012, construction of the offices of the Ngamba Trust were completed in Entebbe, providing the administrative team with permanent premises.
Various Awards International and National:
The Ngamba Trust has won numerous awards at national, regional, and international levels with a number of organizations benchmarking on our standards underlining our reputation of being a “model sanctuary”
Enhanced Transport to the Island:
Acquisition of a speed boat, facilitated movement from the mainland and promoted ecotourism
Accommodation on Ngamba Island:
Provided increased revenue streams for Ngamba and provided employment.
Model Sanctuary in Africa:
Aspects that set Ngamba apart from other places included animal welfare, professionalism, setup, forest, holding areas, and nesting facilities.
Chimpanzee Safe Haven:
In 20 years, over 53 chimps have benefited from the Ngamba Sanctuary through rehabilitation and enhanced livelihood.
Volunteerism & Training:
Hundreds of vets and volunteers have been trained over the years at Ngamba, providing individuals with world class skills.
As of 2017, Ngamba gained Trust status, thus enabled it to benefit from government
Ngamba has been instrumental in helping the neighboring islands build schools, clinics, hospitals, as well as provide clean water and improved sanitation.
Good governance over 20 years have been through transparency and integrity of the team made up of majorly Ugandans.
Policy Influence: At national and international levels, Ngamba has been involved in influencing protection of chimps and their natural habitats.
Eco-Tourism was also boosted with establishment of Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
Investments worth millions of dollars have been made over the years through various operations.
Education Outreach Programmes.
With the help of funds sourced from friends and funders, the sanctuary helped establish Myende Community Primary School on the adjacent Myende Island. The school, the only one on the island, hosts about 200 pupils.
Development of robust relationships with a diverse cross section of organisations like The Ruparelia Group, City Tyres, Friends of Chimps, Born Free Foundation, IFAW, Jane Goodall Foundation, Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, Max Planck Institute, etc.
Significant contributions to world science have been made, by numerous researchers and scientists carrying out projects on Ngamba Island.
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary brought attention to Uganda by positioning the Pearl of Africa, as a chimp ecotourism destination.
Restoration and Conservation:
The Ngamba Trust and its’ projects in Uganda have been involved critically in conservation and restoration
Improved Law Enforcement:
As a result of continuous engagement about animal welfare regulations because of discussions with law enforcement bodies, government and the communities there has been improved relations and enforcement.
The future of chimps has been secured for many years to come.