Uganda, Deforestation and Chimpanzees

After reading about the shrinking forest habitat in Western Uganda that has caused a ‘collision course’ between humans and chimps in the August 2020 edition of National Geographic, I decided that it is a case study that should be shared with others.

Uganda. A country that lost 63% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2015, and can be expected to loose all of its forested land by 2050. Deforestation has exacerbated the effects of climate change and also desertification. As well as resulting in environmental change, deforestation has impacted animal habitats.

Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, sharing 97.8% of the human genetic blueprint. The IUCN red list of threatened species classify chimps as endangered, meaning that they are at very high risk of extinction in the wild. Chimps do most of their eating and sleeping in trees. In productive forests, chimps have a diverse diet, inclusive of lots of fruit. They will eat meat where possible however.

Chimps are usually timid around adult humans in their behaviour, but can be aggressive towards children. As chimp habitat loss becomes the norm, they resort to eating crops and fruits on human territory. It is illegal to kill or shoot a chimpanzee in Uganda, even if a chimp is on a persons land. Because of chimps innate aggression towards children, if aggression towards a human is to occur, chimps have been know to kill or injure children when on human territory. In the last 3 decades, there were over 40 verified attacks by chimps on children in Western Uganda. Many more were reported on top of this figure.

Chimp attacks led to 14 verified deaths during this period, with the majority of attacks occurring in previously forested areas. The chimps have lost their food source and must seek alternatives to survive. In one town, Muhoroto, there were 2 attacks on children within 5 weeks during 2017. In one event, a toddler was stolen from a cornfield whilst her mother was working. A crowd and the police tracked down the chimps to find the little girl dead in a pool of blood. The second attack was on a 1 year old boy, stolen from a garden plot. Villagers again tracked the chimps until the boy was dropped, he survived.

To conclude the article, the author questions: ‘Why don’t we move the chimps?”. The answer is that there is no vacant forests left for chimpanzees in Uganda, plus there is also the issue of territory, so moving chimpanzees will just lead to war. This crisis is a result of deforestation, so how about reforestation as a solution? Quammen calls it ‘a local problem that’s not just local”. Deforestation is leading to habitat destruction, bringing humans and chimps closer together. We must remember that humans are the ones who will reap the consequences of deforestation in the long-term, but it is the animal kingdom who will suffer most of all.


  • Post based on article by Quammen, D titled ‘I am Scared All the Time’ in National Geographic – 08.2020.

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