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Celebrating the career of a chimpanzee champion

27/09/2021 in Conservation

Edinburgh Zoo’s Budongo Trail is one of the world's most innovative and interactive chimpanzee enclosures. Home to 16 chimps, our troop are important ambassadors for their wild cousins. Their role is to raise awareness for the threats facing chimpanzees in Africa and through them, we celebrate our charity’s partnership with the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) in Uganda. BCFS is an incredible NGO based in the Budongo Forest, the largest remaining tropical rain forest in East Africa. It is run by a team of inspirational conservationists and, until recently, led by Dr Fred Babweteera, a renowned primatologist.

Fred’s recent retirement marks a new era for the project. He has been at the helm since 1998 and an RZSS Conservation Associate since 2005. Alongside funding, our partnership enables an exchange of knowledge and experience and under Fred’s guidance the field station has gone from strength to strength.

Over his 24 years, Fred has seen BCFS (originally the Budongo Forest Project) grow from a renovated sawmill site to a world-renowned research centre. Their three-pronged approach of research, conservation and community training has carved the way for the project to be recognised as an influential voice across several industries. The flagship chimpanzee studies now happen alongside forest-wide research efforts, climate monitoring, wildlife health and veterinary training, and community focused alternative livelihood schemes. Working with communities on the forest edge is a critical part of the team’s work. Employing ex-hunters as snare patrollers and field assistants has seen the number of snares found on patrols drop from an average of 45 snares per day in 2004 to seven in 2020, with only three chimpanzees injured in the past three years.

With Fred’s leadership, the BCFS alternative livelihood programme has helped reduce conflict between communities and species like chimps or baboons who may raid crops. The scheme provides alternative skills and training and improves food security while ensuring a more sustainable reliance on the forest as a resource. Through this, local average income has increased from $0.8 to $2.49 per day.

Earlier this year, we were delighted to recognise Fred’s contribution to conservation and present him with a Lifetime Fellowship Award at our annual AGM. His dedication and skills have culminated in a strong team of equally passionate individuals, effective community engagement and development schemes, and consequently the sustainable management of the Budongo Forest and the protection of hundreds of chimpanzees and countless other species.

Looking to the future, with new director David Eryenyu, the fate of Budongo Forest and its inhabitants remain in good hands. His experience and passion are evident, a testament to Fred’s legacy, and we’re thrilled to continue supporting, learning and working with the BCFS team in Uganda. The continuation of world-class scientific research and the growth of areas like policy development and sustainable resource management will be exciting to see.

Knowing Fred, this is sure to be a ‘see you soon’ rather than a ‘goodbye’. So again, we say thank you Fred, for your work, your partnership and your passion - you truly are a champion of conservation!


This work is made possible thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.



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