Conservation impact is one that requires consistency, persistence and patience. A significant amount of people in the world want trees to be planted, and the oceans cleaned. But how many are actually addressing climate change: planting and nurturing of trees and cleaning up oceans? Ssezi’s heart, mind and soul has been in the forest for fifty one years. He has managed a forest that has so far been a refuge for sixty Chimpanzees and is an important wildlife corridor between Budongo and Bugoma Forest. You walk with him in the forest and you feel his love for the forest. He takes you on a journey where he explains when he planted some of the trees, their names, and medicinal value. Ssezi’s story is one that I wish to share in order to inspire others to commit to conservation action for forest and biodiversity.
Ssezi Mugisa; was born in 1958. He started working at the Catholic Parish in Munteme, Uganda at the age of 11 as a cook. The parish later supported his training as he pursued a certificate in Agriculture from District Farm Institute in Hoima (currently called Bulindi Zonal Agricultural Research Institute) in 1974. In a few years he rose from a cook to a builder and in 1976, he became a forest guard. As a forest guard he majored in tree nursery bed management for about 8 years. In 1984 he had a chance to lead a forest survey, and that was the turning point to becoming the forest manager of a 391 hectare forest and home to an estimated population of sixty chimpanzees.
Forests in western Uganda face a lot of threats, such as encroachment for agricultural land, hunting for bush meat, charcoal burning, illegal timber harvesting and mining. This has led to loss of habitat and fragmentation for wildlife such as the chimpanzee. This has subsequently led to the increase of human-wildlife conflict (HWC). In 2007, the Chimpanzee Trust partnered with the Catholic parish to co-manage the forest in an effort to provide a refuge for the chimpanzees and also reduce HWC when the chimpanzees move from Budongo to Bugoma Forest. They have supported the tree nursery revamping and also pay the school $35 per hectare (391ha) for 2 years under the Payment for Ecosystem Services project.
Ssezi has been part of the forest for 50 years. He was set to retire in the year 2019, but he did not do so because the forest is still under threat and grave danger from illegal loggers. He has not been able to get a young committed person to support the continued management and conservation of the forest.
He has committed an extra 10 years at the parish to train and build the capacity of the youth in forest management and conservation. “I hope to pass on this skill set to someone who will replace me,” says Ssezi. As we continue to support restoration projects across the world, Ssezi’s story will be one of inspiration that will spur many to take action for conservation in their local areas of influence.
Help us raise funds for Forest Conservation, People supporting conservation and Chimpanzee Conservation. Do this via Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
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Anthony Ochieng (Producer and Director ) Hans Cosmas Ngoteya (Director of Photography) Maryann Nyambura (Production Assistant), Wagia Boris (Production Assistant) and Lord'e Kefa (Editor)
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