Elgon herpetology research and conservation project works towards the conservation of the critically threatened and poorly known herps (snakes, lizards, tortoises, turtles and crocodiles) and amphibians (caecilians, toads and frogs) in protected areas of Uganda.
We are dedicated to the conservation of all reptiles and amphibian diversity in Uganda .
Our mission is to promote the conservation of the amphibian and reptiles and their natural ecosystems and implement positive change in human attitudes towards the amphibian and reptilian diversity in Uganda
Specifically, our goals are to :
1 .To Inform guidelines for conservation of amphibians and reptiles in the parks of Uganda -For this objective, we focus mainly on community-based conservation education geared towards improving understanding on the need for the conservation of amphibians and reptiles within the national parks of Uganda
2. Training local team members, park rangers and students in carrying out comprehensive field surveys of amphibians and reptiles of the parks
3. Identification of the amphibians and reptiles using combined morphological, ecological and genetic (DNA barcoding) approaches.
4. Production of the check-list and distribution map of Amphibians and reptiles using both field survey approaches and literature searches.
5. Identification of possible threats to amphibians and reptiles in the parks .- From our field surveys , we aim to identify threats mainly arising from human activities such as deforestation, use of chemicals in farmlands, and killing of amphibians and reptiles out of fear
6 Increase students ’knowledge of herpetological science thus developing students’ competences in collecting, processing, analyzing and communicating scientific data
7 Encourage students’ awareness of and appreciation for the local environment in addition to nurturing students’ interest in and enthusiasm for herpetological fieldwork.
8 Increase students’ awareness of careers in science, particularly herpetology and field ecology.
WHY AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES
Ecologically, amphibians are important in many ways; they are mostly predators, acting as primary and secondary carnivores. Their prey consists mostly of insects, some of which are pests to crops or disease vectors. Amphibians are known to be an easily recognizable taxon in given habitats; and populations are sometimes specialised within a narrow habitat. This makes it easy and practical to monitor changes in composition over time, given different conditions on their habitat are reflected in changes in numbers and species
During the past several decades there has been an alarming decline in many amphibian and reptile populations worldwide. Even though scientists are making headway in understanding some of these declines, much is still not known about the health of even local amphibian and reptile species. What we do know is that amphibians and reptiles are outstanding bio-indicator species and if their populations are declining it is a signal to us that something has gone awry in the environment: and that should be of concern to all of us.
It has been said, that people will only care about that which they know. Herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians (collectively known as ‘herps’), excites students of all ages. While some herps are familiar to students, most of what students know about these animals is only from pictures. When they have an opportunity to handle them, their excitement quickly evolves into an interest in the habitats where these animals are found. We have found that even a surface-level knowledge about animal and habitat leads students into complex scientific investigations.
CITIZEN SCIENCE PROJECT
AMPHIBIAN AND REPTILIAN COUNTS IN UGANDA
The amphibian and reptilian count in Uganda is a Citizen Science Program to map and track the amphibian and reptilian diversity distributions across Uganda’s protected areas. We use volunteer-based surveys of the more widespread species from across Uganda to determine the conservation status of all of our amphibians and reptiles.
It is a chance for everyday “citizens” to be directly involved in amphibian and reptilian conservation. Participants will learn how to find and identify amphibian and reptilians (Snakes) to help scientists identify conservation concerns for the amphibian and reptilians .Everyone who participates in the amphibian and reptile (Snake ) Count does it for the joy of being outdoors and helping promote the conservation of our most unique amphibian and reptilian diversity in Uganda.
Our intention for students and the general public is to gain knowledge and skills in identifying common reptiles and amphibians and to understand the interrelationships among organisms as well as the relationships between animals and various habitats at the research study sites. Our study sites include Uganda Wildlife Education Center , Uganda Reptile Village and National parks of Uganda . Because of the long-term nature of this project, students are able to see major changes in land use including clear-cutting and they are able to assess the environmental impacts on various reptiles and amphibians due to human uses of particular areas of the sites
COMMUNITY CONSERVATION ACTION
With our mission always in mind, we work tirelessly promoting community-based conservation by empowering and providing land owners, homeowners and public servants tools to help with promote amphibian and reptile conservation in their communities. Thus creating healthier ecosystems and increased awareness of the issues amphibians , reptiles and other wildlife face in our rapidly developing world.
CONSERVATION EDUCATION OUTREACH
At Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization we are dedicated to providing amphibian and reptile (snake) presentations, radio talks and other educational programs to the public and schools in communities where we work. These programs are the hallmark our initiative to change human perceptions about reptiles (snakes) and amphibians.
Our work helps dispel myths and provided up-close and personal experiences for people with live snakes. We also take people on virtual field trips to find wild snakes or share our captive, educational snakes.
HABITAT PROTECTION AND PRESERVATION
Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization seeks out opportunities to leverage its conservation impact by identifying and protecting landscapes of high ecological integrity with high snake and frog species diversity.
In partnership with Uganda Wildlife and Conservation Education Centre, Nature Uganda and other conservation organizations , we are seeking funds to establish a facility to expand our capacity to breed endangered amphibians and reptiles in Uganda
IN SITU AMPHIBIAN CONSERVATION
In view of the conditions of many natural areas in our world today it is obvious that an active approach to in situ conservation is needed. Most natural areas have been greatly influenced directly or indirectly by humans for tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years. Much of this historical human influence has resulted in damaging many of our more sensitive habitats.
Within both of the reserves the EWCO is actively conducting in situ conservation projects to increase the diversity and abundance of the flora and fauna native to Uganda
In situ Amphibian Conservation
Our Amphibian conservation project largely focuses on in situ work around designing and putting into practice several pioneering methods of amphibian conservation. Our amphibian in situ conservation projects are focused on species that exists within our Uganda’s reserves, or were historically present in the regions. The in situ amphibian projects range from creating artificial breeding sites in favorable habitats specific to the target taxa, rehabilitating natural breeding sites that were damaged by prior human activity, or simply enhancing breeding sites in “healthy” habitats to increase breeding potential.
We need to do all that we can to preserve the known remaining Uganda populations of this beautiful and extremely rare species, and rest assured at Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization we will continue to work hard so that the metapopulations within the forest Reserves continue to thrive and expand!!!
General in situ Conservation Through Habitat Creation and Rehabilitation
At Elgon Wildlife Conservation Organization we are actively involved in trying to restore or improve certain parts of our reserves, and in doing so increase the vigor of the flora and fauna found within. Our in situ conservation activities include planting native plant and tree species to increase species and genetic diversity, which is vital for long term survival; recovering or increasing the abundance of certain tree and herbaceous plant species that are an important natural food source for animals in the area; rehabilitating key terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that have been damaged by human activity prior to being a biological reserve; creating terrestrial and aquatic habitats that have become rare or were naturally rare due to specifics; eliminating non-native invasive species; reforesting severely damaged areas such as pasture or other historically mono-specific agricultural zones.
SCHOOLS FOR AMPHIBIAN CONSERVATION
Another objective for students and the general public was to develop competence in conducting research on population trends for both common species (e.g. Fowler’s toads and Spotted Salamanders) as well as less common species (e.g. Eastern Box Turtle. The combination of animal and habitat content knowledge with research skills leads to a better understanding not only of the local environment but also a deeper conceptual understanding related to environmental literacy. Throughout our programs , our students are engaged in the whole process of science: generating research questions, reading research and talking with others working in the field, struggling with equipment and data collection, interpreting collected data and finally presenting their research project methodologies and findings to others. Students are exposed to careers in the biological/ecological science disciplines and had opportunities to meet and work with a number of scientists. We want students to know not only what scientists do and how scientists think, but to gain an awareness of and appreciation for local organisms and habitats. The knowledge, skills and positive dispositions towards the environment are the basis of strong environmental literacy. Our herp program has clearly become a model of authentic environmental education.
SURVEYING AND COLLECTING. Amphibians and reptiles were caught by hand or net during diurnal and nocturnal searches. The authors, with help from park rangers, local guides, and villagers, search in forests, around small streams, and near flooded vegetation at each location. Notes are made regarding GPS coordinates, ecology, behavior, date, time, and habitat details of each collected specimen. Animals are preserved in 10% buffered formalin. Tissue samples are taken from most specimens and stored in 100% ethanol. On completion of the expedition, with proper permits, the specimens and tissues are transferred to appropriate laboratories . Genomic DNA extraction from tissues and PCR reactions with gene-specific primers followed standard laboratory protocols.
SPECIES IDENTIFICATION –All animals are initially identified by external morphology and putative species ranges published in the literature (Branch, 1998; Schiøtz, 1999; Spawls et al., 2002; Spawls et al., 2006; Tilbury, 2010). Initial identifications were corroborated by experts (EG and MB). Phylogenetic analyses of genetic data are combined with published GenBank data and previously sequenced samples from nine years of expeditions to the DR Congo side of the Albertine Rift (EG), to confirm species identifications and to detect possible cryptic species
INVOLVEMENT OF LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Local communities are involved during this project. For instance, during our community-based conservation education programs, we involve local community heads and members of the communities in the programme. The community outreach witnesses great participations including traditional leaders, elderly men and women, hunters, market women and men, youths and children. We integrate scientific and local knowledge in the conservation education and awareness in this local.
Echuya (S01.25926, E29.79853) is a 3,400 ha protected area situated between Mgahinga Gorilla and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks. The reserve ranges in elevation from 2,270 to 2,570 m. This region harbors the large Muchuya Swamp that runs north–south and drains to the southern portion of the reserve. The forest is part of the Albertine Rift ecoregion, and therefore shares a lot 4 of flora, fauna, and habitats with the larger, better studied protected areas of this region. The sampling location within the forest consist of the high elevation Muchuya Swamp (ca. 2,200 m).
(N00.44815, E32.88987) is a 30,000 ha protected area in Central Uganda, just north of Lake Victoria. The reserve consists largely of moist semi-deciduous forest. The general topography is low, ranging in elevation from 1070–1340 m, and most drainage is to the north. The reserve is threatened by agricultural land use and is generally isolated from other protected areas in Uganda. Mabira is home to approximately 312 tree species, 315 bird species, 218 butterfly species, 97 moth species, and 23 small mammal species. Sampling locations within the reserve included semi-disturbed areas in the Nagojje beat
Bwindi Impenetrable (S01.04883, E29.79016) is a 32,100 ha protected area located in southwestern Uganda with an elevational range from 1,160–2,607 m, with 60% of the park over 2,000 m. The hillsides consist of primary Afromontane forest that contain more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The climate is tropical with annual mean temperature ranging from 20–27°C and annual rainfall ranging from 1,400–1,900 mm. The biannually peaking wet season occurs from March to April and September to November. This area protects an estimated 880 mountain gorillas, and over 120 mammal species, including elephants and antelopes. There are nearly 350 species of birds that can be found in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics. Sampling locations within the park included a low elevation (~1500 m) wetland site near the Ihihizo River, and a high elevation (~2200 m) site at Rwizi Swamp.
(N00.36247, E29.99863) is a 99,600 ha protected area located in western Uganda with an elevational range from 1,100–5,109 m. The Rwenzori Mountains reside along the DR Congo border, and are situated in the northern area of the Albertine Rift. The climate is tropical with annual rainfall averaging 2,500 mm. The biannually peaking wet season occurs from March to May and August to December. The diversity of ecosystems here includes equatorial snow peaks, lower elevation slopes of moorland, bamboo, and Afromontane forest. Five primary vegetation zones have been identified on the mountains and are associated with high elevations—montane forest, bamboo forest, tree heath-bog, Hagenia-Rapanea scrub, and afro-alpine moorland.
(N01.33513, E34.41092) is a 112,100 ha protected area located in eastern Uganda along the Kenyan border. This site is one of the largest solitary volcanoes in the world, and reaches an altitude of 4,321 m. Mean rainfall reaches over 1,270 mm per year, and rainfall ranges from 1,500 mm on the eastern/northern slopes, to 2000 mm in the southern/western slopes. The park’s two dry seasons extend from June–August, and December–March. Thus the park’s rainy season is bimodal, and the wettest period occurs from April–October. Mt. Elgon’s vegetation reflects an altitudinal gradient associated with large mountains. Mixed montane forest extends up to 2,500 m elevation, low canopy montane forest from 2,500–3,500 m elevation, and bamboo/moorland above 3,500 m elevation. The park boasts over 300 species of birds, and it has been declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve. Sampling locations within the park included a wetland site (~2,000 8
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (S01.35639, E29.62085) is a 3,370 ha protected area located in the extreme southwestern corner of Uganda, sharing a border with DR Congo and Rwanda. The elevational range for this park is high, extending from 2,227 m to 4,127 m. This site is part of the larger Virunga Volcanic province, and has several high-elevation crater lakes. The region is nearly exclusively Afromontane forest and is part of the Albertine Rift ecoregion. Large mammals, including the mountain gorilla, make this site exceptionally important in terms of biodiversity and conservation. Above the montane forest belt is the bamboo zone, then the Hagenia-Hypericum zone, then the Ericacious Belt, and lastly the Afro-Alpine Belt. Sampling locations within the park included sites along the park edge (~2,200 m) with moderately disturbed vegetation, and sites in the bamboo zone (~2,700 m),