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Bwindi Natural Forest

Quest to Solve the Mysteries of Bwindi Forest’s Giant Cows

Quest to Solve the Mysteries of Bwindi Forest’s Giant Cows

Bwindi Natural Forest ,

My name is Fredrick Ssali I am a Masters’ student at Mbarara University of Science and Technology. ITFC has given me practical, financial and academic support in my studies in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. I’d like to tell you a little about my work.

Cows are the largest domestic animals in areas around Bwindi and generally in south western Uganda. They are mainly kept for their products like milk and meat and the money that can be obtained after the sale of the animals or their products. The long history of the domestication and intimate contact with these herbivores has led to parallels being drawn with other large herbivores. It is therefore not unusual to find our people referring to elephants as ‘big cows’.

My ITFC research team and myself studying the impact of elephants on the forest vegetation in BINP has often been asked questions by the locals like ‘When are you bringing us milk from the field?’ We can only answer ‘may be next time’, ‘may be tomorrow’, ‘sometime next month’, among others.

In this study, I have had the rare privilege of encountering the ‘big cow’ of Bwindi. It was a memorable encounter, so fascinating that the entire research team (Christopher, Caleb, Caesar our UWA ranger based in Rushaga and I) had to spend over 40 minutes marveling at the giant.

The elephant went about its normal activities seemingly not bothered by our presence. On our part, we kept our distance (about 10 m from the elephant) and communicated either by whispering or keeping our voices as low as possible. In addition, we were helped by the stable wind and thick vegetation that fairly concealed us from the elephant. We left the scene only after the elephant had gone over the hill and was no longer in sight.

This study has been relying on following fresh elephant trails characterised by snapped branches, uprooted trees, churned earth and unmistakably large piles of dung. We have sometimes unknowingly come close to the elephants only to be rudely alerted of their presence by the sudden sound of breaking wood as boughs are torn off trees by the animals in their haste to move away. The rangers and field assistants have helped calm my nerves especially after these close encounters. Definitely my heart skipped some beats but we have always come out with the data I need to write up my thesis.

Below are pictures taken in the course of this study. They show elephant signs and different forms of impacts visited by elephants onto the forest.


Picture 1: Elephant foot marks left in Mubwindi swamp


Picture 2: Elephant dung found in Rushaga


Picture 3: Debarked stem found in Kanyabukyere near Ndego gate


Picture 4: open ground due to trampling by elephants

Thanks for journeying with me along the elephant paths. I hope to tell you more when I have done my analyses.

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