After I witnessed horrifying events, such as like chimpanzees losing their hands from snare injuries, I became motivated to make a difference and protect biodiversity. I have often stood on the edge of a park and to the back of me was a rich, vibrant ecosystem often brimming with the wildlife, while in front of me was a nearly naked landscape of over-grazed pasture land (Costa Rica) or a cropland (Uganda).
As a result, I am very active in communicating to the public through lectures, news and radio interviews, TV appearances, film projects, and especially in my activities with the National Geographic Society. I have also engaged the rural Uganda communities I work with to illustrate that Kibale something they should be proud of and is valuable to them.
During my career I have worked diligently to enhance the lives of the local communities living around Kibale by working with other to:
- establish a chimpanzee ecotourism site that generates funding for the community (20% of the tourist fee goes directly to the community);
- creating community ecotourism sites near volcanic crater lakes;
- helping restoration efforts that have led to the reforestation of 7500 hectare and employed up to 360 villagers for almost a decade;
- supervising 18 Ugandan students – one of whom became the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA);
- building and supporting Makerere University Biological Field Station by writing grants to build and equip the station, teaching numerous field courses, and developing a consortium of 22 supporting Universities;
- establishing a medical clinic and then a mobile clinic that provides healthcare, vaccinations, AIDS testing and treatment, family planning, and conservation education to all the villages around the Kibale;
- engaging with local communities by giving talks, and TV, radio interviews, and raising $70,000 from private donors to develop a Soap Opera about the need for family planning for radio that was written, preformed, and broadcast throughout Uganda and Rwanda.
Where possible, I have tested the long-term effectiveness of these programs. For example, one of his students elucidated the fact that the field station (for which he wrote some of the first funding grants to build – and continues to promote) provides long-term financial benefits to 720 people and the mobile health clinic attends to 12,000 people each year.
For Scientific Editing see Michael Lawes