After visiting Uganda in 2019, I became aware of the plight of the Batwa pygmies, who were forcibly evicted without compensation at the creation of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. These hunter-gatherers were left without land or livelihood, and they have suffered horribly as a result. Occasionally, in desperation, they have gone back into the Bwindi park to obtain food, where they are treated as “poachers” if they do so. The protection of half the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas depends a great deal on getting local buy-in through community-based conservation. That’s why I proposed to the board of Biocultural Conservation Institute that we support two community-focused non-profits at separate sites along the borders of the national park. These non-profits are relatively young (we helped both get going) and are led by outstanding young men dedicated to improving conditions for the Batwa and protecting the wildlife of the park. There have been successful completions of water and agricultural projects that have greatly improved the lot of many of the Batwa. We have also provided food for Christmas celebrations and have gained their gratitude and commitment to protecting wildlife. I proposed to Artists and Biologists Unite for Nature (ABUN) the “Believing in Bwindi project to raise awareness and funds for the cause. I donated the free use of the majority of the photographs used by artists worldwide for the project. I have also committed funds from the sale of some of my paintings to the projects through BCI (e.g., paintings of a colobus monkey and a chimpanzee).
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was established in 1994 to protect about half of the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas, as well as exceptional biodiversity of many kinds (~120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 202 species of butterflies, 200 species of trees, and 100 species of ferns). Unfortunately, when the Ugandan government created the park, it forcibly removed the Batwa pygmies who had lived as hunter-gatherers in the forest for millennia, leaving them landless and destitute. There were minor concessions offered, then taken away. Fortunately, there are people standing up for the Batwa and helping them gain basic human rights like access to clean water, meaningful work, and healthful food crops. We at BCI support two of these groups, and our contributions have indeed made a difference. Here are some of the projects we support: https://bioculturalconservation.org/blog/