To grab the attention of students, it is always helpful to find an unusual or interesting ‘hook’ to capture their attention and get them to focus on the subject matter at hand. These ‘hooks’ are especially effective in those first few minutes after they enter the room – the so called ‘meerkat’ opportunity.
A recent article in the Independent newspaper by Federica Marsi about chimpanzee conservation in Uganda gave me an idea for a new ‘hook’ for lessons on climate change. Although blatantly utilising the ‘cuddly animal’ emotion – there are solid facts behind this story.
Image: Federica Marsi
A 95 acre forest sanctuary island for rescued chimpanzees is located in the waters of lake Victoria in Uganda. This has been a safe home for orphaned and traumatised chimpanzees since 1989, and currently has 51 resident sheltering apes.
One of the rescued chimps is called Africa, and was rescued after being found shackled by heavy chains in a wildlife trafficker’s hideout in remote western Uganda. Africa was about to be sold to the highest bidder at a lucrative price. Large numbers of chimpanzees are being captured in Uganda and flown to zoos as far away as Russia, with prices reaching up to $10,000 (a little over £7,000).
Some chimps caught from the wild forests of Uganda are are sold as pets, shipped to labs, or killed for bushmeat. Over the course of a few decades, their population is estimated to have dropped from tens of thousands to around 5,000.
Africa and the other residents of the sanctuary are now facing new problems. The COVID pandemic certainly hasn’t helped, and the total absence of visiting tourists has removed a valuable income from the retreat. But the chimps are also being threatened by an exceptional rise in the lake’s water levels due to climate change, which is now putting the future of this primate sanctuary at stake. Access to a large chunk of the reception facilities have already been lost to the rising waters of the lake, which have also threatened the guest houses and restaurant.
Image; Federica Marsi
The Chimpanzee Trust – the NGO responsible for all aspects of the sanctuary – stacked stone-filled gabions around parts of the island’s perimeter. Yet the water rose by around 78 inches, swallowing half of the residential area. More worrying is the fact that five fruit trees are now out of reach to the chimps, and the organisation – which is facing soaring maintenance costs alongside the slump in revenues – must compensate for the loss with extra meals.
Image: Federica Marsi
Despite the difficulties, efforts continue to protect this endangered species. During Uganda’s six-year-long Bush War, which began in 1980, rebel groups fighting government forces used wildlife trafficking as a source of revenue. Chimps, who share 98 per cent of their genetic make-up with humans, could be sold at a lucrative price for unauthorised biomedical research.
To put things in a wider context, only around 200,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild on the entire African continent. Chimps share 98 per cent of their genetic make-up with humans, and their numbers are projected to decline by 80 per cent by 2050, according to the Jane Goodall Institute – due to diseases, poaching, and habitat loss.
The rise in water levels in Lake Victoria have also significantly affected shoreline communities in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and along the Nile River, the lake’s main outlet. rainfall in the area has been above average since May 2019, and water levels have risen by a staggering 79 per cent, flooding farmland and affecting human activities.
While a similar rise was recorded in the first half of the 1960s, climate change could be exacerbating this phenomenon. Warmer sea temperatures in the western Indian Ocean region have caused heavy rain in parts of eastern Africa, a phenomenon known as positive Indian Ocean Dipole.
Future forecasts are complicated by the sheer size of Lake Victoria, which is over half the size of England. While smaller lakes gain water from rivers, Victoria gains most of its mass from rainfall. The weather, therefore, will have a major impact on its water balance. Climate change is likely to be a contributing factor, as warmer air contains more water and, in turn, generates more rainfall.