New group of chimpanzees monitored in Uganda

Dr Matthew McLennan, Director of the Born Free-supported Bulindi Chimpanzee and Community Project, introduces us to the Kiraira-Kasunga chimpanzees.

A chimpanzee sitting high up in the treetops, gripping a tree branch

Shaun, a male chimpanzee from the Kiraira-Kasunga group © BCCP

As a primatologist with a life-long passion for chimpanzees, for me, the most enjoyable aspect of the Bulindi Chimpanzee and Community Project’s (BCCP) work is finding out about new groups of chimpanzees. Unlike gorillas, they are not family groups, but small dynamic communities comprising males, females, and young chimpanzees, led by a dominant alpha male.

A headshot of Dr Matthew McLennan

Dr Matthew McLennan

Over the past several years BCCP have been expanding our Chimpanzee Monitoring and community conservation programmes to conserve additional groups of chimpanzees. With Born Free’s support, we currently monitor six groups, which is about half the population of the 300 or so chimpanzees living in unprotected habitat in the Budongo-Bugoma corridor.

Most recently, we started getting to know the Kiraira-Kasunga chimpanzees (so-named because their home range straddles the neighbouring villages of Kiraira and Kasunga). The process of finding out about unknown chimpanzees remains as exciting for me as when I first came to Uganda to study ‘village chimpanzees’ back in 2006!

Our monitoring involves identifying the individual members of each group, establishing their ranging and diet patterns, keeping track of their health and reproductive status, and mitigating conflicts with their human neighbours.


When we start monitoring a new group, direct observations can be fleeting as the apes are typically suspicious of people (with good reason – interactions between the chimpanzees and villagers are at times hostile). Therefore, for the first few months, we use remote camera traps (like the footage above) to help identify individuals and determine the size and composition of the group. It took two months of camera-trapping to establish that the Kiraira-Kasunga chimpanzees comprise just 16 members, including a clique of five adult males together with five adult females and their youngsters. All individuals are unique, and there are certainly some great characters in this small but hardy band of chimpanzees!

A close-up image of a chimpanzee who is looking directly into a camera trap

Camera-trap image of Aliana, from the Kiraira-Kasunga group peering closely at the camera © BCCP

These chimpanzees were once part of a bigger group that ranged within a thick old-growth forest, hidden among steep valleys within a range of hills. Sadly, over the past 10-15 years their forest home was sold off to investors and converted to farmland and exotic timber plantations. The small size of the Kiraira-Kasunga group today hints at the struggles these chimpanzees likely endured during the process of forest conversion. Indeed, three of the surviving chimpanzees exhibit the tell-tale signs of past encounters with traps and snares.

At BCCP, we’re committed to securing a future for the Kiraira-Kasunga chimpanzees – and for all the chimpanzees living in unprotected habitats in western Uganda. We’re very grateful for the enduring support of Born Free for our Chimpanzee Monitoring programme!