There are many ways in which people practice conservation. The most well-known are working to save species in the field or setting up protected areas. But just as important—arguably more important for long-term conservation success—is conservation education, especially with children. Anyone who grew up watching David Attenborough documentaries, reading Gerald Durrell books, or simply exploring ecosystems on their own can tell you how important it is to encounter the wonders of wildlife at a young age. And for many of us most of our first encounters with wild animals are in illustrated books. Eric Losh’s new book, The Chorus of Kibale, not only provides an educational opportunity for children to become acquainted with the many animals in Kibale National park in Uganda—through wonderful pictures and sounds—but proceed also go directly to two conservation groups working in the region, U.N.I.T.E. for the Environment and the Primate Education Network.
“I remember feeling very empowered with the knowledge of the world’s animals from illustrated children’s books I had as a kid, as they inspired me to care about the environment. With The Chorus of Kibale I wanted to teach children in the same way that I learned about wildlife, through visual storytelling with animal characters that learn lessons influenced by the real places they live,” Losh told mongabay.com. “By imparting an interest and appreciation for the wildlife diversity of a section of the world (or a sense of pride for one’s home country when it comes to students in Uganda), the hope is that conservation of wildlife and the environment becomes ingrained in one’s personal and cultural values.”
The Chrous of Kibale cover.
In Losh’s book a lost redtail monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius) must learn how to listen to the forest—with the help of many new friends—before finding their way back home. The book celebrates the rich biodiversity of Kibale, especially its 13 primates species.
Located in southwest Uganda, Kibale National Park houses a vast tropical rainforest, home to elephants (Loxodonta africana), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and of course redtail monkeys. However, the park is also under significant threat from the booming human population that surrounds it: illegal deforestation and bushmeat hunting remain considerable challenges.
In a November interview with mongabay.com, Eric Losh describes his new book, his travels to Uganda, and how he hopes The Chorus of Kibale will aid conservation efforts around the park.
To purchase or learn more about The Chorus of Kibale, visit: www.TheChorusOfKibale.com.
Artwork by Eric Losh can be found online at: www.elosh.com
AN INTERVIEW WITH ERIC LOSH
Page from The Chorus of Kibale by Eric Losh.
Mongabay: What’s your background?
Eric Losh: I’m an artist and wildlife enthusiast working as a graphic designer and illustrator in New York City. I grew up in West Virginia where I spent many childhood vacations with my birdwatcher grandparents and family exploring and drawing nature in the Appalachian Mountains. I went to college at West Virginia University and studied graphic design, and then pursued an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City focusing on visual storytelling. Professional experience in the fields of children’s publishing and PR marketing have since aided me in independently producing my current children’s book, The Chorus of Kibale.
Mongabay: What inspired you to write and illustrate The Chorus of Kibale?
The Chorus of Kibale makes its way around Uganda.The book was shared with local children, rangers from the KAFRED Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, and teachers from UNITE for the Environment in Fort Portal, Uganda. Photos courtesy of: Eric Losh.
Eric Losh: I first traveled to Uganda in 2009 to visit a friend who was serving in the U.S. Peace Corps. Among the national parks we visited was Kibale National Park, where the sounds of the African rainforest and sights of monkeys, birds, and chimpanzees inspired me to create The Chorus of Kibale. The children’s book is about a young redtail monkey who gets lost in the jungle, and while searching for her troop, she meets many new primates that teach her how to listen to the forest to find her way home. The story teaches readers about the importance of listening, teamwork and biodiversity in an African rainforest.
After four years of working on the book, partnerships with conservation NGO’s, and running a successful crowdfunding campaign to get a first edition of books published, I recently went back to Uganda and had the opportunity to spend more time in Kibale National Park and to share the book with park rangers, local children, and conservation education groups working in the area.
Mongabay: Will you tell us more about visiting Uganda? Any especially memorable moments you’d like to share?
Eric Losh: Uganda is an amazing country for ecotourism opportunities at a variety of national parks. Traveling with friends, we’ve been at trunk’s-length distance from a bull elephant in Murchison Falls National Park, roadside with a leopard in Queen Elizabeth National Park, and eye-to-eye with chimpanzees in Kibale National Park.
Kibale National Park is by far my favorite national park in Uganda. The sights and sounds of its rainforest wildlife have brought me to visit twice—the trips bookending my work on The Chorus of Kibale. The park is so rich in wildlife, that on our recent trip this year, my partner Meghan and I encountered no less than six primate species while driving along the road—before we even arrived at the visitor’s center! By day in Kibale National Park we observed multiple species of monkeys along the forest trails, and watched baboons as we ate at the lodge. At night we hiked through the jungle with headlamps to find nocturnal wildlife, successfully spotting two of Kibale’s lesser-known primates: the smallest primate in Africa, the Demidoff’s bushbaby; and the bizarre sloth-like potto. We slept in a treehouse overlooking a swamp clearing used by elephants, and were serenaded by the mysterious and (admittedly) unnerving sounds of the forest creatures at night. Outside of the park we visited the community-operated Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, where we observed over 60 species of birds including turacos, barbets, hornbills, weavers and kingfishers.
The most popular tourism opportunity inside Kibale National Park is chimpanzee trekking. Led by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, visitors are split into small groups to observe some of the 100+ chimpanzees (just a fraction of Kibale
s total) who have been habituated to the presence of humans. On both treks I’ve taken, our guides were able to locate nearby groups of chimps from their hoots and shouts that echo through the forest, and then lead us in quick pursuit through Kibale’s humid vine-tangled forest trails. First glimpses of chimpanzee backsides and bare feet walking just ahead of us led to extended observations of them feeding in fig trees and climbing down to peer at us through the foliage. We were even able to photograph the alpha male sitting and “posing” for us out in the open.
Mongabay: What makes Kibale National Park so special?
Chimpanzee in Kibale National Park. Photo by: Eric Losh.
Eric Losh: Kibale National Park is one of the remaining strongholds of biodiversity in East Africa. Geographically located between the lakeside and savannah zones of East Africa and the great Congo forest just west beyond the neighboring Rwenzori Mountains, Kibale is a wildlife hotspot. Expanses of primary and secondary rainforest, grassland and swamp habitats in Kibale National Park are home to thousands of plants and animals, including 330 species of birds and 60 species of mammals. Alongside elephants, buffalo, bushpigs, civets, bats, squirrels and antelopes, Kibale has one of the highest densities of primates in the world. Thirteen native species include redtail, blue, vervet, and L’hoest’s monkeys; grey-cheeked mangabey; olive baboon; black and white colobus, and one of the largest populations of the endangered Uganda red colobus. Nocturnal primate species include three species of bushbaby and the potto. The most famous residents however, are chimpanzees—Kibale National Park is home to the largest total populations as well as the largest known communities of chimpanzees in all of East Africa—making Kibale an incredible ecotourism destination and world-renowned research site for observing our closest primate relative in the wild.
The park also protects some of the last stands of original tropical old-growth forests that once covered much of Uganda and East Africa. Herbal medicines from hundreds of rare plants are still used by local people, and researchers are still finding out volumes of information from the ecology of the Kibale Forest, like how the forest cleans the water and air, maintains the local climate, and provides rainfall to the surrounding landscape.
Mongabay: What threats is the park facing?
Eric Losh: Kibale National Park is essentially an ecological island. Aside from a narrow corridor connecting it to the open grasslands of Queen Elizabeth National Park to the southwest, Kibale National Park is a 766km2 area of forest almost entirely surrounded by farmland and rural development. Uganda is seeing some of the highest population growth rate in the world (3.3%) and much of that is concentrated in the Western Region, so there is intense pressure being put on Kibale National Park for natural resources. Trees are illegally harvested for firewood and charcoal production; forests are cleared for agriculture; and illegal and unsustainable hunting for bushmeat is depleting antelopes, elephants, bushpigs and buffalo. The most common method of bushmeat hunting uses spring-loaded snare traps made from wire or nylon attached to a bent pole or branch. The traps can spring on any animal walking into them, including non-target animals such as chimpanzees. Once caught around the apes’ hands or feet, these traps are often ripped from the ground by the chimps, but the snares remain attached and tighten even more. Injuries often result in crippled or amputated limbs and even death from infection. Reports show that one in three chimpanzees in Kibale National Park is affected with a snare injury. During my recent chimp trekking experience, we observed one young male attempting to climb trees with a mangled left hand, undoubtedly as a result of a snare.
Unfortunately, poverty is a major driver of this environmental degradation. With too few education or job opportunities, local communities often turn to resource extraction to provide for their families. The hope is that better and more affordable education to children and adults, more sustainable agricultural practices and resource management, and alternative income generating projects such as those offered from beekeeping and wildlife ecotourism, local community members are better able to survive without destroying the park. Conservation education is one way to help mitigate this problem because ultimately it is about changing attitudes and behaviors regarding the environment. The more people are aware of the issues the more informed choices they will be able to make.
Mongabay: Why did you choose the red-tailed monkey as your heroine?
Redtail in Kibale. Photo by: Eric Losh.
Eric Losh: The redtail monkey is a very common, yet colorful and charismatic species of guenon monkey found throughout much of equatorial Africa. It is likely that most Ugandans have encountered redtails outside of national parks along roads or near villages, and these monkeys are often reported as pests and crop-raiders. It was important for me to choose an animal species that people were familiar with, so they could learn to appreciate it from a different perspective. The redtail monkey in this story serves as an animal ambassador to Kibale National Park, taking readers on a tour of the forest to encounter many animal species—such as the famous chimpanzees—that many people would never get the opportunity to otherwise see in the wild.
Mongabay: The artwork in the book is really stunning. What’s your process as painter?
Eric Losh: Thanks! I primarily paint with a combination of watercolor and acrylics on paper, often building up the paintings leaf by leaf. I used a lot of research and reference for the scenes in the book, including my own photography and field photographs taken by research biologist Michelle Brown, PhD, who has been studying redtail monkey communication and behavior in Kibale National Park since 2007.
Detail from The Chorus of Kibale by Eric Losh.
An important element of The Chorus of Kibale was the illustrated depiction of the unique chorus of animal sounds of the forest. I often listened to Michelle’s audio recordings of the Kibale soundscape and researched vocal descriptions of animals from academic field guides while I hand-drew the onomatopoeic words. Later, I digitally colorized and superimposed each chirp, chat, hoot, whoop, and whistle into the paintings, weaving the chorus throughout the forest scenes.
Mongabay: How do you see artwork and storytelling as connecting to conservation efforts?
Eric Losh: Art and storytelling have always been part of the way we learn, and when combined can be powerful educational tools that can teach and translate what we know about the world. When it comes to conservation, I remember feeling very empowered with the knowledge of the world’s animals from illustrated children’s books I had as a kid, as they inspired me to care about the environment. With The Chorus of Kibale I wanted to teach children in the same way that I learned about wildlife, through visual storytelling with animal characters that learn lessons influenced by the real places they live. By imparting an interest and appreciation for the wildlife diversity of a section of the world (or a sense of pride for one’s home country when it comes to students in Uganda), the hope is that conservation of wildlife and the environment becomes ingrained in one’s personal and cultural values. This in part can affect decisions later in life that have an impact on the environmental health and wellness of these places.
Mongabay: The proceeds from the book are going to organizations working in Uganda. Will you tell us about how the proceeds will help the region?
Primate Education Network’s roundtable participants gather at the 2013 Zoos and Aquariums: Committing to Conservation Conference in Des Moines, IA. Photo by: the Primate Education Network.
Eric Losh: U.N.I.T.E. for the Environment is a book partner that is working in 11 schools around Kibale National Park to promote long-term conservation education projects, as well as raise awareness and appreciation of the park’s wildlife through teacher trainings, curriculum support, and classroom field trips. Managed by the North Carolina Zoo and run by executive director Michelle Slavin, UNITE will be using book proceeds to translate and print The Chorus of Kibale in Rutooro, the primary language spoken around Kibale National Park, and distributing the book to schools and staff to use in their classrooms as part of a larger mission to integrate conservation education into Uganda’s national curriculum.
My other partnership is with the Primate Education Network (PEN)—a global network dedicated to connecting and empowering primate conservation educators. Founded by executive director Amy Clanin, PEN has established a presence through Regional Coordinators based in eight countries, including Uganda, in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The organization’s Regional Coordinators are building an extensive network of primate conservation educators around the globe, and through their communications, they have verified that one of the leading challenges for primate educators is a lack of funding for their work. To help, proceeds from
The Chorus of Kibale will be donated to PEN’s Primate Education Grant Program—a new partnership model to fill a critical gap in funding and strategic support for primate educators. The grant program will build the capacity of primate educators and include a service component to help them design and evaluate their conservation education programs.
Mongabay: What are you currently working on and what’s next for you?
Eric Losh in Kibale. Photo courtesy of Eric Losh.
Eric Losh: My partnership with UNITE and PEN has helped to connect me with quite a few other conservation organizations in Uganda including the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, which is an umbrella project that integrates various research, education and conservation activities in Kibale National Park, including the Kasiisi Project and the Kibale Snare Removal Program. I am working on a new logo for the project and creating additional artwork for future fundraising opportunities.
Beyond the African continent, I recently completed a logo for the Cerro Dantas Wildlife Refuge located in the cloud forests of Heredia, Costa Rica where I volunteered as a citizen scientist for two weeks. I also illustrated a logo for the Asian Species Action Partnership (ASAP), a specialist group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that coordinates conservation efforts for critically endangered wildlife in Southeast Asia. These exciting partnerships have fostered great relationships with international conservation programs and given me the opportunity to make a meaningful impact through my artwork.
A great blue turaco (Corythaeola cristata) in Kibale. Photo by: Eric Losh.
Page from The Chorus of Kibale by Eric Losh.
(07/03/2013) A new series of films aims to protect Uganda’s great ape species (mountain gorillas and chimpanzees) by bringing entertaining and educational movies to a rural audience living on the edges of Kibale National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Produced with heavy input from locals, these films are acted with an all-Ugandan task to teach those living near great apes about the species and their conservation-needs.
(06/20/2013) Conservation work is often focused on the short-term: protecting a forest from an immediate threat, saving a species from pending extinction, or a restoring an ecosystem following degradation. While short-term responses are often borne of necessity, one could argue that long-term thinking in conservation and environmental work (as in all human endeavors) is woefully neglected, especially in the tropics. This is why programs like the Kasiisi Project are so important: by vastly improving education for primary kids near a threatened park in Uganda, the project hopes to create a “generation of committed rural conservationists,” according to founder and director, Elizabeth Ross.
(06/06/2013) When Rebecca Goldstone and Michael Stern first arrived in Uganda’s Kibale National Park in 2000 to study monkeys, little did they know then that they would stay on to kick-start an innovative organization, The New Nature Foundation, connecting locals to the park through videos and visits. Nor did they know they would soon tackle the biggest threat to Kibale: deforestation for cooking fuel wood. Since 2006, the couple’s organization has implemented a hugely-successful program that provides biomass briquettes for environmentally-friendly fuel for locals, cutting down on the need for forest destruction.
(06/05/2013) The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is using lucrative elephant poaching for ivory to fund its activities, according to a report published on Tuesday. Eyewitness accounts from park rangers, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) escapees and recent senior defectors report that the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the international criminal court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, ordered African forest elephants to be killed in Garamba national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the tusks sent to him.
(05/13/2013) The sunlight poured through the canopy, casting dappled shade over Makara, a large silverback mountain gorilla, as he cast his eyes around the forest clearing, checking on the members of his harem. A female gorilla reclined on a bank of dense vegetation of the most brilliant green, clutching her three day old infant close to her chest, and elsewhere, two juvenile gorillas played around a small tree, running rings around it until one crashed into the other and they rolled themselves into a roly-poly ball of jet black fluff that came to a halt a few meters in front of our delighted group.
(05/07/2013) A new video highlights the work of Badru Mugerwa as he sets and monitors 60 remote camera traps in one of the most rugged tropical forests on Earth: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Mugerwa is working with the TEAM Network, run by Conservation International, which monitors mammal and bird populations in 16 protected tropical forests around the world. Every researcher uses the same methodology allowing findings to be compared not just from year-to-year but across oceans.