‘I am scared all the time’: Chimps and people are clashing in rural Uganda

Forest clearing has forced hungry chimps to raid villagers’ crops. At times, chimps kill children, and villagers kill chimps.

On this trail near Mparangasi village, a boy fetching water pauses cautiously as chimps pass. Around some villages in western Uganda, small groups of chimpanzees survive in remnant strips and patches of forest. Deprived of wild foods, the chimps emerge to raid crops and cultivated fruit trees, competing desperately with people for sustenance, space, survival.

Life was already hard enough for Ntegeka Semata and her family, scratching out a subsistence on their little patch of garden land along a ridgeline in western Uganda. They could barely grow food for themselves, and now a group of desperate, bold, crop-raiding chimpanzees threatened their livelihood, maybe even their safety.

The chimps had been coming closer for a year or two, prowling all throughout Kyamajaka village, searching for food, ripping bananas from the trees, grabbing mangoes and papayas and whatever else tempted them. They had helped themselves to jackfruit from a tree near the Semata house. But on July 20, 2014, scary tribulations gave way to horror—a form of horror that has struck other Ugandan families as well. That was the day when a single big chimp, probably an adult male, snatched the Semata family’s toddler son, Mujuni, and killed him.

“A chimpanzee came in the garden as I was digging,” Ntegeka Semata recalled during an interview in early 2017. Her four young children were with her that day, as she combined mothering with hard fieldwork, but she turned her back to get them some drinking water. The chimp saw his chance, grabbed her two-year-old son by the hand, and ran.

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