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Julia Lloyd: Primatologist And Village Girl

Julia Lloyd

Julia Lloyd

After a 10 minute walk up a steep, dusty hill we arrived at a small collection of wooden cabins which comprise bedroom, guest quarters and office, where we were greeted by a barefoot and smiling Julia. After brief introductions she kindly showed us her office – a small, raised wooden house. The walls were lined with books by Richard Dawkins, Darwin, Jared Diamond and Jane Goodall, her desk empty apart from a laptop. It is an idyllic place to live, close enough to the forest that she often sees chimps swaying in the branches of the two tall, delicately fronded trees that mark the far boundary of her land.

Julia’s background was originally in entymology, but after doing some volunteering in Tanzania and the savannah she was asked to run the chimp project at Kibale. In her own words, she soon became “addicted”.

Julia’s research centres around 3 main questions:

Does chimp behaviour change when humans are around?

– It has been suggested that as a result of human presence the chimps are feeding less and travelling more. This will have an eventual effect on their reproductive success.

Do the guides stick to the rules set out to protect the chimps during tours?

– Flash photography is forbidden, and tourists are meant to be at least 8m away from the chimps at all times. Julia wants to make sure these rules are being rigorously followed, as well as finding out whether they are completely appropriate.

How much stress do tourists put chimps under?

– Urine is collected from the chimps and sent to Boston University to assess the cortisol levels (a stress hormone) in the chimps’ systems. They compare the levels of cortisol in those chimps exposed to tourists and those just exposed to researchers.

“Tourism is definitely needed, if there wasn’t any tourism there wouldn’t be any forest and the chimps wouldn’t be there.”

Julia Lloyd

Julia wants to see more control of the tourist groups so as to avoid the chimps becoming over-habituated and reduce the risk of disease transmission. Already a lot of the chimps were born into habituation and are comfortable with humans as long as they’re at a certain distance. For most of the people who come to visit the forest it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and so they want to get as close as possible to get their photos. The guide is the guardian of the chimps, but the tourists need to act responsibly too.

“Conservation is almost a privilege, most people have to think about survival.”

Julia Lloyd

Julia sees her research moving more towards the interaction between the community and the wildlife of Kibale. Living as part of the village has meant that she has had the chance to reach a deeper understanding of the community’s attitudes to conservation. Her own crops have been spoiled by elephants and she reiterated what we’ve seen in other places – that despite the eventual consequences of not conserving, it’s just not relevant to people who are living hand to mouth.

Nevertheless, she has recently started showing nature documentaries on a donated laptop in the local church and felt that a film about conservational issues in the immediate locality would be fantastic.

There is a word that the Ugandans use to describe white people that we have had shouted at us many times by delighted children as we’ve driven past – Mzungu.

After hearing what we could do to produce a film to be shown in the community, Julia grinned – “Well, Mzungus doing something worthwhile!” This validation by a member of a Ugandan community who has had personal experience of the issues they face was a profound compliment.