Batwa: ‘conservation Refugees’ Of Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest’s mountain gorillas share their forest with the Batwa pygmies, a tribe of hunter-gatherers who lived in its caves and trees.

When Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga forests were gazetted National Parks in 1991, the Batwa were evicted from the forest to protect the primates, becoming conservation refugees. They were not compensated since they never owned permanent structures.

With no land rights or compensation, they were left to fend for themselves, living in a society that stigmatised them and for which they were totally unprepared.

Only an estimated 4,000 Batwa live in south-west Uganda, about 1,000 of them in the Kanungu district, which includes Bwindi.

In 2000, a survey conducted by an American physician, Dr Scott Kellerman, and his wife, Carol, revealed shocking statistics: life expectancy of the Batwa was 28 years, and four in 10 would die before their fifth birthday. The tribe was dying out, along with its unique culture and intimate knowledge of the forest.

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