Mountain gorilla conservation through public health, Uganda
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is Founder and CEO of Conservation Through Public Health, a non-profit organisation working to protect the mountain gorillas of Bwindi, a remote and densely forested area in south west Uganda that is the only major stronghold of the species outside Rwanda. CTPH is unique, and works to prevent the spread of disease from wild animals to humans, and vice versa, by improving primary healthcare for people and animals in and around protected areas in Africa.
Gladys first learned about Uganda’s gorillas as a teenage wildlife advocate in Kampala where her passion for animals led to her starting a wildlife club at her school, setting up bird feeders and nature areas in its grounds, and organised trips to the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Her interest was fuelled further when she won a scholarship to train at the Royal Veterinary College in London and heard lectures about Africa’s great apes and their conservation needs. At 25, she became Uganda’s first wildlife veterinary officer with a brief that included protecting the health of gorillas in Bwindi where ecotourism was rising and increasing the level of contact between gorillas and people.
There, Gladys proved that crossinfection is possible when in 1996 and again in 2000 she traced an outbreak of scabies in the mountain gorillas to the local community where access to healthcare and health education was extremely limited.
Today, CTPH is addressing the issue by galvanising local people to adopt better health and hygiene approaches which benefit them and the gorillas, and enthusing them to help with surveys and monitoring through community-led outreach and education. She is helping
the community to improve facilities to attract ecotourists and ensure that tourists themselves do not bring disease to the gorillas.
The next step of her work is to develop house visits in order to contact the people living in the most remote homes bordering the park, and the 500 or so people who see gorillas most often. Many challenges remain. In March this year, concerns were raised about virulent new strains of diseases, such as polio, entering Uganda prompting a mass new vaccination programme. The good news is that Gladys and her team are now prepared to respond to crises. She is working to train local people in gorilla health monitoring, cultivating a winning attitude to conservation and public health in local communities.
2019 CONTINUATION FUNDING
Strengthening and scaling an integrated gorilla and human health conservation model
£40,000 over 1 year
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) lies in southwestern Uganda and is home to Endangered mountain gorillas, with just over 1,000 individuals remaining in the wild. High human population growth, with the associated risk of cross-species disease transmission and increasing pressure on gorilla habitat continue to be the main threats to and around BINP. Gladys’s NGO Conservation Through Public Health will work with people from communities bordering the park; many of whom are amongst the most impoverished in Uganda.
Her team are using Continuation Funding to scale up their “One Health” approach, addressing these threats through an integrated conservation and health model. The project will improve hygiene, sanitation and agricultural practices to prevent the spread of infectious disease between people, gorillas and livestock. Specifically, Gladys will use her funding to take forward recommendations following a recent evaluation of the project, including working with the Ministry of Health to support Village Health and Conservation Teams to improve the health of community members and boost access to contraceptives for women at a larger scale, whilst raising awareness of conservation issues. She will also introduce a livestock project to incentivise volunteers without the financial burden of monetary allowances and strengthen gorilla health monitoring, deworming at-risk communities and monitoring the reduction of cross-species pathogen transmission.