Shout about these extraordinary people, and the tireless work they do to protect our most vulnerable animals.
The gorilla has been an important flagship species for the conservation of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Just by protecting gorillas we protect the forest, the forest elephants, the chimpanzees, the birds and all the other primates that live there.
At the age of 25, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka became the first ever wildlife vet for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). A moving encounter with Kacupira, a mountain gorilla in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest led her to specialise in the species.
One of her first accomplishments was to successfully diagnose an outbreak of scabies (a human skin disease) in the Bwindi gorillas and link it to poor hygiene in impoverished neighbouring communities. Unhygienic practices, such as scarecrows made with dirty clothing led to disease transmission when gorillas went crop-raiding in community farms – an inevitability given that they share 98% of genetic material with humans.
There were only 650 mountain gorillas in the world at the time, half of whom lived in Bwindi, a 330km2 forest. This small, closed-in habitat surrounded by human settlement, put the sub-species in an especially precarious situation of regular disease transmission.
For Gladys, there is no future for a species without finding solutions for humans and wildlife to co-exist. In 2003 she established Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), an organisation that focuses on both human and gorilla. Teams of Voluntary Health Conservation Workers train households on hygiene and sanitation practices that promote better health, and include family planning, while the Human Gorilla Conflict Prevention teams mitigate crop-raiding by gorillas.
CTPH’s latest project is Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a social enterprise that seeks to secure premium prices for coffee farmers in the region with a portion of each sale going towards gorilla conservation. These tangible improvements to livelihoods have led to increased positivity towards gorilla conservation and tourism.
Over the past 25 years the population of mountain gorillas has grown to 1,000.
Gladys’ approaches to conserving the mountain gorilla work because they are practical and sustainable while meeting and championing the needs of people.
People in Uganda and Africa need to see that the wildlife is their future in order for the wildlife to be secure. When the wildlife is secure then we can all benefit.
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Image Credits: © Sarah Marshall