Saving gorillas by bringing healthcare to local people in Uganda, an interview with Dr. Gladys Kalema-ZikusokaJeremy Hance
September 16, 2009
"Because we share 98.4% genetic material with gorillas we can easily transmit diseases to each other." Therefore, explains Kalema-Zikusoka "our efforts to protect the gorillas will always be undermined by the poor public health of the people who they share a habitat with. In order to effectively improve the health of the gorillas we needed to also improve the health of the people, which will not only directly reduced the health threat to gorillas through improvement of public health practices, but also improved community attitudes toward wildlife conservation."
This is CTPH's mission in a nut shell: save wildlife by improving local human health and hygiene. It's a win-win concept that so far has been ignored by major conservation organizations.
Kalema-Zikusoka at Hard edge between the forest.
"Park staff collect fecal samples from gorillas every week and when they range outside the park," Kalema-Zikusoka says. "Results from the fecal analysis are shared with the livestock and human health sectors to be able to better detect disease transmission at the human/wildlife/livestock interface."
Yet since its inception, CTPH has moved far beyond monitoring health of both groups for possible disease. They have worked long and hard to give the local people a better life, including education and economic opportunities. CTPH has begun a program to encourage family planning (Uganda has one of the world's highest population growth rates); they have built a telecentre so locals can have access to the Internet and therefore the wider world; they have begun computer courses at the center; and the organization has promoted ecotourism in the area as an alternative to poaching.
CTPH's successes have not always been easy. Kalema-Zikusoka says that one of the difficult tasks has been receiving funding for an organization that straddles the line between public health and conservation.
"Sometimes when we go to human health donors they say that we are animal people or when we ask conservation donors for funds to support community public health they say that this is public health not conservation," she says.
Examining gorilla fecal sample. Photo courtesy of CTPH.
It is clear that CTPH is beginning to be recognized for its innovative and effective approach: Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka won the Whitley Gold Award for grassroots nature conservation, i.e. the 'Green Oscars', this year.
In a September interview with mongabay.com, Kalema-Zikusoka spoke about winning the Whitley, combining public health and conservation, and the importance to conservation of providing education and technology to local communities.
Kalema-Zikusoka will be presenting at the upcoming Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 3rd.
INTERVIEW WITH DR. GLADYS KALEMA-ZIKUSOKA
Mongabay: What is your background?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: I am a wildlife veterinarian with public health field research experience in and around protected areas in Africa. I started my career with wildlife, when reviving a wildlife club, the Kibuli Secondary School Wildlife Club, at high school in Uganda in 1988, which focused on conservation education and had not been functioning for many years. This experience made me want to become a vet who works with wildlife. In 1996 I became the first veterinarian in the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and set up the veterinary department. During this time I led a team that investigated the first scabies skin disease outbreak in mountain gorillas traced to people living around the park. This was another turning point in my life where I felt that I also needed to improve the public health status of communities bordering protected areas who are important stewards of wildlife.
Mongabay: Most people wouldn’t necessarily link public health concerns with conservation. What is the connection?
Infant mountain gorilla dead from scabies. Photo courtesy of CTPH.
Mongabay: How has your training as a vet impacted your work with your organization Conservation through Public Health (CTPH)?
Signs of mountain gorillas: banana crop destroyed by the mountain gorilla. Photo courtesy of CTPH.
Mongabay: The public is aware of many examples of diseases passing from humans, but what are some examples of diseases passing from humans to animals, such as gorillas?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: Examples of diseases passing from humans to great apes are scabies passing from local community members to gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and respiratory viruses passing from researchers to chimpanzees in the Tai Forest in Ivory Coast.
Mongabay: Much of your work has been with gorillas (and the people living near them)—have you also worked with other species?
Health sign posts from CTPH. Photo courtesy of CTPH.
Mongabay: How important is tourism—such as visitors coming to see the gorillas—to the communities you work with?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: Tourism is very important for the communities because it provides a sustainable source of income from gorilla ecotourism that helps to prevent the communities from going into the park to poach and collect firewood. Uganda Wildlife Authority set up a community conservation department to ensure that the communities bordering the park benefit and become active stakeholders in wildlife conservation. Around Bwindi, 90% of the rangers/trackers are from the immediate communities and former poachers were employed as trackers; 20% of the park entrance fee is shared with the communities bordering the park and used to build schools, clinics and roads; and most importantly people are benefitting from small businesses selling crafts, food and offering accommodation to tourists that goes directly to the local entrepreneurs in the community. Some schools such as Buhoma Community Primary School (former Bwindi Orphans School) were built through tourists sponsoring kids to go to school, so these children are growing up understanding the importance of gorillas in sustaining their future livelihoods.
Mongabay: When working to save species like gorillas why do you believe it is important to also improve the lives of local people?
CTPh brochure in local language. Photo courtesy of CTPH.
Mongabay: Your organization has opened a Telecenter in Bwindi. Can you tell us about the center and how has it helped conservation and local health?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: The telecentre in Bwindi is helping to address the problems of poverty, isolation, poor health practices, lack of knowledge on sustainable environments, and limited access to education and job training in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Community members, primarily youth learn computer skills, as well as accessing the internet and community websites in the local languages. CTPH has created web content on these websites about the importance of being healthy and hygienic to prevent disease transmission between people and gorillas, which in turn promotes sustainable ecotourism and livelihoods. When people learn how to use the computer and access the internet, it opens up their world, and they can communicate with the tourists they meet, other stakeholders in the tourism, conservation and development sectors; and also carry out e-commerce such as sending photos of the crafts they are selling to potential buyers worldwide as well as making bookings through the internet for tourists to stay at their accommodation.
Mongabay: The center has courses in Computer Studies. How important is education to the local people?
CTPH brochure in local language and English. Photo courtesy of CTPH.
Mongabay: What advice would you give a local student interested in pursuing conservation?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: The advice I would give to a local student interested in pursuing conservation is to volunteer with a conservation organization, such as a government body like Uganda Wildlife Authority, conservation NGOs like CTPH, local Community Based Organizations, small and medium enterprises and tour companies working around protected areas. This will enable them to gain exposure into all aspects of wildlife conservation, including biodiversity protection, research, veterinary medicine, public health, law enforcement, community conservation, tourism, marketing, public relations and business development.
Mongabay: What are the greatest challenges of your work?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: The greatest challenges of my work are both internal and external. The internal challenges include not having enough resources to do the work that we feel needs to be done; this includes funds, people and equipment. So I end up having to do alot of multitasking which includes fundraising, making sure that the core activities are ongoing, in other words that our field programs are running, as well as the supporting finance and administration. We also find that there is a great need to carry out marketing and public relations yet do not have enough resources and this is an area that donors don’t like to fund. The external challenges include convincing people that integrating wildlife conservation and public health can create common benefits for both people and animals. Sometimes when we go to human health donors they say that we are animal people or when we ask conservation donors for funds to support community public health they say that this is public health not conservation. However we have made great progress in explaining this approach and received support from donors who see CTPH as a cutting edge approach to promoting wildlife conservation and integrated conservation and development initiatives (ICDs). This approach is also because public health is one of the most important indicators of poverty in the developing world.
Mongabay: You recently won the Whitley Gold Award for grassroots nature conservation. Can you tell us about this award and what does it mean for CTPH?
Mountain gorilla in Bwindi, Uganda. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
The Whitley Gold Award also generated much needed funds to run the operations of CTPH. The funds will be used to measure the conservation impact of CTPH’s work in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park by documenting improvement of hygiene indicators of community members who regularly interface with gorillas and resultant effect on the gorilla health status.
Mongabay: What can people do to help CTPH?
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: People can help CTPH by spreading the word about CTPH and the urgent public and animal health needs that we address; joining our membership program that is soon to be launched, adopting a gorilla or gorilla group where you will receive regularly updates on the gorillas or group that you adopted; providing grant funding for one of our new initiatives or sustaining the ongoing initiatives; making an individual gift to support our work, visiting us on a working holiday with CTPH where you will get to work at our Gorilla Research Clinic and with our community public health and telecentre team. If you choose to stay at the CTPH Silverback Gorilla Camp in Bwindi, where all fees for meals and lodging support the work of CTPH, you will get a tour of our Gorilla Clinic, hear a presentation on health threats to the endangered Mountain Gorillas, go gorilla tracking, bird watching and hiking in the forest.
Conservation through Public Health
Kalema-Zikusoka will be presenting at the upcoming Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 3rd.
Uganda abandons rainforest logging for palm oil
(05/27/2007) The Ugandan government abandoned plans to log thousands of hectares of rainforest on Bugala island in Lake Victoria for a palm oil plantation, Reuters reported Saturday.
Rare mountain gorillas in Uganda on the increase
(04/20/2007) High endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda are increasing, reports a new census by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Wildlife conservation Society, the Max Planck Institute of Anthropology and other groups. The population of gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has increased from 320 in 2002 to 340 today. A 1997 study found 300 gorillas, indicating that the park population has increased by 20 percent over the past decade. Aggressive conservation measures have been the key say researchers.