Gorillas on My Mind

The first veterinary doctor in the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is wholly engaged in protecting and nursing African gorillas who are the most endangered species in the world

The Womenz team had an opportunity to interview Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Founder & CEO,  Conservation Through Public Health, Uganda and here’s what she shared with us


Please tell us something about your initiative Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)

Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) is a grassroots NGO and non-profit founded in 2003 that promotes biodiversity conservation by enabling people, wildlife and livestock to coexist through improving their health and livelihoods in and around protected areas in Africa. We envision people and wildlife living in balance health and harmony with local communities acing as stewards of their environment.


Can you please take us through your initial journey and what inspired you to start Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH)

When working as the first veterinary doctor in Uganda Wildlife Authority, one of my first cases was a fatal scabies skin disease outbreak in one of the two habituated gorilla groups, that was eventually traced to people living around the park who have limited access to basic health and other social services. Because people and gorillas are closely related we can easily make each other sick. The gorillas contracted scabies when they left the park to forage on community land. All four gorillas were scratching and developed white scaly skin. We were able to treat the group with one injection of Ivermectin, but sadly the 8-month-old infant, Ruhara died. This made me realize that you cannot protect the wildlife without attending to the health of people who they share their fragile habitat with.

Please tell us about Gorilla Conservation Coffee. How it is helping the wildlife and coffee farmers too?

Gorilla Conservation Coffee was set up to support the wildlife and coffee farmers. In our journey of setting up CTPH, we realized that people were often unhealthy because they were poor. On top of family planning to better balance the family budget, it was important to address livelihoods to break the poverty cycle to achieve our goal of keeping both people and gorillas healthy. Gorilla Conservation Coffee was created though a partnership between CTPH and Worldwide Fund for Nature Switzerland (WWF CH) to generate sustainable financing for conservation through providing premium prices for coffee farmers living next to gorilla protected areas, which would in turn reduce their dependence on the forest to meet their basic needs for food and fuel wood. What also makes Gorilla Conservation Coffee unique is the greater impact achieved where for every kilogram of roasted and branded coffee sold, a donation of  $1.50 is given to sustain the community health and gorilla health and conservation work of CTPH. We have started selling coffee to the tourist lodges, Entebbe Transit Duty free shops and Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) gift shops in Uganda and plan like to expand our markets to other countries. We are also selling Gorilla Conservation Coffee on line through our website and a recent crowd funding campaign.


Why did you choose Gorillas than other animals to support? 

We chose gorillas because they are one of the most critically endangered species in the world, with only 880 mountain gorillas remaining, half of which live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. They are threatened by destruction of their home, disease from closely related humans and poaching of other animals in the forest, which brings them into closer contact with people conducting illegal activities in the national park.

Tell us your experience in convincing the people about your initiatives. Was it easy? 

At first, it was not easy to convince people of the value of addressing both conservation and public health together, which traditionally are separate. But once we told them the story of gorillas getting diseases from people, they understood that the only way to effectively prevent and control zoonotic diseases transmission was by addressing wildlife and community health together.


Does the cultural norms in Uganda support Gender equality. How are you addressing it? 

Uganda is a patriarchal society. However since the women’s movement began in Uganda, of which my mother is one of the pioneers  as well as being one of first women Members of Parliament,  there has been alot of progress made to address inequalities where all public institutions are required to have one-third women representation such as on government boards. Furthermore there is an additional seat for women MPs in every district. On this year’s International Women’s Day I was greatly honored to be awarded with the prestigious Golden Jubilee Award from HE President Museveni of Uganda in recognition of my service to the nation as a veterinarian and conservationist. Sixty women received an award this year for the impact they have had on different segments of Uganda’s society.


How you involve women in your initiatives? 

To be able to reach people living in frontline parishes around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, we engaged the local leaders to select Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs) who are local community volunteers trained to conduct health and conservation outreach to all the homes in their village. Half of the volunteers are women, which has helped to increase gender equality and made our behavior change communication to couples more effective.    Through our programs women have been empowered because they can space their children, giving them time to engage in other activities that build the home. We have also found that through the VHCT program, women have become more involved in conservation and men in health matters such as family planning.

How are you addressing the financial needs to run these campaigns? 

We recently conducted a rewards based Crowd funding campaign, to raise awareness about our new Gorilla Conservation Coffee brand and funds to be able to buy coffee for the next season to sustain our critical conservation work. CTPH started with grant funding and we are now focusing more on raising funds from individual donors. We also have a Gorilla Conservation Camp, where we host tourists and students who are conscious travellers wishing to give back to the communities they meet. They learn about the work we are doing and proceeds from the Camp go to support our conservation and community health work. Together with Gorilla Conservation Coffee, CTPH's social enterprises are another way that we are raising funds to be able to achieve our desired social and environmental impact.


What is your  biggest achievement so  far? 

My biggest achievement so far has been changing the attitudes of local communities and fellow Ugandans to value wildlife more through setting up the first veterinary department in UWA and setting up CTPH. I became an Ashoka Fellow in 2007 for merging Uganda's wildlife management and rural public health programs to create common benefits for both people and animals. I am honored to have also been recognized by Lionesses of Africa that supports women entrepreneurs in Africa.

What are your expectations from Government and other social bodies? 

To keep gorillas healthy and their habitats secured, we need the support of other stakeholders including Uganda Wildlife Authority, where I sat on their Board; the Ministry of Health, where I sit on a committee to establish the first National Institute of Public Health in Uganda; the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries; District Local governments; NGOs working with gorillas and other wildlife and in the public health and community development sectors; universities to support our research goals, schools, and the private sector including tour operators who bring tourists to see and support our work.


What are your future plans? 

We plan to scale our programs to other countries in Arica where gorillas are found, and also to other non-gorilla protected areas where our One Health model can promote sustainable development.

What is your message to the women out there who are struggling to prove themselves? 

My message to women out there is not to be afraid to follow your dreams, remain focused and the rest will follow. My mother is a great role model for me, and I want to be the same for our two boys and other young people. My husband, Lawrence, is my greatest fan, and is a founder member of CTPH and came up with the idea of setting up social enterprises to support our work.


We The Womenz team thank her for sharing her story with us. We are sure that her story will certainly inspire our readers.

Dr. Gladys can be reached on twitter,  Facebook and instagram

Here is one of  Dr. Gladys interview video available on one of the social site

First Published: 02-May-2017- 15:45