Saving the gorillas of Uganda by helping the people of Uganda

Conservationist and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka spoke at The Explorers Club in New York City last night in support of her new book, Walking with Gorillas: The Journey of an African Wildlife Vet.

Dr. Kalema-Zikuoska founded the NGO Conservation Through Public Health, and has had remarkable success in Uganda with a revolutionary approach to conservation by focusing on the integrated health of humans and wildlife.

She talked about her holistic approach to saving critically endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda's national parks. She promotes the health and lives of the gorillas by promoting the health and well being of the local communities.  The approach is to give education, health care, and family planning services to the communities, involve them in the care of the gorillas, and ensure that they participate in the economic benefits of the ecotourism that the gorillas generate.

If both the gorillas and the people in the area are healthy, they will not transmit diseases to each other.  And if the people maintain economic stability, they will not resort to hunting for bushmeat. 

If they are participating in the tourism money gorillas bring to the area, they will have an economic incentive to keep them alive and well.

Dr. Kalema-Zikuosa spoke about the cultural aspects of hunting gorillas, and how education is essential to combating ingrained beliefs.  She said that while one group would not hunt gorillas because they believed it was bad luck to look them in the eyes, another believed that eating gorillas would give you their strength.

Using her approach, the mountain gorilla population in the Bwindi and Virunga national parks has grown from about 700 in the mid-2000s to over 1,000 in 2018.

Her story is fascinating because implementing a conservation program that takes the entire well being of the local communities into account is not only best for the people, but also the gorillas.

By the way, The Explorers Club, founded in 1905, is an amazing place. 

Its members have included Robert Peary, the first to the North Pole (1909), Roald Amundsen, first to the South Pole (1911), Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, first to the summit of Mt. Everest (1953), and Neil Armstrong, first to… well, you know (1969).

And it looks just like you'd imagine it.

And, yes: Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka is a member.

This video shows Dr. Kalema-Ziusoka explaining her conservation philosophy.