Last night, for this year’s Tusk Conservation Lecture, Dr Gladys Kalema Zikusoka enthralled and entertained an audience of more than 450 at London’s Royal Geographical Society, with the story of her life and work with the mountain gorillas of her native Uganda.
Despite their increasing population, mountain gorillas remain critically endangered, with only 880 individuals in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. As well as being threatened by illegal killings, injuries from snares, and political instability in DR Congo, Gladys came to realise that they were also being threatened by disease transmission from the people living in close proximity to their habitat. Gladys described how she traced fatal scabies outbreaks in the mountain gorillas to impoverished communities living around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, who have less than adequate health care.
Gladys established Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) in response, and runs it to this day, providing veterinary care for the gorillas, and introducing simple public health measures to the surrounding communities to prevent disease transmission. In many cases this is as straightforward as introducing basic hygiene measures and water purification. This can make all the difference for both people and gorillas. Tusk has invested in CTPH since 2013, and enabled the construction of a Gorilla Health and Community Conservation Centre that supports these activities.
Gladys’ presentation was followed by a Q&A session with Tusk Chief Executive Charlie Mayhew, and Co-Founder and Director of Volcanoes Safaris Praveen Moman. Praveen and Gladys discussed how tourists visiting the gorillas ought to wear facemasks to prevent the transmission of respiratory disease, and felt that the majority of tourists would be only too happy to wear a mask if they knew it were the right thing to do.
When asked how many gorillas the remaining forests could hold, Gladys explained that the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where she works could probably hold a population twice the size it is today. Beyond that they would need more forest. Most encouragingly of all, Gladys explained that some communities are beginning to give their land over to the gorillas so that the forest can indeed be extended.
Tusk is extremely grateful to Artemis Investment Management for their sponsorship of the event, Volcanoes Safaris for providing an incredible trip to see the gorillas in the silent auction, and to Painted Wolf Wines for supplying the drinks.