By Charlotte Beauvoisin and Amy Roll

In 21st century conservation circles, it is widely assumed that for conservation to be successful, human communities need to benefit. The benefits usually come in the form of jobs, community project such as schools or some training opportunities.

Improvements in human health are rarely discussed leave alone the potentially lethal impact of untreated human health issues on animal health and conservation.

One pioneering East African conservation organization that is successfully tackling these issues is Conservation Through Public Health.

 

In 1996, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) founder and CEO, Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, was working as the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s first veterinarian in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the southwest of the country. Bwindi is one of the few places where the 880 critically endangered mountain gorillas can still be found.

She experienced firsthand how fragile the balance between wildlife and human health is when she led a team managing a scabies skin disease outbreak among the mountain gorillas. Ruhara, an infant gorilla had died from a scabies outbreak that was eventually traced back to the communities living around the park. It was discovered that the gorillas had gone in to people’s gardens in search of bananas and got infected with scabies after coming into contact the clothes of people who had the disease.

The rural communities who inhabit villages around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are often the most difficult to reach with health and family planning services. They experience inadequate healthcare, which in turn affects conservation. Poor health in humans is inextricably linked to poor health and habitat loss for the mountain gorillas.

Preventing cross-species disease transmission

CTPH’s programmes integrate wildlife conservation, community health and sustainable livelihoods implemented using a “One Health” approach that addresses human, animal and ecosystem health together.

These programmes are designed to reduce threats to the gorillas and their habitat through preventing cross-species disease transmission. This has been carried out through promoting family planning, hygiene and sanitation and better nutrition. Projects include sustainable agriculture, gorilla and forest conservation, agribusiness, ecotourism and reducing conflict between people and the apes.

Recognizing the inherent links between health and conservation led CTPH to merge community health and wildlife project into one. The newly created Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs), trained by CTPH, are the volunteers who sensitize their

communities to critical conservation and health issues. They are the community’s first point of contact with the health system. They also collect data which is sent to the Ministry of Health and Uganda Wildlife Authority on a monthly basis.

“Cultivating a winning attitude to conservation and public health requires that communities become leaders and Conservation Through Public Health equips them with the tools to do just that,” said Kalema-Zikuso.

Beyond its core conservation and health programmes, CTPH is innovating its service and approach. The Gorilla Conservation Camp, a social enterprise of the nonprofit, was founded in 2008. The camp offers accommodation trekking visitors participating in educational tourism. It also offers accredited teaching in global sustainable development, within a field school setting for university students from around the world.

The educational experience provided by CTPH has a focus on the “One Health” approach that integrates human health, animal health and the environment for a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to solving some of the world’s greatest challenges. The Gorilla Conservation Camp is in an ideal camping setting — on the fringes of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site acclaimed for its great biodiversity.

The camp overlooks the rainforest, boasting one of the best views in Buhoma Village. It is one of the few budget options in Buhoma for visitors, students and researchers. Proceeds go directly back into funding CTPH programmes. The organization aims to improve self-sustainability to reduce reliance on donor funding.

The Gorilla Conservation Camp is attracting more international students, meeting the growing demand for universities to enhance their international engagement and for students to expand their study abroad options to Africa. Each year, students from a variety of educational backgrounds, from wildlife conservation to public health to community development, directly contribute to improving the health status and conservation of a critically endangered species — the mountain gorilla – and providing much needed healthcare to local communities and their livestock.

CTPH, with 10 years of testing this approach at Bwindi, provides a unique combination of an “education and safari” experience, open to people wishing to enhance their educational travel experiences.

Educational tourism

The Gorilla Conservation Camp is contributing to making Uganda a top destination for study and eco-tourism, especially in the growing field of “One Health.” Students have access to CTPH’s Gorilla Health and Community Conservation Centre, built with funding from Tusk, that is found on the same site as the camp.

Within the centre is a fully functioning lab where gorilla faecal samples are analyzed and monitored for any health discrepancies. Students in the past have worked with the Uganda

Wildlife Authority to collect samples and learn more about community conservation efforts. The nearby Buhoma Community Hospital has also partnered with students and CTPH, notably through the Village Health and Conservation Teams, to improve community healthcare.

The Gorilla Conservation Camp is another effort to improve local attitudes towards gorilla conservation and the national park by providing research and eco-tourism experiences that directly and indirectly benefit Ugandans.

The camp will also generate revenue for the CTPH development projects, which work with the rural poor communities to improve attitudes towards conservation and health. Tourists and international students support the local economy by buying goods and services and paying national park entry fees.

CTPH is an award winning grassroots Ugandan NGO and US-registered non-profit. It was established in 2003 to promote biodiversity conservation by enabling gorillas and people to coexist through improving their health and quality of life in and around protected areas in Africa.

Kalema-Zikusoka is one of the leading conservationists and scientists working to save the critically endangered mountain gorillas of East Africa. In 2009, she Gladys won the Whitley Gold Award for grassroots nature conservation. She is a board member at the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Conservation Through Public Health is currently scaling up the Village Health and Conservation Team model to new protected areas including Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Ugandan side of Mt. Elgon.

For more information about Conservation Through Public Health, visit www.ctph.org or Like the Facebook page. Email:supporter@ctph.org; Tel (+256 ) 700 720 997.

Charlotte Beauvoisin is a Ugandan-based Communications Professional and Writer on Conservation & Tourism

She runs the Diary of Mzungu blog www.diaryofamuzungu.com