Mitigating Zoonotic Disease Transmission with a One Health approach to Gorilla Conservation and Gorilla Tourism

Sarah Marsall
Published: 24 June 2022
Last edited: 24 June 2022
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Summary

Uganda's Gorilla tourism started in 1993. Concerns about disease transmission from humans to the great apes were quickly raised. In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the first scabies outbreak in 1996 resulted in the death of an infant gorilla. The disease was traced back to people, in this case to the local communities living around the National Park.

Mountain gorillas are endangered, with only 1,063 individuals remaining in the wild. Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) was founded by Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, with the mission to promote biodiversity conservation by enabling people, gorillas and other wildlife to coexist through improving their health and livelihoods in and around Africa’s protected areas.

CTPH has extensive experience implementing One Health approach in protected area management, and we are committed to sharing our lessons learned and recommendations with other countries facing similar issues.

Classifications

Region
East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Local
Multi-national
Subnational
Ecosystem
Forest ecosystems
Tropical evergreen forest
Theme
Food security
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Indigenous people
One Health
Outreach & communications
Sustainable livelihoods
World Heritage
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Wildlife Health Surveillance (to capture biodiversity, health, disease, and pathogen surveillance)
Species Disease Early warning systems
Risk communication, community engagement and behaviour change
Outbreak investigation and access to laboratory
One Health
Animal health
Biodiversity-health nexus
Health related aspects of socio-economic factors such as poverty, education, social security structures, digitalisation, financing systems, human capacity development 
Neglected tropical diseases, emerging infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance
Challenges
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Poaching
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Health
Lack of food security
Lack of infrastructure
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030

Location

Buhoma, Kanungu, Uganda | Democratic Republic of Congo

Challenges

  • Susceptibility of Gorillas, Chimpanzees and other great apes to human disease
  • Inappropriate tourism marketing that increases potential for risky behaviours rather than reinforcing risk mitigation
  • Limited knowledge of great ape tourism rules that puts great apes at risk from infectious diseases
  • Inadequate capacity to manage cross species disease outbreaks
  • Climate, economic and social vulnerability affecting local communities increases the risk of disease outbreaks that can be transmitted to endangered great ape populations 
  • Limited access to health services and information in remote communities surrounding the national parks leads to poor health, hygiene and sanitation, increasing risk of zoonotic disease transmission
  • Marginalisation and high levels of poverty amongst communities surrounding great ape habitats drive illegal forest activity and bush meat poaching, placing great apes at risk directly as well as from increased risk of contact to human diseases
  • Habitat loss due to high human population growth

Beneficiaries

  • Great ape populations living in the BINP
  • Local communities adjacent to BINP
  • Uganda Wildlife Authority and BINP management in particular
  • Tourism operators organizing great ape viewing tours in BINP

How do the building blocks interact?

CTPH’s One Health model is founded on the belief that biodiversity conservation must go hand-in-hand with improvements to the health and wellbeing of communities. As such, CTPH implements a three-pillared strategy which includes: 1) Improving Gorilla conservation through research conducted in a timely manner. This includes monitoring gorilla health and enabling a rapid response if any infections are detected; 2) Improving health amongst marginalised community members by engaging community volunteers to provide health and conservation services and information at the household level. This improves improves health, hygiene and sanitation and reduces illness, thereby also reducing risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases to the mountain gorillas; and 3) Supporting alternative livelihoods amongst impoverished community members surrounding gorilla habitats. In so doing, CTPH helps to reduce dependence on natural resources to meet basic needs of food and fuelwood, and reduces threats to mountain gorillas, other wildlife and their habitats by addressing key drivers of poaching and illegal activity – poverty and hunger. All of these pillars are supported by long-term partnerships with the government and NGOs.

Impacts

The impacts of implementing a One Health approach are the following:

  • Significant improvement in the general health of local communities living in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park;
  • Significant improvement of the general health of the mountain gorilla population living in Bwindi, and no death from COVID -19;
  • Significant increase in voluntary family planning uptake amongst local communities living in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, reducing pressure on both natural and household resources
  • The CTPH model of One Health was evaluated by international research institutions, as having truly contributed to conservation and sustainable development outcomes in Bwindi
  • A policy brief, including clear recommendations for safe great ape viewing, based on research proven outcomes, was compiled by CTPH and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme. It was endorsed by the Government of Uganda, partner NGOs in conservation and public health, and shared with the 13 other countries in Africa which have great ape tourism;
  • Improved awareness of, and adherence to, safer great ape tourism guidelines.

Story

Jo-Anne McArthur

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka started CTPH in 2003 in response to a scabies outbreak amongst the mountain gorillas, which were critically endangered at the time, of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where she was working as Uganda’s first wildlife vet. The scabies outbreak led to the devastating death of an infant gorilla and several others required treatment to ensure their survival. Dr. Gladys and her team traced the outbreak to local communities living on the outskirts of the park, where access to health services was very limited and health, hygiene and sanitation were poor. Recognising that gorilla conservation could not be successful without effectively engaging and improving the health and wellbeing of the local communities, Dr. Gladys established CTPH to implement a One Health model to gorilla conservation. The first of its kind in Uganda and with little acknowledgement of such approaches worldwide at the time, Dr Gladys had to overcome many challenges in early days of CTPH. This included major funding challenges as donors tended to want to fund either conservation approaches or health projects – but hers operated at the intersect of both.

 

Today, however, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which brought global attention to the interconnectedness of wildlife and human health and the major risks of not addressing them together, One Health approaches have gained recognition and momentum. Whilst this has brought significant attention to Dr. Gladys’s One Health approach, her priority – protecting the world’s endangered mountain gorillas of which there remain only 1063 in the world, remains the same. Dr. Gladys is passionate about ensuring that the world’s mountain gorillas are protected and that the One Health approach, which provides better outcomes for people, wildlife and habitats, continues to be scaled up to benefit more people, landscapes and animals.

Contributed by

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Mary Leakey Conservation Through Public Health