CONSERVATION THROUGH PUBLIC HEALTH (CTPH)
The CTPH project takes a unique approach to gorilla conservation in Uganda by focusing not only on gorilla health but also that of humans and livestock; people and livestock living in close proximity to each other pose a high risk of disease transmission. This project has overseen the development of a permanent Gorilla Health and Community Conservation Center. Funding from the CCFA enabled the CTPH project to further expand and strengthen its gorilla health monitoring work.
The CTPH Community Health program was significantly scaled up and strengthened, having proven the concept through an earlier pilot phase. An additional 239 Village Health and Conservation Team volunteers (VHCTs) were added to the existing 31 VHCTs in 6 Parishes around Bwindi.
These newly initiated VHCTs were trained on key health and conservation issues to support their community outreach activities and household visits around Bwindi. Priority issues include: prevention of transmissible disease (including, importantly, cross-species transmission); hygiene and sanitation; proper waste disposal; family planning (including the distribution of appropriate family planning methods such as injectable contraceptives which have been very well received); energy saving stoves and tree planting.
VHCTs also play a very important role in referring community members with health concerns for further medical assistance. All 270 VHCTs were also trained on the modalities for revenue sharing from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). UWA allocates 20% revenue of park entrance collections and $10 raised from the sale of each gorilla tracking permit to communities living on the outskirts of the gorilla habitats, helping to distribute benefits more evenly and build respect and understanding for gorillas amongst the community members best placed to impact either positively or negatively on their survival.
The work of VHCTs in communities around Bwindi has contributed to an increased uptake of voluntary family planning amongst women in the Bwindi communities from 22% in 2007 to 67% in 2017, considerably overtaking the national average which increased from 24% to 48% in the same ten-year period.
Under the Gorilla Health monitoring component of CTPH’s work, funding has enabled continued collection of wildlife, livestock and human faecal samples for zoonotic diseases analysis at the Gorilla Health and Community Conservation Center. Community volunteers- aptly named ‘Gorilla Guardians’- and park rangers are trained in non-invasive collection of faecal samples from Gorilla nests as well as in clinical observation of wild gorillas to identify any health concerns. Gorilla Guardians are also trained in strategies to safely herd gorillas which have strayed out of the park boundaries back to safety, thereby avoiding potential human-gorilla conflict. In 2018, 114 out of 282 potential human wildlife conflicts were attended to – and prevented – by Gorilla Guardians.
CTPH works to prevent human and wildlife interface disease transmission, therefore the team has turned its focus towards the prevention of COVID-19 transmission between humans and gorillas. Research on whether gorillas are susceptible to the virus is inconclusive. However, due to the fact that gorillas and humans have a 98% DNA match, the CTPH team has chosen to remain cautious in their interactions with the gorillas during the pandemic.
CTPH is urgently seeking funding in this time of crisis to support the Uganda Wildlife Authority in the following ways:
- Training of park staff to manage tourists and gorillas during the Coronavirus and other similar respiratory disease outbreaks. This includes ensuring the seven metre viewing distance is enforced; mandatory hand washing prior to trekking; disinfection of visitors prior to ape viewing; and masking during the viewing of great apes. The staff will also be trained to use infrared thermometers, for early detection of any illness.
- Training of park staff and Gorilla Guardians (who safely herd gorillas back to the park when they forage from community land) on the monitoring of gorilla health and signs to watch out for which could signify COVID-19 infection in Mountain Gorillas.
- Training of Village Health and Conservation Teams (who reach every home in their village with critical health, hygiene and conservation information), to help communities take measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in villages where gorillas forage on community land.
- Distribution of posters to display in key places around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to remind people of the guidelines on how communities can prevent themselves and gorillas from contracting COVID-19 (working closely with the Ministry of Health).
Nearly all the countries in the world have promised to improve the planet and the lives of its citizens by 2030.
They’ve committed themselves to 17 life-changing goals, outlined by the UN in 2015. These Global Goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), include ending extreme poverty, giving people better healthcare, and achieving equality for women. The aim is for all countries to work together to ensure no one is left behind.