Gorillas are found in 11 countries in Africa. All gorilla subspecies are critically endangered and threatened by habitat loss, disease, poaching and conflict with humans. This is made worse by the living conditions of people surrounding gorilla habitats including poverty, lack of social services and high human population growth rates. Mountain gorillas found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Virunga Volcanoes in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC are numbering only less than 900. Eastern Lowland gorillas found in DRC are less than 5,000; and western lowland gorillas found in DRC and other countries in Africa are over 100,000, and are considered to be critically endangered because of the devastating effects of Ebola diseases outbreaks on their populations with a loss of over 5,000 gorillas. However the most endangered of the gorillas subspecies are the Cross River gorillas, found in Nigeria and Cameroon and numbering about 300.
To address these threats to gorilla conservation we improve gorilla health through regular health monitoring of habituated gorilla groups, and improving community attitudes to gorilla and forest conservation including reducing illegal use of the forest for poaching and harvesting of timber and non timber forest products, and improving their conservation practices through promotion of clean energy where we have started with energy saving cook stoves, soil and water conservation and sustainable agriculture.
The gorilla health monitoring was set up to proactively address cross species disease outbreaks between people, gorillas and livestock by establishing an early warning system. CTPH established a Gorilla Research Clinic in 2005 at Buhoma – Bwindi’s main tourist site, which in 2015, was upgraded to a larger Gorilla Health and Community Conservation Centre with support from Tusk Trust where samples from gorillas, livestock and people are analyzed to test for zoonotic diseases that have the potential to be shared across species. This initiative reduces threats to biodiversity conservation, by providing an early warning system for disease outbreaks between people, wildlife and livestock, helping to ensure timely responses and evidence driven interventions. This includes strengthening diagnosis for disease investigations in wildlife, livestock and people; and education targeted towards behavior change in national park communities to promote biodiversity conservation.
CTPH trains park staff and community volunteers as Human-Gorilla Conflict Resolution teams (HUGOs for short) in gorilla health monitoring, including recognizing and reporting clinical signs in gorillas and collecting fecal samples from gorilla night nests and trails both inside and outside the national park. HUGOs are responsible for safely chasing gorillas back into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park when they encroach on community land, often when foraging for banana plants. HUGOs collect gorilla fecal samples left on community land as part of CTPH’s and the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s (UWA) monitoring of gorilla health at a time when they are most at risk from human diseases.
Behavior Change Communication for Conservation
Through our Village Health and Conservation Team (VHCT) networks we enable all homes bordering the protected areas in communities where we have programs to receive conservation messages through couple peer education. Each VHCT is in charge of 50 homes and while delivering critical health services; they also deliver information on the importance of gorillas and conservation of their forest habitat. This includes the use of improved energy saving cook stoves, and practicing sustainable agriculture and soil and water conservation.
Engaging the Youth
We set up the Bwindi Impenetrable Kids League with support from The Hodgkinson Family in England, UK, to motivate children to learn about conservation and health through sports and used the international language of football. Through a partnership with The Kids League (TKL), CTPH organizes football and netball tournaments at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with the goal of improving youth community engagement in conservation. CTPH develops conservation education curriculum, provides lessons to the participants, and oversees the tournaments, while TKL trains coaches and provides training materials and soccer balls. We started off with four schools in 2012 at Buhoma village in Mukono Parish, Kayonza Sub County. In 2017, with support from Disney Conservation Fund, we have expanded the Kids League to five additional schools in a new parish – Buremba and new sub county – Mpungu.