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INTERVIEW

“It is important we redouble our efforts to save the gorillas”

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka

Wildlife veterinarian, founder and CEO, Conservation through Public Health, Uganda

The first time that I saw a mountain gorilla was when I was doing research in Bwindi, as a vet student, and I felt like I was meeting a very close relative. I think it is very important that we redouble our efforts to save the gorillas. There are a lot of issues they are coming up against, such as human population growth, disease, poaching, habitat loss … We should go beyond the usual people who know about conservation, and go to people who don’t care about conservation and get them to start caring about the gorillas. Because as long as we have very high family sizes and population growth and as long as we have inadequate health care, people are still going to want to go into the forest to poach and collect firewood, and even get tempted to poach gorillas. So, I want to urge the whole world to take the gorilla conservation issue very seriously, because it affects us in every way.

The first time I treated a gorilla it was a very intense and emo- tional experience, because once we darted the gorilla we had to chase away the silverback. And everybody was so scared of doing it, because it was the first time it had ever been done in Uganda. So we didn’t have experienced trackers like they do in Rwanda where they have been doing it for some years. Luckily I was with an experienced vet from Kenya Wildlife Service, Dr. Richard

Koch and as he was working on the gorilla, I was the one chas- ing the silverback away!

This was during the scabies outbreak. There was an adult fe- male, a juvenile and a baby, and while Richard was working on the juvenile, because that was the only one we were able to dart, I started going to the silverback and saying “woo, woo” and he looked at me, and he didn’t take me seriously. I kept doing it, and then he walked away just a few metres and sat down and looked at us; he didn’t really go, he just moved a little further away and watched the whole procedure.

Once he was safely further away, I was able to get back and work with Richard on the gorilla and we treated him with Iver- mectin. He recovered; the rest of the group recovered, except the infant who unfortunately died, because we got to it too late. But this made us ask, “where do they get scabies from?” because it was the first time it had ever been recorded in mountain goril- las. Eventually we realised that it came from people and we realised that the people’s public health needed to improve if we are going to protect the mountain gorillas, and indeed all the gorillas in Africa.

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