In the legacy of the late Dian Fossey, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka has become one of the leading conservationists and scientists working to save the critically endangered mountain gorillas of East Africa.
Under siege by poachers, loss of habitat and warfare, “Dr. Gladys” has discovered another serious threat to these majestic creatures—transmission of human diseases to gorillas called “zoonotic transmission”—afflictions ranging from tuberculosis to scabies. Her mission: to improve African public health to save the gorillas from human-borne illnesses. Gorillas and humans have a 98 percent genetic resemblance, making transmission of diseases between the species highly probable.
As Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a grassroots, nonprofit organization based in Uganda with a US office in North Carolina, Dr. Gladys promotes conservation and public health by improving primary health care to both people and animals in and around protected areas in Africa with a vision to control transmission of disease where people, wildlife and livestock meet.
After deciding to be a veterinarian at age 12, Dr. Gladys became a conservationist at 18. Studying for her career, she conducted research on intestinal parasites in wild chimpanzees and parasites and tourist-habituated and non-tourist-habituated mountain gorillas. She found gorillas visited by tourists had a higher parasite rate than those not visited, implying that tourism can have a negative impact on mountain gorillas’ health.
The 43-year-old doctor, trained at the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College, has won accolades from around the world.
Between 1996 and 2000, she set up the first Veterinary Unit in the Uganda Wildlife Authority, pioneering the first wildlife translocations in her country since the 1970s and developed the first community education campaigns on the risks of humans and gorilla disease transmission among others.
In 2006, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka was named as an Ashoka Fellow for her work in linking Uganda’s wildlife management and rural public health programs to create common resources that benefit both people and animals. In 2007, Seed Magazine – Science in Culture named Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka as one of eight “revolutionary minds in science” for her outstanding contribution towards tourism development and women empowerment. In 2008, she was honored with the San Diego Zoo’s “Conservation in Action Award.”
In 2009, The distinguished Whitley Fund for Nature in London chose Dr. Gladys to receive its Whitley Gold Award, its highest honor, in a juried competition of worldwide conservationists. The award was presented by HRH The Princess Royal Anne.
In June 2013, at the 14th Annual Global Development Conference in Manila, Philippines, Dr. Gladys and CTPH were awarded the “2012 Japanese Most Innovative Development Project Award.” Sponsored by the Japanese Government’s Ministry of Finance, the award singled out CTPH’s project “Integrated Biodiversity Conservation, Health and Community Development around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, SW Uganda”