Dr Gladys featured in the The Independent Magazine

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Visiting Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusooka’s office in Entebbe one quickly gets a sense of what her work is about. A life-size gorilla sculpture stands by the front door under a porch lined with beautifully made stools with pictures of gorillas.

Zikusooka, who is Uganda’s first Veterinary doctor to specialize in treating wildlife, says she was only 12 and was visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda when she first fell in love with animals. Viewing them move peacefully and others lying under trees, she started loving them. Caring for them came later.

“I realized in Uganda nobody cared about wild animals. Nobody treated them and when they fell sick they would be left to die,” she says.

Kalema, who is now the founder and CEO of an NGO called Conservation Through Public Health, says her goal is to see people, wildlife, and livestock coexisting through improving their primary healthcare. Her strategy, of using an integrated approach to population, health, and the environment to promote biodiversity conservation, has won her several awards and been adopted in many countries in Africa.

Having graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in UK, Kalema’s first assignment  back home was in 1996 to set up a veterinary department in Uganda National Parks now Uganda Wildlife Authority. In 1994 she had conducted a study to establish whether gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were picking parasites from humans or they had their own.

The report of her findings earned her a job as the head of the Vet department at UWA where she up to date sits on the board. While there, she steered a committee which would later establish a course and the wild life resource department at the Veterinary Faculty of Makerere University.

While still  UWA’s head of Vet department, Kalema said they had a scabies outbreak in the gorillas and when they investigated the cause, they found it was got from the people living around the park. Looking for solutions to cater for such scenarios led her to come up with an NGO that handles relationships between humans and the wild.

WINGS Fellow Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka shows Alan Nichols, president of the Explorers Club, the gorillas she is working with in the Bwindi National Forest in Uganda.

WINGS Fellow Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka shows Alan Nichols, president of the Explorers Club, the gorillas she is working with in the Bwindi National Forest in Uganda.


Kalema’s lite side

Any three things we don’t know about you?

I like taking photos. I started off by photographing wild animals but now I take photos of my children and have thousands of photos of them.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is doing what one loves doing.

What is your greatest fear?

I fear being bored.  Wherever I go and whatever I do, I keep thinking what if I get bored. Because of this, I find myself carrying a lot than I will need when travelling.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I find it hard to say no even if I have no time to do something.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

I don’t like it when people are not open about what they are doing.

Which living person do you most admire?

I admire Jane Goodall. She inspired many people to go into conservation and women in particular because it was a male dominated field. She is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.

I also admire my mother; Rhoda Kalema, one of the earliest female members of parliament. She’s good at balancing work and family. She used to be very attentive to us when growing up yet she was very busy as a minister and a rights activist.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I like buying gifts for my children even when they don’t need them.

What is your current state of mind?

Am fairly calm but right now am doing a lot of things at once. I am feeling a little bit of overwhelmed but things are going in the right direction.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Humility.People think being humble although someone is successful is a good thing but I think an achiever has to be bold. This helps to inspire others to be like those who have not played down their achievements.

On what occasion do you lie?

I would only tell a lie if it’s to help the situation. For instance I told a lie when I travelled to the U.S. during the time of the Ebola Outbreak. I got food poisoning and when doctors asked if I had blood in my diarrhea I said no. If I had told them the truth they would have locked me up for two weeks in quarantine somewhere because it’s one of the symptoms of Ebola.

Which living person do you most despise?

People who are greedy and never get satisfied with what they have.

What is the quality you most like in a man?


What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Inner strength.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

I am happily married so my husband is my greatest love.

When and where were you happiest?

In 2001, when we went for honeymoon in Zanzibar.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I like swimming but I’ve not had chance to be best at it.  I am scared of diving.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Setting up an NGO that has made impact and has won many awards in conservation.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

I would like to come back as a bird so that I am free to fly to anywhere I want.

Where would you most like to live?

I am happy living here in Uganda.

What is your most treasured possession?

The Bible

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Not having the courage to do something you really want to do.

What is your favorite occupation?

I like working with animals so vet is my favorite occupation.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I am a risk taker and at times it puts me in trouble.

What do you most value in your friends?


Who are your favorite writers?

Wangari Maathai is one of them. I’ve read her books like ‘Replenishing the Earth’ and the ‘Green Belt Movement’. I admire her for being able to write and at the same time do great things.

Who are your heroes in real life?

The Queen of Buganda and other women who have done a lot to raise the profile of women.

Who is your hero of fiction?

I don’t have any.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I like Nelson Mandela as the best Africa has had. I also like Martin Luther King for his courage.

What are your favorite names?

African names.We made a decision to give our children African names as their first name because we thought they should identify more with their culture even as the world is becoming more and more a global village.

What is it that you most dislike?

People throwing rubbish out of the window of a moving vehicle.

What is your greatest regret?

Not being able to have written a book yet. I’ve been trying for 20 years but I’ve not succeeded.

How would you like to die?

When am in the middle of something I enjoy doing. I don’t want to fall sick for long.

What is your motto?

Follow your dreams and the rest will follow.


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