Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is in Southwestern Uganda and a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering an area of 331 square kilometres. It became a national park in 1991. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to an estimated half of the world’s 880 critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park is situated in three districts: Kanungu District where CTPH field office is located, Kisoro District where we also have field programs and Kabale District, which recently sub divided into Rubanda District. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is situated along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the edge of the Albertine Rift Valley, a few kilometres north of the Virunga Volcanoes where the second population of mountain gorillas are found. The park is a sanctuary for the rare L’hoests monkey, blue monkey, Colobus monkeys, elephants, chimpanzees and other wildlife, but is most notable for its famous resident – the mountain gorilla. Approximately half of the gorilla groups are habituated for tourism. CTPH office and Gorilla Conservation Camp is located in Buhoma Village, the main tourist site for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Our main interest in this area is the conservation of the critically endangered mountain gorilla through promoting gorilla health and conservation, community health and alternative livelihoods. We work closely with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), District Local Governments Health and Veterinary offices, and the Bwindi Community Hospital – an NGO missionary Hospital.
Adjacent to the Gorilla Conservation Camp is the Gorilla Health and Community Conservation Centre where we monitor gorilla health through checking on sick gorillas and collecting gorilla faecal samples, which we then analyse at our field laboratory. Gorilla fecal samples are collected by park rangers and trackers and members of the Human-Gorilla conflict resolution Teams (HUGOs), who are trained to ensure maximum security and good relations between the local community and the gorillas by chasing gorillas back to their forest home when they forage on community land.
The Community Conservation Centre provides a space to conduct meetings with the local community and other CTPH partners including Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The Gorilla Conservation Camp, provides restaurant and accommodation facilities for visitors and tourists. This centre also hosts interns, students and researchers conducting their studies under the guidance and supervision of CTPH staff.
Our unique community model is the Village Health and Conservation Teams (VHCTs)—a CTPH innovation that expands the existing Village Health Teams to include conservation in their community health outreach—to provide maximum service delivery to last mile users including family planning (FP), hygiene and sanitation promoting, infectious disease prevention and control, nutrition and sustainable agriculture as well as education on the risks of human and gorilla disease transmission, reporting homes regularly visited by gorillas and forest conservation. We do this through an integrated Population, Health and Environment (PHE) or One Health approach. We also work with Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) in promoting the health and husbandry of livestock that can be carriers of zoonotic diseases—that threaten the survival of gorillas. Livestock are a major source of income to the VHCTs through group livelihood projects.
Among our programmes in this site is the Mobile Clinic – a pilot project that we use to accelerate uptake of health services mainly family planning, and primary health services to communities in hard-to-reach villages that need these services.