Climate Change, Rapid Population Growth: Threatening Conservation

Climate Change, Rapid Population Growth: Threatening Conservation

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In the midst of commemorating two decades of biodiversity conservation through a public health approach, conservationists are grappling with mounting concerns. The increasing population around protected areas, compounded by the escalating impacts of climate change, amplifies these worries, overshadowing the successes achieved in biodiversity conservation.

Under the leadership of Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusoka, a renowned wildlife veterinarian, and her organization Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), conservationists are striving to devise a lasting solution to address these two factors. “We aim to further integrate the One Health approach into wildlife and biodiversity conservation,” noted Zikusoka during discussions with journalists at the media center.

“I started working…

… keep on growing”

Wildlife, particularly gorillas, stands as Uganda’s primary source of tourism revenue, with gorilla tracking alone generating over $50 billion annually. However, Dr. Zikusoka emphasizes that their habitat faces a threat of diminished capacity due to the growing population of surrounding communities. Dr. Zikusoka’s inspiration for the CTPH approach stemmed from the Gorilla Scabies outbreak, which claimed the life of a baby gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The disease was traced back to a local community adjacent to the park. As a preventive measure, the initiative to simultaneously protect wildlife, its habitat, and human populations was launched. CTPH activities are aligned with the One Health approach outlined by the World Health Organization, aiming to prevent the spread of diseases among humans, domestic and wild animals, as well as plants.

Zikusoka explained, “Communities living in the remote area on the outskirts of protected areas are some of the most impoverished and marginalized in Uganda. Land encroachment, competition for food, and the spread of zoonotic diseases between people, wildlife, and livestock, are all grim everyday realities, perpetuating poverty and poor health.”

Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Antiquities, George Oweyesigire, the head of wildlife conservation, highlighted how climate change-induced weather variations are hindering conservation efforts, and tourism, and impacting food security. He acknowledged CTPH’s strides in conservation and revealed ongoing efforts within the ministry to update conservation policies to align with emerging trends.

“We have embarked on the review of the Uganda Wildlife Policy 2014, and some of the lessons are published by CTPH in its policy brief.  These help us to improve on a number of areas,” he said.   He outlined several emerging issues necessitating policy revisions, including integrating climate change into policies and programs, managing the impact of oil and gas discoveries in protected areas, accommodating collaborative management partnerships, community engagement in tourism, and addressing the growing demand for benefits from communities.

Dr. Musa Ssekamatte, manager of the one-health approach in the Ministry of Health, emphasized that protecting wildlife, especially animals like gorillas, is pivotal to CTPH, aiming to sustain tourism. Given the genetic similarities—up to 90 percent—between these animals and humans, disease transmission remains a significant concern.

Ssekamatte underscored, “Many diseases affecting humans are zoonotic, and preventing their spread from the surroundings of protected areas is crucial in halting their transmission.” The collaborative efforts of organizations like CTPH, coupled with policy revisions and a focus on the One Health approach, are imperative in tackling the complex challenges posed by rapid population growth and climate change. This collective approach ensures a sustainable balance between conservation and public health.

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