Mountain gorillas are some of our closest relatives, sharing as much as 98 percent of our human genes. This remarkable similarity is part of what makes it so profound to spend an hour with these gentle giants on one of our gorilla safaris. Unfortunately, this similarity also means that we can share diseases, and disease transmission from humans to the gorillas poses one of the greatest threats to their survival.
The realization that you can’t address the health of mountain gorillas without also addressing the health of the human communities nearby led Gladys Kalema, the first female veterinarian with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, to create a project called Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). The team members from CTPH do direct monitoring of gorilla health, and also educate the locals on family planning, personal hygiene, reducing reliance on forest products like firewood, sustainable agricultural techniques, and ways to reduce conflict with the wild gorillas who often enter their farms looking for an easy meal.
Wildlife conservation is not a one-solution issue, and perhaps one of the most important aspects of any conservation program in Africa is helping local people find economic alternatives to extracting resources from natural areas. Any time people enter the protected areas that harbor the mountain gorillas to collect firewood, cut bamboo, or hunt for bush meat, the chance of disease transmission increases. But if those community members have no other source of income, they will do what it takes to feed their families.
CTPH recently received funding from WWF-Switzerland to launch a coffee enterprise to benefit the Buhoma community adjacent to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to nearly half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. In July 2017, a small group of Natural Habitat Adventures travelers were the first to have the opportunity to visit the Gorilla Conservation Coffee project on a “coffee safari.”
Coffee is a great crop to grow on the border of gorilla habitat because, so far, mountain gorillas have not caught on to the wonders of drinking coffee. Coffee and tea plantations can create a buffer between the forest and food crops, because the gorillas entering the plantations will turn back, thinking that there is nothing for them to feed on in the area.
The coffee farmers in Buhoma have formed a cooperative to sell fresh coffee beans at a premium to Gorilla Conservation Coffee. The project has invested in processing equipment that gets the beans to the point of being ready to roast. The beans are then sent to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, where they are roasted and packaged for sale. The income from the coffee supports local farmers and CTPH’s work protecting critically endangered mountain gorillas.
At Natural Habitat Adventures, we are proud to partner with an organization like WWF that looks for opportunities across the globe to provide seed funding that results in long-term, sustainable solutions like this that benefit both people and wildlife. Gorilla trekking in Uganda is one of the many ways that you can support innovative conservation projects like these.
And hey—the world can always use more delicious coffee, right?
This guest post was written by Natural Habitat Adventures Communications Manager and Expedition Leader Mark Jordahl. All photos by Mark Jordahl, unless otherwise specified.