Health Education Workshops for Local Communities of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2001
Gladys Kalema1,4, BVetMed, MRCVS; Benon Mugerwa2; Steven Asuma3, BSc
1Veterinary Unit, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Kampala, Uganda; 2Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Kabale, Uganda; 3International Gorilla Conservation Programme, Kampala, Uganda; 4Environmental Medicine Consortium and Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA


The local community surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has limited access to primary health care and practices inadequate personal hygiene. They come into close contact with mountain gorillas through tourism, research, and gorillas crop-raiding gardens surrounding the park. One of the habituated gorilla groups got scabies suspected to have come from the local community. To reduce the likelihood of mountain gorillas getting diseases from people, health education workshops on risks of disease transmission between humans and gorillas were presented for the first time to local communities bordering Bwindi to bring about a long-term improvement in local communities’ health and hygiene. The workshops were conducted by veterinarians, wardens, and rangers from Uganda Wildlife Authority together with district health personnel, from January to May 2000.


Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) is home to approximately half of the world’s highly endangered mountain gorillas of an estimated number of 650, the others are found in the Virunga volcanoes in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda.5 A small part of Bwindi is in DRC. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was gazetted in 1991,1 which meant that people could only have access to the forest through controlled activities including tourism, research and multiple use, which includes access to forest products for honey, medicinal plants, and basket weaving material. At this time, the level of poaching had been significantly reduced.1 Parts of Bwindi are surrounded by fragmented patches of secondary forest owned by local people who contribute significantly to the long-term conservation of mountain gorillas.

The area surrounding Bwindi has one of the densest populations of people in Africa with an estimated 200 people per square km.1 The local population around Bwindi is among the poorest in Uganda, a developing country, with a gross domestic product per capita:purchasing power parity of $1060.8 The nearest clinic to the local population is at least 20 km away for most people, who also lack basic hygienic amenities including clean water and pit latrines.11 This has resulted in a large percentage of people having preventable diseases that can potentially be spread to gorillas, including scabies, diarrheal diseases, measles, and tuberculosis (TB).10 TB is exacerbated by human immunodeficiency virus infection/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) of which Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC have amongst the highest prevalence in the world.2,10

Mountain gorillas are very closely genetically related to humans, and are therefore potentially at risk from getting human pathogens.7,9 There is an apparently high prevalence of scabies in people bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, who have a low personal income and practice poor hygiene.4,6 A group of Bwindi gorillas had scabies which could have been transmitted to them from contaminated clothing or other fomites of infected people, during tourist visits or while outside the park boundary when raiding banana crops in people’s gardens.4 According to the district medical personnel the most commonly treated diseases in people around Bwindi are malaria, respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, scabies, ringworm, TB, intestinal parasites, tropical ulcers, and eye infections including river blindness. If human health in the areas surrounding Bwindi is not improved, then gorilla health is put at an ever-increasing risk. Education is thought to be one of the most effective ways to bring about a long-term change in people’s attitudes. Conservation education workshops have been carried out in most of the communities surrounding Bwindi through the Community Conservation department of Uganda Wildlife Authority, to bring about a long-term appreciation for gorilla and wildlife conservation. Health education workshops had never before been presented to the communities surrounding Bwindi who are largely unaware of the risks of human to gorilla disease transmission.

Materials and Methods

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is surrounded by 19 parishes. The health education program was presented to an estimated number of 1,065 people from eight villages in five parishes, targeting areas where gorillas go out into people’s gardens to raid crops, including Sarambwe village in DRC. The workshops were conducted using a participatory rural appraisal method that involved:

1.  The education team giving objectives and an agenda of the workshop.

2.  The local communities giving their expectations of the workshop.

3.  The education team giving lectures on how human and gorilla health contributes to gorilla conservation and tourism, with references to gorilla behavior and ecology.

4.  Local community members giving their recommendations of how the present situation should be improved to prevent human and gorilla disease transmission.

There was concern that the local community would not be receptive to the workshop as they may feel that the park authorities care more about the welfare of gorillas than the welfare of the local communities. Therefore, the program was presented in such a way that the local community would see the benefits of improving their health to promote gorilla health and conservation. The discussion and lectures were supplemented by visual aids including flip charts, photographic slides and video films, and educational brochures given to everyone at the end of the workshop.


A summary of the different groups and their responses to the workshops are presented in Table 1. There were generally positive attitudes of the different groups of people towards the workshop content and this was in direct relation to the level of benefits received from gorilla tourism and conservation. These benefits included revenue sharing funds directed towards community development projects, employment of people as park staff, income generating businesses of restaurants and tourist accommodation, and multiple use activities. The local community groups that were unreceptive to the program had not experienced any of these benefits and saw gorillas as a threat to their livelihood. An incident of crop raiding by a tourist gorilla group during one of the programs negatively influenced farmers in Mukono parish adjacent to Buhoma tourist site, that had received the most tourism benefits. Discussion between communities and the education team led to a consensus and development of recommendations. A multidisciplinary team of people will be needed to follow up these workshop recommendations. The team should consist of community conservation wardens, veterinarians, and district health personnel with the support of their parent ministries. Recommendations made by the workshops included:

1.  Improving the human gorilla response team for chasing gorillas from people’s gardens composed of local community members trained by park personnel.

2.  Improving health care for the local community by setting up mobile clinics to reach people who are far away from the clinics and have to walk for long distances to receive medical attention. This will include setting up a clinic at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

3.  Continuing health education workshops to promote a long-term change in local community habits by including this topic in the ongoing community conservation education activities of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Table 1. Background and health education workshop recommendations of Bwindi local communities, January to May 2000


Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D












Proximity to habituated gorillas

Adjacent to tourist gorilla groups

Not adjacent to habituated gorillas

Adjacent to gorilla group almost fully habituated for tourism

Adjacent to tourist or habituated gorilla groups

Tourism benefits

* Revenue sharing funds
* Income generating activities (e.g., from providing tourist accommodation/food)
* Employment as park tourism trackers, rangers, guides

* Revenue sharing funds
* No income generating activities (e.g., from providing tourist accommodation/food)
* Very little park employment

* Revenue sharing funds
* No income generating activities (e.g., from providing tourist accommodation/food)
* Very little park employment

* No funds
* No income generating activities (e.g., from providing tourist accommodation/food)
* Very little park employment

Conservation benefits

Little multiple use activities

A lot of multiple use activity; forest products for basket weaving, honey, medicinal plants

Little multiple activities

No multiple use activities

Quality of education

Conservation education

Conservation education

Conservation education

No conservation education

Level of crop raiding by gorillas





Attitude to workshop

Very receptive and enthusiastic

Receptive and curious, but felt that the park could give more tourism benefits

Quite receptive and curious, but felt that the park was delaying tourism to their area

Not receptive and mistrusting, felt that the gorillas were a threat to their livelihood



Human gorilla conflict response team should be enforced

Have a screening method for people coming close to gorillas

Human gorilla conflict response team should be enforced

The park should purchase their land adjacent to the park instead of resettling them with no compensation

Personal hygiene

Proper disposal of rubbish

Have enough recommended pit latrines

Dig recommended types of pit latrines

No recommendation


Put up a health unit nearby

Go for medical treatment as soon as you need it

Ministry of Health should concentrate on areas where gorillas and people have close contact

Have as many hospitals as churches



The level of tourism and conservation benefits received from the park authorities appeared to influence the community’s attitudes. Each group of people at these venues has received varying amounts of benefits from the park, including revenue sharing funds from tourism, employment, small income generating opportunities, and multiple use activities such as access to forest products for basket materials, medicinal plants, and honey. Revenue sharing started off in 1993 with 12% of gorilla tracking fees (US $150 per foreign non-resident per hour with a maximum number of six people per group per day) going to the local parishes. At full occupancy, this was US $78,840 per year shared equally among the 19 parishes surrounding the park. This was reduced in 1997 to 20% of park entrance fees (US $15 per foreign non-resident per visit) which at full occupancy would be US $13,140 per year. This amount of money has built schools (10), clinics (6), and roads (3) in the local parishes.

It was concluded that education workshops are better received if local communities value gorilla conservation, which appears to be linked to tourism or other conservation benefits. To be able to create a long-term positive change in local community attitudes through education workshops towards gorilla conservation and better human health, it is vital that the communities are receiving tourism and conservation benefits, especially the Sarambwe community in the DRC. To date one of the recommendations that has been followed up is the health education workshops now being included on the community conservation program of Bwindi, to bring about a long-term positive attitude towards improving health and hygiene of local people who come into close contact with gorillas. This education model can be adapted for other local communities bordering national parks with endangered primates, especially primates that come into close contact with people.


The authors acknowledge and thank Bwindi community conservation ranger Johnson Twinomugisha, district health assistants Robert Sajjabi and Benon Nkomejo, Helga Rainer, and Mbaki Silva from International Gorilla Conservation Program for the great team effort. The authors also thank Bwindi Impenetrable National Park senior warden Chris Oryema, Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rukungiri, Kabale and Kisoro district health authorities and local councils for their support of the program. The authors also thank International Gorilla Conservation Program for financial support, Uganda Wildlife Society for technical support in publishing educational brochures, and Dr. Steve Osofsky for editorial assistance and commenting on the manuscript.

Literature Cited

1.  Butynski, T. M., and J. Kalina. 1993. Three new mountain national parks for Uganda. Oryx 27: 214–224.

2.  Castro, K. G. 1995. Tuberculosis as an opportunistic disease in persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus. Clin. Infect. Dis. 21(Supplement 1):S66–71.

3.  Hess, G. R. 1994. Conservation corridors and contagious disease: A cautionary note. Cons. Biol. 8:256–262.

4.  Kalema, G., R. A. Kock, and E. J. Macfie. Scabies in free ranging mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Vet. Rec., in press.

5.  McNeilage, A., A. Plumptre A, A. Brock-Doyle. and A. Vedder. 1998. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda Gorilla and Large Mammal Census, 1997. Wildlife Conservation Society. New York, NY. Working paper no. 14.

6.  Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, Uganda. 1997. The Republic of Uganda: 1997 Statistical Abstract.

7.  Ott-Joslin, J. E. 1993. Zoonotic diseases of nonhuman primates. In: M.E. Fowler (ed). Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia. Pp. 358–373.

8.  Central Intelligence Agency. 2000. Uganda. In: The World Fact Book. Central Intelligence Agency publications, Washington.

9.  Wallis, J. and D. Rick, Lee. 1999. Primate Conservation: The Prevention of Disease Transmission. Inter. J. Primat. 20: 803–825.

10.  WHO—World Health Organization. 1998. Tuberculosis Fact Sheet.


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Gladys Kalema, BVetMed, MRCVS
Uganda Wildlife Authority
Veterinary Unit
Kampala, Uganda

Environmental Medicine Consortium and Department of Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC, USA

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