Walking With Gorillas

Walking With Gorillas

by Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka
Setting: Uganda
Genres: Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
Published on March 14, 2023
Pages: 336
Format: eBook Source: Library

An Inspiring Memoir, for Fans of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Frans De Waal.

In her enchanting memoir, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, Uganda’s first wildlife veterinarian, tells the remarkable story from her animal-loving childhood to her career protecting endangered mountain gorillas and other wild animals. She is also the defender of people as a groundbreaking promoter of human public health and an advocate for revolutionary integrated approaches to saving our planet. In an increasingly interconnected world, animal and human health alike depend on sustainable solutions and Dr. Gladys has developed an innovative approach to conservation among the endangered Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and their human neighbors.

Walking with Gorillas takes the reader on an incredible personal journey with Dr. Gladys, from her early days as a student in Uganda, enduring the assassination of her father during a military coup, to her veterinarian education in England to establishing the first veterinary department for the Ugandan government to founding one of the first organizations in the world that enables people to coexist with wildlife through improving the health and wellbeing of both. Her award-winning approach reduced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on critically endangered mountain gorillas.

In the face of discrimination and a male dominated world, one woman’s passion and determination to build a brighter future for the local wildlife and human community offers inspiration and insights into what is truly possible for our planet when we come together.

I don’t generally read memoirs written by veterinarians. It’s too much like being at work. But this one was different enough that I decided to give it a try.

The author made a job for herself after she graduated from school. She became the first wildlife veterinarian in Uganda. She worked primarily with the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

“African conservation has been traditionally dominated by men from the Western world. I actually heard a male colleague from the UK whom I had invited to Uganda to assist me say in all seriousness that conservation got spoiled when women got involved.”

When she left that first job, she set up an NGO in order to develop One Health programs. One Health is the concept that animal health and human health are not separate. Zoonotic disease cross from animals to humans and back. Environmental concerns affect everyone.

She started working with the communities surrounding the mountain gorillas. She wanted to cut down on poaching so she worked with the communities to develop alternate forms of business. She trained people to gently encourage gorillas who came down to the villages to move back into the forest instead of killing them.

Poor sanitation in human villages affected gorillas when they came down to the human areas and picked up diseases like scabies. They worked on getting water and proper toilet facilities to decrease disease in the apes.

Human tuberculosis threatened the gorillas so programs were put in place to monitor compliance with antibiotic regimens.

I was particularly touched by the story of the death of one of the silverbacks. He had been an especially charismatic group leader who drew tourists to that area. When he got old and weak, he was found on his own in the fields near a village. He was eating bananas and had damaged a few other trees. She was called to see about moving him back into the forest but determined that he was too weak. The village had been working with her on conservation and health measures. They decided to let him stay and support him in his last days. They kept him fed until he died and then they buried him with a monument.

She has done all this while raising a family and traveling all over the world to speak and train.

“This was the first and only time I traveled light! It was just as well because I had to get special permission from the airlines to travel with two pieces of hand luggage, my wedding dress and a dart gun!”