Saving Gorillas ‘One Sip at a Time’

By  Conservation International on 12 September 2018

Gorilla Conservation Coffee and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Gorilla Conservation Coffee with a view of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. (Courtesy of Gorilla Conservation Coffee)

Editor’s note: September 29 marks National Coffee Day in the U.S. Throughout the month of September, Human Nature is highlighting Conservation International’s sustainable coffee work. This post is the second post in the series.

There are only 1,000 mountain gorillas in existence. About half of them call the lush setting of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in southwestern Uganda home, relatively protected from poachers and encroaching development.

For the past two decades, the gorillas — and the communities that live in the shadow of the park, relying on it for food and livelihoods — have had an unlikely ally: coffee. Human Nature spoke with Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a founding member of Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a program that is working to save gorillas “one sip at a time.”

Question: What is Gorilla Conservation Coffee, and how did it come about?

Answer: Gorilla Conservation Coffee is a social enterprise of the non-profit Conservation Through Public Health. Simply put, it pays a premium price for coffee to help the farmers living around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where one of the world’s largest remaining populations of mountain gorillas remains.

But to truly understand the project, we need to go back to 1996.

One of my very first jobs was setting up the veterinary department of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and shortly after entering the job, I had to deal with the very first scabies skin disease outbreak in the mountain gorillas. We learned that scabies was prevalent in the local communities around the park, and ultimately figured out that in order to protect the gorillas, we first needed to improve the health of the communities that interact with the gorillas. The more work we did in the area, the more we recognized how closely linked poverty, human health and conservation were. We wouldn’t be able to protect the gorillas without the support and involvement of the communities, and by protecting the gorillas and their habitat, we could also help locals thrive.

For many people, gorilla tourism would seem like the obvious solution. And while tourism provides sustainable financing for conservation, not everybody can benefit from tourism. Not everyone can be employed by the park or be a porter or work in a lodge. A large number of people end up not benefitting from tourism, so we needed alternative ways to get more sustainable funding for the park while supporting the communities.

In fact, the answer was right in front of us: The park is ideal coffee-growing land, and even as you are tracking gorillas, you are walking through coffee farms. Coffee has a long and rich history in Uganda, and Bwindi park was no exception.

Dr. Gladys and members of the Bwindi Coffee Growers Cooperative

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka with members of the Bwindi Coffee Growers Cooperative (© Jo-Anne MacArthur)

Q: So coffee was already being grown in the area, but the communities were still struggling with extreme poverty and health issues?

A: When we met with the coffee farmers in 2015, they told us their biggest problem was not having a steady market or steady prices for their coffee. People had abandoned their efforts to grow Arabica (a higher quality bean that traditionally commands higher prices) because they were being paid the same amount of money as for Robusta beans, despite Arabica costing significantly more to grow. Apparently coffee traders were paying as little as possible, regardless of the bean type.

Some of the farmers were also poachers, going into the park to hunt for meat because when they wanted meat, they couldn’t afford to buy it. Some people in the community also collected firewood from the park, contributing to deforestation of the gorilla’s habitat, so we figured out that if we could keep people sustained by coffee farming, then they wouldn’t have to go into the park for other activities.

So our first step was to find these farmers a steady price and a steady market.


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Q: How does Gorilla Conservation Coffee help the coffee farmers?

A: We have a coffee expert recommended by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority who is almost as passionate about coffee as I am about gorillas. He has helped us set the high quality standards for the coffee — really, he convinced us that we shouldn’t buy bad coffee from farmers, we should only buy good coffee. For the farmers, that translated into a specific set of guidelines for growing coffee, from picking the coffee cherries at the right time to choosing when to pulp them — all things that contribute to a superior product. This is helping them improve their coffee quality because they know they have to be consistent if they want us to buy their coffee, and to get a good price for their coffee. It’s also a ripple effect: They’re using sustainable agriculture and getting better yields, so our hope is others will see that and copy them.

As part of this work, we helped the farmers create the Bwindi Coffee Growers Cooperative. They didn’t have a cooperative to bring them together, which was also contributing to them not getting a fair price, because if you are in a group you can negotiate better. Currently the coffee cooperative has 85 farmers and the chairman of the cooperative sits on the board of Gorilla Conservation Coffee. There is a strong tie to conservation and sustainability because the chairman of the coffee cooperative works within the conservation sector, and the messaging to farmers — don’t go into the park to poach, for example — is clear. Plus, we are buying their coffee, so they don’t really have to go into the park to poach.

Lead Arabica coffee farmer for Gorilla Conservation Coffee

Lead Arabica coffee farmer for Gorilla Conservation Coffee in Bwindi, Uganda. (© Jo-Anne MacArthur)

Q: How has the community reacted to Gorilla Conservation Coffee?

A: The community is very excited, and they really feel like we are helping them. One of our biggest buyers is actually two tourism lodges in Bwindi, and they buy more coffee than the private lodges. They even use it in daily consumption and they market it because it’s from their farmers. I think people can clearly see the linkages between gorillas and coffee, and how coffee can be a way to conserve gorillas, not just within the park but within the country at large.

We’ve even started taking tourists on coffee safaris when they come to track gorillas. We team up with coffee farmers who are coexisting with these gorillas, and the tourists really enjoy it because it’s very authentic. The farmer shows them the coffee he has on his farm, the different things he is trying to do. They get to taste the coffee, they get involved in picking it, they get to pulp the coffee. As they drink it, they are getting a presentation about how the work that we are doing is linking the gorilla conservation and the coffee. And they come away feeling really good. Meanwhile, the farmers are getting to meet tourists, which they weren’t before. So, they are getting more into conservation and realizing the importance of conservation to tourism and their livelihoods.

Q: Gorilla Conservation Coffee recently joined the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, an initiative launched by Conservation International and partners to make coffee the world’s first completely sustainable agricultural product. Why?

A: We joined the Challenge in July of this year, as did the Uganda Coffee Development Authority — signaling that the government agency in charge of coffee in Uganda is on board. The Challenge is a network of all the different actors in the coffee supply chain, from growers to traders to merchants. So, joining the Challenge offers us a way to network among sustainable coffee stakeholders and to develop strategic partnerships which will help us achieve our goals. It’s a way to have the right kind of partnerships with those in the sector that share the same values. Ultimately, we want to create a global brand that will always be traceable back to the people that produce it, in a way that will help save gorillas directly, one sip at a time.

Kanyonyi, the gorilla the first coffee blend is named after.

Kanyonyi, the silverback gorilla Gorilla Conservation’s Coffee’s first blend was named after. (Courtesy of Gorilla Conservation Coffee)

Q: Do you drink coffee?

A: Yes, we named the first coffee blend after my favorite gorilla, who unfortunately died in December. That’s the Kanyonyi coffee blend. Then we set up a small café where people can experience what we are doing, learn about gorillas and drink coffee. We have set up Uganda’s first conservation café, and we have branded it. In this café, we are learning how to drink more coffee. On top of the normal lattes and macchiatos and cappuccinos, the baristas are quite creative and we are developing all kinds of new drinks. Our children are also learning to drink things like coffee floats and frappuccinos. So yes, we do drink coffee!

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is a founding member of Gorilla Conservation Coffee. Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director. 

Want to buy Gorilla Conservation Coffee? Click here.

Saving the Gorilla with Quality Coffee

By Rupi Mangat, The East African on 25 August 2018

Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka believes in love at first sight because it happened to her.

It was back in 1994 when she was a veterinary student at the University of London’s University Royal Veterinary College.

She had travelled home to Uganda to do field research at the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park when she met and fell in love with Kacupira.

Kacupira was a silverback gorilla, and his name in the local Rukiga language means ‘’broken hand.’’

“Kacupira was so calm and just watched us. Watching him on that day, I felt a real connection with him.” But tragedy struck soon after that fleeting meeting. Kacupira’s group got infected with scabies and was wiped out.

Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka recalls that she was heartbroken and “That’s when we realised that gorillas can get infected with human diseases carried by the local communities whom they share their habitat with. Before that we were more concerned about tourists infecting gorillas. Now another big threat was the local community.”

She became a crusader to save the Bwindi gorillas and founded the Conservation Through Public Health in Uganda in 2003.


Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka is soft-spoken and easily gets lost in a crowd, that is until you engage her in conversation, especially about mountain gorillas.

Her voice becomes animated and her demeanour changes to that of a person on a mission.

Ours was a chance meeting at the Louis Leakey Auditorium at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi recently where she was attending a Kenya Museum Society talk on gorillas by the English couple John and Margaret Cooper.

John is a veterinarian and pathologist and Margaret an animal lawyer who worked with Louis Leakey as his unpaid volunteer on apes between 1950 and 1970.

Kalema-Zikusoka knew she wanted to work with animals from a young age.

In high school, she revived the defunct Wildlife Club and today she is the chairperson of Wildlife Clubs of Uganda, an offshoot of the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, the oldest grassroots organisation of its kind, started in 1968 to teach students wildlife and environment conservation as a non-academic subject.

Coffee and the Gorillas

With the demise of Kacupira and his group, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka’s research led her to the coffee farming community around Bwindi.

“They are poor and eking out a living as small scale coffee farmers,” she explains. Since coffee trees are bushy, they are ideal as gorilla hangouts and farmers came up with scarecrows dressed in dirty rags to keep them off their precious crop.

But the farmers went a step too far. The dirty rags were infested with the highly contagious scabies-causing mite, Sarcoptes scabiei.

Although easily treatable in humans, in the great apes it proved lethal.

This is where Conservation Through Public Health came in. “It was the start of Conservation Through Public Health in 2003 because we realised that we had to improve community health if we were to save the gorillas,” says Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka.

Since poverty plays a big role in keeping people unhealthy, she saw an opportunity to improve the livelihood of farmers while saving the gorillas at the same time.

Although coffee is a premium cash crop, the farmers were receiving a pittance for the world’s best loved beverage.

CTPH came up with a social enterprise, the Gorilla Conservation Coffee in 2015, an idea that has transformed the lives of the coffee farmers and the great apes.

“If we could lift the farmers out of poverty by getting better prices for their coffee, we could improve their living standards and save the gorillas. This became our focus,” she says.

The day I met her, Dr. Kalema-Zikusoka was wearing the trademark T-shirt with a gorilla and a coffee bean.

Members of the Bwindi Coffee Growers Co-Operative receive higher prices for the high quality Arabica coffee.

Branded Gorilla Conservation Coffee, it is sold at the Gorilla Conservation Café in Entebbe and many other outlets including tourist lodges in Bwindi and is also available online.

Positive outcome

“Since 2003, CTPH has not lost a single gorilla to scabies,” says the proud gorilla crusader. But there is still a long way to go as she says for there are many more farmers out there who need to be supported by Gorilla Conservation Coffee.

“The other good news is that Ugandans will not kill a gorilla now because of the income they receive from the great ape. We also generate income from tourists walking through the farmers’ coffee fields to reach the park.”

With every sip of Gorilla Conservation Coffee, a gorilla life in Bwindi is saved.

Gorilla Conservation Cafe

Visit us at Uganda‘s 1st Gorilla Conservation Café overlooking Lake Victoria in Entebbe.

ENJOY hand-picked coffee from farms neighboring Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

CHOOSE from our extensive menu of hot beverages, iced coffees and tasty snacks

RELAX with your friends on our outdoor terrace or take cup to go

SAVOR the unique taste of our coffee, which is medium roasted and has an aroma of caramel, butter notes and almond

LEARN how our enterprise helps smallholder farmers and conserves critically endangered mountain gorillas of Bwindi

SUPPORT our conservation programs by buying a bag of our #KanyonyiCoffeeBlend to take home

Click here to buy a bag at your favorite outlets locally in Uganda. Buy our coffee online for Uganda, New Zealand, USA and Canada delivery.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee Partners with Pangols in US and Canada

Entebbe and Washington, DC | 29 June 2018. We are proud to announce a new partnership between Pangols and Gorilla Conservation Coffee (GCCoffee), a social enterprise based in Entebbe, Uganda. GCCoffee offers premium prices for good coffee from farmers around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas. By providing a meaningful alternative livelihood to coffee farmers around Bwindi, the impact enterprise will reduce the farmers’ need to enter the gorilla habitat to poach or collect firewood to provide for their families.

20% of the net profits from every coffee bag sold is given to Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) to sustain gorilla conservation and community health activities in frontline parishes around Bwindi also within the same farming communities. The sales of this coffee will allow for consumers in the US to directly change the lives of smallholder farmers and gorillas in Uganda, and they can know they are getting a great product with a great impact. To purchase Gorilla Conservation Coffee in the United States, please go to

Quote from Pangols, Founder and CEO, John Probert:
“I’m very excited for this partnership. I’ve read a lot about Gorilla Conservation Coffee, and its impact so far. I am thrilled to be able to help through Pangols to contribute to their mission of uplifting both farmers and gorillas around Bwindi. The mission of CTPH fits perfectly with the goals of Pangols, and with this partnership we can continue to directly impact people and wildlife”.

Quote from Gorilla Conservation Coffee, Founder and CEO, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka:
“I look forward to working with Pangols, an innovative and impactful enterprise. We share the same values and ultimate goal of sustaining wildlife conservation through supporting meaningful livelihoods for people who share a habitat with mountain gorillas and other endangered and threatened species.”

Coffee Safari

Stay with us at the CTPH Gorilla Conservation Camp in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

GO on the Gorilla Conservation Coffee Safari experience around Bwindi

LEARN how our enterperise helps smallholder farmers and conserves the endangered mountain gorillas of Bwindi

SAVOR the unique taste of our coffee, which is medium roasted and has an aroma of caramel, butter notes and almond

RECEIVE a free 125g bag of our single origin 100% Arabica #KanyonyiCoffeeBlend to take home

JOIN us in #SavingGorillasOneSipAtATime

For Gorilla Conservation Coffee Safari bookings,
email us:

For Gorilla Conservation Camp reservations,
email us:

Waking up to Gorilla Coffee in Uganda

By Sarah Marshall Posted on 22 March 2018

The monochrome mural of a silverback peers from behind whirring espresso machines at Gorilla Conservation Cafe in Entebbe, Uganda, a hip, downtown hangout that could easily fit into New York or London.

The same enchanting face emblazons bags of roasted arabica beans stacked on shelves, the fruits of a social enterprise that’s benefitting both gorillas and their human neighbours.

“Kanyonyi” — the name of the gorilla in question — “was one of my favourite mountain gorillas,” explains Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a Ugandan veterinarian and modern-day Dian Fossey, who launched the Gorilla Conservation Coffee project as an arm of her NGO Conservation Through Public Health.

Kanyonyi’s troop, Mubare (or M-group), were the first habituated gorilla group introduced to tourism 25 years ago this April. But sadly, earlier this year, Kanyonyi died from injuries sustained in a fight with a rival silverback, causing the group to fragment and leading to their temporary removal from tourism.

“I knew Kanyonyi since he was born 20 years ago,” says Gladys fondly, studying the image which also appears on T-shirts for sale. “He was a playful silverback who always liked interacting with tourists.”

Fittingly, the team decided to name its first blend after the silverback, allowing his spirit to live on in a project likely to change the lives of many.

How can a double espresso help save gorillas?

A wave of densely forested hills rolling into misty skies, Bwindi is home to several of Uganda’s habituated gorilla groups — along with a rapidly increasing human population. With these neighbours coming into closer contact, it became apparent there was a need to alleviate any building pressures.

“Not everyone in the region can benefit directly from tourism,” explains Gladys, who was awarded the Golden Jubilee Award for distinguished service to the nation as a conservationist. “We’re working with farmers who sometimes poached to meet their basic needs. Our goal is to get them totally away from poaching.”

There’s a long history of coffee production in Uganda, although most farmers concentrate on the bitter robusta bean which is easier to grow. CTPH is encouraging farmers to improve methods and shift to arabica, a higher grade and more profitable coffee on the international market.

“During our first training sessions we realized the farmers all knew how to do it properly; they were just taking shortcuts. We told them that if they did it properly, we’d guarantee a premium price.”

In a market where prices fluctuate, it was an appealing proposition.

A portion of the final sales of coffee beans is donated to gorilla conservation, but an even greater result is an improved attitude from the community towards wildlife. Tourists, who can buy beans from lodges in the area and even Entebbe International airport, form a bulk of the consumer market – and their very presence relies on the existence of gorillas.

Seen the wildlife? Now go on a gorilla safari.

Reviving farmland which lay idle in his family generations, Sam is one of the 70-plus farmers currently benefitting from the Gorilla Conservation Coffee. Clambering down steep muddy slopes in the hills outside town, he excitedly shows me some of his plants and invites me to pick the ripe red cherries.

Sam, who is chairman of the Bwindi Coffee Farmers’ Co-operative, has just launched a one-hour coffee safari in conjunction with CTPH, inviting tourists to find out exactly how the bean to cup process works.

“I’m learning better techniques and every harvest I have a higher yield,” he tells me as we watch fresh cherries selected using a simple water system (the bad ones float to the top), and continue to see a fermented mixture pulped and dried. All the work here is done by hand.

Everyone — no matter how small their patch of land — is now interested in coffee production. “My wife, Juliet, has her own plot,” says Sam, admitting, “It’s much better than mine!”

And what about the gorillas?

“They do come,” laughs Sam. “But not very often. If they do, we get a member of HUGO (another initiative set up by CTPH) to chase them away.

More than anything, Sam is proud to drink his own coffee on his own farmland — an experience he invites me to share. “I’m very happy I can do this,” he says, sipping the thick back liquid heated on a stove. “It’s very special.”

I have to agree. And the coffee’s pretty good, too.

To buy Gorilla Conservation Coffee, visit and