Gorilla Conservation pioneer and social entrepreneur, Gladys Kalema Zikusoka, acknowledged in new National Geographic film

National Geographic’s new documentary, which highlights mothers working in wildlife conservation and more. National Geographic has just launched a new documentary film, Women of Impact: Changing the World, which features prominent conservationists who discuss how they’ve shared their careers with their children and inspired them to be passionate about preserving wildlife, too. One of those featured is the inspirational Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a wildlife veterinarian in Uganda, conservation biologist,  founder of Conservation Through Public Health and Gorilla Conservation Coffee.

Women of Impact: Changing the World, narrated by Julianna Margulies, is just one of many inspiring projects to come from National Geographic lately showcasing the groundbreaking work of trailblazing women all across the globe. Earlier this month, for instance, National Geographic released a stunning book containing 450 striking photographs from the magazine’s archives, which Susan Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Magazine, which serves as a “visual history of women.” The November 2019 issue of National Geographic Magazine is also dedicated to this theme as it’s “exclusively written and photographed by women.” In an editor’s letter, Goldberg says the issue aims to bring more women’s lives into the light — and more women’s voices into the conversation.”

Speaking about being featured in this special new documentary film, Dr Gladys said:

“I am greatly honored to be featured among other women explorers in the National Geographic film: Women of Impact: Changing the World airing this October. It is wonderful that our work at Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) with the mountain gorillas and local communities of Bwindi was featured in the documentary where our efforts to empower women are resulting in positive outcomes for conservation. We plan to also empower women coffee farmers through our Gorilla Conservation Coffee impact enterprise.”

To view the full documentary and trailer, click on the links below:



About Dr Gladys

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is a wildlife veterinarian and conservationist working with the endangered mountain gorillas of East Africa. After graduating from the University of London, she established the first veterinary department in the Uganda Wildlife Authority. She also led a team that investigated the first scabies outbreak in mountain gorillas that resulted in the death of an infant and sickness in the rest of the affected gorilla groups. This outbreak was eventually traced back to the people living around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park who have inadequate access to health care and other needs. This led her to establish Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a grassroots NGO and nonprofit that promotes coexistence of people, gorillas and other wildlife through addressing human and wildlife health together and improving alternative livelihoods in communities sharing their habitats with gorillas. Funding from National Geographic is enabling CTPH to expand this award-winning model to additional parishes around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and other protected areas in Africa. Through her work, Kalema-Zikusoka is also advocating for integrated approaches that balance human needs with conservation concerns.

Written by Lionesses of Africa

November 3,  2019

How Coffee Farming is Saving Mountain Gorillas in Uganda

By  Posted on 17 Nov 2017

Over the years gorillas have continued to face the risk of habitat loss and poaching. Dr. Gladys Kalema- Zikusoka, founder of Gorilla Conservation Coffee, is at the forefront to ensure that these world’s largest and highly charismatic primates remain protected. She has collaborated with the coffee farmers in the dense rain-forests stretching across the southwest border of Uganda where an estimated half of the 880 mountain gorillas live today.

It is almost impossible for one to use “coffee” and “gorilla” in the same sentence. We meet Dr. Gladys Kalema – Zikusoka who is bringing these two unrelated words together to impact lives. Founded in October 2015, Gorilla Conservation Coffee is a social enterprise that improves the lives of farmers living around national parks by training them on how to grow and process good quality coffee, while paying them premium prices to improve their livelihoods. This stops the farmers from poaching and collecting firewood from the forest to make ends meet. Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka shared with us that she gained the confidence to start Gorilla Conservation Coffee after she received training through a programme known as Impact Investment for Conservation that was ran by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Switzerland. She received a loan from WWF CH which helped her begin the business. Gorilla Conservation Coffee was set up to also create sustainable financing for conservation to support conservation efforts on the ground in a holistic way without entirely depending on grants.

Dr. Gladys Kalema- Zikusoka (centre) with some of the coffee farmers

Working with gorillas is not a new thing to Dr. Gladys Kalema. She has worked with them for 20 years. She started working with them while she was still a student and later when she became the first veterinary doctor in Uganda Wildlife Authority. During one of her visits to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, she realised that gorillas were falling sick and eventually dying. The gorilla’s health deterioration was mainly caused by the communities living adjacent to the forest. The gorillas would go into people’s gardens to feed on banana stems and in the process, accidentally touch scarecrows with dirty clothing in the gardens meant to drive away wild animals and birds. This experience steered Dr. Gladys Kalema to establish an NGO known as Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH). The NGO was meant to reduce disease spread between the community and the gorillas. While working on improving the health of the community and gorillas, it dawned on Dr. Gladys Kalema that the community was unhealthy because they were poor. They didn’t receive sustainable income from the coffee they sold leading them to engage in alternative and illegal forms of income generation; poaching and cutting trees for firewood. The concept of Gorilla Conservation Coffee was at this point birthed to provide an alternative way of improving the community’s livelihood while saving the gorillas.

“Gorilla Conservation Coffee is the only Ugandan coffee expressly created to help conserve the mountain gorillas by directly supporting farmers living around the gorillas’ habitat.”

The main market for Gorilla Conservation Coffee is comprised of; tourists, lodges, expatriates in Uganda, people abroad who want to give back, people interested in gorilla conservation, duty-free shops where people can buy souvenirs and gift shops in Uganda. Part of the donation from every branded coffee bag sold, goes to Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) which runs 3 programmes; wildlife health and conservation, community health and alternative livelihoods.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee stands out from other enterprises within its industry because it works with farmers right at the heart of the gorillas’ habitat. This means that it is involved in the direct conservation efforts on the ground. Another unique fact about Gorilla Conservation Coffee is that aside from supporting farmers with premium prices for good coffee, part of the donation received from coffee bags sold also goes directly into supporting the health and conservation efforts of CTPH at Bwindi. Gorilla Conservation Coffee also stands out as a double impact social enterprise, making impact both in the social and environmental sectors. Gorilla Conservation Coffee’s first coffee brand name, Kanyonyi, has a unique origin. It is named after the lead silverback of the Mubare gorilla group, the first group to he habituated for tourism in Uganda, and this has helped the customers have a personal connection with the brand.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee’s first coffee brand, Kanyonyi

In its journey towards growth, Gorilla Conservation Coffee has experienced some exciting and memorable moments. For Dr. Gladys Kalema, creating a brand that could pass the intended message to people and stocking their coffee in over 30 outlets in Uganda continues to be a great achievement. Gorilla Conservation Coffee also took part in a crowdfunding campaign where they sold coffee to over 17 countries around the world. To add onto these great achievements, their coffee was tested and approved as being among the best kind in Uganda. It was tested by a specialist coffee taster in the Ugandan Coffee Development Authority.

With great milestones achieved, there are challenges involved and Gorilla Conservation Coffee has its own fair share of these. The biggest challenge has been selling green coffee at a high price. This is a challenge because their consumers are more willing to buy roasted branded coffee at a high price as compared to the green coffee, which is more available on the market. Furthermore, the earnings the business receives from selling green coffee cannot sustain it. Gorilla Conservation Coffee is therefore making every effort to sell coffee as an end product (roasted branded coffee) since it can attract the segment of customers who are willing to buy at a high price. Selling this coffee at a higher price will help sustain the business. Focusing on sales development and working closely with outlets that sell coffee as an end product will also help overcome this challenge.

The specific industry opportunities being addressed by Gorilla Conservation Coffee are in the coffee and conservation industry. In the coffee industry, Gorilla Conservation Coffee is at the forefront to ensure that Ugandan coffee is internationally recognised as an independent coffee brand. In conservation, Gorilla Conservation Coffee is addressing the issue of providing sustainable financing for conservation. However, one of the key challenges faced in the coffee industry is that internationally, people aren’t fully aware of Ugandan coffee and haven’t embraced it as the good quality coffee it has grown to become. This challenge is making it difficult to effectively penetrate the international markets.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee is making transformative impact on the local and international community alike. To the local community, they gave a loan to their first lead coffee farmer to help him secure enough manpower for his vast coffee farm during the planting season. The farmer experienced double revenue increase in that season. In a bid to also impact the international community Gorilla Conservation Coffee hosts Coffee Safaris where tourists who have come to track mountain gorillas learn about coffee growing. The tourists take part in harvesting cherries, pulping them and then tasting the coffee while listening to a presentation about Gorilla Conservation Coffee’s impact. So far, five Coffee Safaris have been held.

Dr. Gladys Kalema’s advice to entrepreneurs is that they need to be focused on what they are doing despite the discouragements or distractions that arise along the way. Entrepreneurs must be willing to take calculated risks and when launching a product, they need to first test it in the market and listen to criticisms raised by people.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee stocked in one of the outlets in Uganda

In the next three years, Dr. Gladys Kalema and her team hope to engage more than 300 coffee farmers, seeing that they are currently working with only 75 farmers. They hope to sell coffee to more countries on an online platform as well as reach more outlets across Eastern Africa and engage distributors in USA, Europe and Asia. They also intend to engage other countries in conservation where gorillas exist.

How coffee farming is saving mountain gorillas in Uganda

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 ctph.org and gccoffee.org.