Visiting Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusooka’s office in Entebbe one quickly gets a sense of what her work is about. A life-size gorilla sculpture stands by the front door under a porch lined with beautifully made stools with pictures of gorillas.
Zikusooka, who is Uganda’s first Veterinary doctor to specialize in treating wildlife, says she was only 12 and was visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda when she first fell in love with animals. Viewing them move peacefully and others lying under trees, she started loving them. Caring for them came later.
“I realized in Uganda nobody cared about wild animals. Nobody treated them and when they fell sick they would be left to die,” she says.
Kalema, who is now the founder and CEO of an NGO called Conservation Through Public Health, says her goal is to see people, wildlife, and livestock coexisting through improving their primary healthcare. Her strategy, of using an integrated approach to population, health, and the environment to promote biodiversity conservation, has won her several awards and been adopted in many countries in Africa.
Having graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in UK, Kalema’s first assignment back home was in 1996 to set up a veterinary department in Uganda National Parks now Uganda Wildlife Authority. In 1994 she had conducted a study to establish whether gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were picking parasites from humans or they had their own.
The report of her findings earned her a job as the head of the Vet department at UWA where she up to date sits on the board. While there, she steered a committee which would later establish a course and the wild life resource department at the Veterinary Faculty of Makerere University.
While still UWA’s head of Vet department, Kalema said they had a scabies outbreak in the gorillas and when they investigated the cause, they found it was got from the people living around the park. Looking for solutions to cater for such scenarios led her to come up with an NGO that handles relationships between humans and the wild.
Kalema’s lite side
Any three things we don’t know about you?
I like taking photos. I started off by photographing wild animals but now I take photos of my children and have thousands of photos of them.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness is doing what one loves doing.
What is your greatest fear?
I fear being bored. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I keep thinking what if I get bored. Because of this, I find myself carrying a lot than I will need when travelling.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I find it hard to say no even if I have no time to do something.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I don’t like it when people are not open about what they are doing.
Which living person do you most admire?
I admire Jane Goodall. She inspired many people to go into conservation and women in particular because it was a male dominated field. She is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.
I also admire my mother; Rhoda Kalema, one of the earliest female members of parliament. She’s good at balancing work and family. She used to be very attentive to us when growing up yet she was very busy as a minister and a rights activist.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I like buying gifts for my children even when they don’t need them.
What is your current state of mind?
Am fairly calm but right now am doing a lot of things at once. I am feeling a little bit of overwhelmed but things are going in the right direction.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Humility.People think being humble although someone is successful is a good thing but I think an achiever has to be bold. This helps to inspire others to be like those who have not played down their achievements.