Seeing the Forest for the Trees: How ‘One Health’ Connects Humans, Animals, and Ecosystems

Posted on October 7th, 2014 in Spotlight on Parks by Administrator

One of the key outcomes of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 will be the drafting of a New Social Compact, recognizing the complex social-ecological nature of protected areas, in Africa, and all over the world. For today’s Photo Sphere  story we share an article, written by Wendee Nicole, on the One Health approach to understanding the complex linkages between disease, people and ecosystems.  

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A gossamer mist settles over the jagged peaks of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a 318-square-kilometer park on the eastern flank of the Albertine Rift in southwest Uganda. It’s a hard scramble up and down steep ravines of this World Heritage Site, home to 400 of the world’s estimated 880 remaining mountain gorillas. The guide, Omax, radios ahead to trackers who have located the Habinyanja gorilla family. As the eight tourists and their porters catch up, everyone gathers to watch, mesmerized, as two gorillas placidly eat nettles. Without warning, a male gorilla named Kavuyo charges straight toward a middle-aged woman; she holds her ground, her eyes saucers. “He’s a joking one,” Omax says after shooing Kavuyo back. 

Tourists have just one hour to watch the gorillas and must stay seven meters away from the animals, but counting tourists, porters, trackers, and guards, more than 60,000 people visit the park for the gorillas every year, in addition to locals passing through, potentially exposing both species to health hazards from the other. People and great apes are so closely related that infectious agents ranging from common cold viruses to potentially fatal diseases such as tuberculosis can pass between the two. One study found that 30% of park staff and 85% of local villagers admitted to defecating in the park without burying it, and many leave behind soiled trash that can expose the gorillas to parasites, pathogens, and other health threats. 

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