January 20, 2015

American Philanthropist Awarded MAK Honorary Doctorate

Makerere University has awarded an honorary doctorate degree to Ruth Morris Keesling, an American Philanthropist, in recognition of her contribution to the conservation of Mountain Gorillas in Uganda.

Ruth Morris Keesling
Ruth Morris Keesling

Ruth Keesling was nominated for the award by the School of Veterinary Medicine in acknowledgment of her contribution to the establishment of the department of Wildlife and Animal Resource Management at Makerere University.

The award will be conferred upon her during the 65 graduation at Makerere University tomorrow.

Professor Okello Ogwang, the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of academics at Makerere University says Ruth Keesling has made an outstanding contribution at Makerere University and other areas of conservation across the East African region.

Her efforts to create awareness of, and save the Mountain Gorillas led to the creation of programmes like the Msc in Wildlife Health & Management, Msc in Wildlife Tourism & Recreation Management and Bsc in Wildlife Health & Management.

Since 1983 when Ruth Keesling first saw the gorillas as a tourist, she has shown commitment to their conservation and even promoted research that elevated the level of gorillas in Uganda to Mountain Gorillas.

She also established the gorilla veterinary clinic in 1986 and has since then, spent millions of her own money and also held fundraising drives that attracted more partners, who together have put more effort in saving the gorillas from extinction.

Her love for the Mountain Gorillas started when she met the late primatologist, Dr. Dian Fossey, on whose request she founded the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project for mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1985.

Prof. Ogwang adds that Keesling has also funded final year students to conduct research in conservation, financed the department of veterinary medicine at Makerere and many other programmes.

Stephen Asimwe, the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Tourism Board says the contribution by Ruth Morris Keesling in conservation of the mountain gorilla has boosted Uganda’s tourism development.

He says currently, earnings from gorilla permits contribute to more than half of the total earnings from the tourism sector in the country.

He welcomes the award saying it recognizes the great efforts of the lady who dedicated her entire life in conserving wildlife.

Under the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund (MGCF) which in 2010 signed a memorandum of understanding with Makerere University, Ms. Keesling has been at the forefront of raising money to conserve the Mountain Gorilla.

As a result of Mrs. Keesling’s efforts, the Mountain Gorilla population has grown from 248 at the time of Dr. Fossey’s death to 880 today, meaning that her efforts have resulted into an additional 632 gorillas having been produced in the last 30 years.

Born on April 4th 1930 at New Brunswick, USA, Ruth graduated with a degree in journalism from Colorado University in 1953. After graduation, she became a partner in Mark Morris Associates and Theracon Laboratories, the family’s animal nutritional outreach organization which developed prescription diets and science diets for dogs and other animals.

For about 30 years, Ruth spent her time between Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, doing research on Gorilla conservation.

In 1990, she made a quest for phylogenetic study of Gorillas whose results helped in the determination of the exact phylogeny of the Bwindi Gorillas and eventual upgrading to Mountain Gorilla status.

This led to gazetting of Bwindi impenetrable National Park as gorilla conservation area.

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