On the fourth day of treatment, Mapendo and Vumilia continue to improve, eating banana stems, and ficus leaves, January 8, 2008.
The new Grauer’s gorilla orphans in DR Congo are showing signs of improvement. Eddy and Andre have done a terrific job, thanks also to the help of ICCN staff who work at the ranger station (Virungas National Park) in Mutsora, and lots of phone calls and emails with ideas and support from the rest of MGVP staff. The following series of photos shows how much progress they have made. These are possible thanks to Emmanuel Merode at Wildlife Direct who has helped with all sorts of things, including internet access at Mutsora. The phone service is very poor where the orphans are (and not very good in Rwanda right now), so email has been critical—especially for pictures.
When Andre and Eddy arrived at the ranger station in Mutsora, they found the gorillas separated and in small cages—fashioned by theircaptors. Their first move was to release the orphans. They are now together all of the time, which will help reduce their stress levels. In some ways, it is a good thing that there are two of them. They have each other.
Mapendo, left, and Vumilia, right, on January 6, 2008
Gorillas are highly social. We know from experience with orphans that their behavioral/psychological health is just as important, if not more important, than their physical health. While we can stabilize them medically, we cannot treat the stress specifically. Both Mapendo and Vumilia also responded positively to space, fresh air and sunlight.
Mapendo, orphaned Grauer’s gorilla, January 7, 2008
The smaller orphan, a female named Mapendo, is between 2- and 3-years old. Fortunately, she has not come down with diarrhea and seems calm around people. She needs milk, however, and has not yet adjusted to regular bottle feedings. Andre is patiently working with her. Given his experience, if anyone can establish a routine with her, it’s Andre. She is eating some of the vegetation offered, and likes bananas.
The larger gorilla, an approximately 4-year-old male named Vumilia, is recovering from severe enteritis (watery stool). He is weak, but strong enough to put up a bit of a fight with the doctor. Eddy and Andre have worked out a way to restrain him quickly for treatments—subcutaneous fluids and antibiotics. Now the challenge is to get Vumilia to take his medicine orally, and drink enough fluids/eat enough vegetation so he no longer needs fluid therapy.
Finding the appropriate “natural forest food” for confiscated gorillas is another challenge. Thanks to the efforts of everyone at Mutsora station, the orphans are now receiving some fresh vegetation—banana stems and ficus—enough to get their appetites going. We need a better, long-term solution. This is one reason why plans for a sanctuary for orphaned gorillas call for it to be located near their natural habitat so forest food can be collected easily.
Because the orphans were so weak and dehydrated, particularly Vumilia, Eddy, and Andre at first wanted to move them straight away to Goma so they would be closer to more medical supplies. But after we discussed the situation among MGVP vets, DFGFI, and ICCN, we agreed that the orphans were too sick for a car ride. I also felt certain that more time in one place would be best, as it would give them a chance to adjust to each other, bond with Andre, and establish a drinking/eating routine. MGVP’s second Congo field vet, Dr. Jacques Iyanya, traveled to Mutsora yesterday to help with orphan care, and bring more supplies. Given that both gorillas are eating and tolerating their treatments, it’s time to discuss next steps. For now, they will stay in Mutsora and—we hope—continue to gain strength.