About the Gorilla Doctors: Staff 2008

This post is an update from November 2007 – see Dr. Magda’s bio and new picture of Dr. Eddy at work.

MGVP’s veterinary staff—collectively, the gorilla doctors—is a unique, diverse, and interesting group of people. We differ in terms of our nationality, training, and experience, as well as in the territory we cover. The in-country field vets are stationed in their home countries, either Rwanda, Uganda, or the DRC, while the regional vets and project director move about. MGVP’s regional headquarters is located in Ruhengeri (Musanze), Rwanda for two main reasons: most of the world’s habituated mountain gorillas live in Rwanda, and Ruhengeri itself is about halfway between the border with Uganda to the east and Congo to the west.

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Dr. Lucy Spelman leads team MGVP to help a wild giraffe at Akagera National Park with an infected snare wound.

Though a subset of the six field vets will sometimes work together on a mountain gorilla when veterinary intervention is required, this happens only a few times a year. Typically, we are out and about alone or in pairs. As regional director, I initiated monthly regional vet rounds so that the vets could get to know each other by sharing experiences and exchanging information. I also make the most of every opportunity to augment their training, whether we’re in the field or the office. The reality is that veterinary training in Africa falls considerably short of what we receive in the U.S. and Europe. And when opportunities arise for mobilizing the entire team, I go for it, as in the case of the giraffe in Akagera National Park (Rwanda) needing treatment for a snare wound

(see Mission Giraffe entry, http://blogs.discovery.com/quest/2007/07/index.html)

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MGVP director Dr. Mike Cranfield also enjoys photography.

MGVP director Dr. Mike Cranfield was one of the first veterinarians to embrace the concept of one-health, or integrated, medical coverage and apply it on behalf of great ape conservation. Mike has led the project since 1999, always on the lookout for ways to build local capacity. MGVP has trained a number of in-country vets, helping several to obtain masters and PhD degrees. Mike has also expanded MGVP programs to include employee and domestic animal health. His greatest challenge these days is raising the funds to sustain all of this important work. A Canadian, Mike currently lives near the Baltimore Zoo in Maryland, where he works as a research veterinarian studying avian malaria in South African penguins. His hobbies include competitive sailboat racing, ice hockey, and squash.


Dr. Lucy Spelman, MGVP regional veterinary manager, and ORTPN vet tech Elisabeth Nyirakaragire prepare for the field. Photo by Julie Ghrist.

I am the American on the team, having grown up on an old dairy farm in Connecticut with a menagerie of animals. Even before I understood that such jobs actually existed, I wanted to be a doctor helping wild animals. After college at Brown University, veterinary school at the University of California Davis, internship training in private practice, and zoological residency training at North Carolina State University, I worked for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. for nearly ten years, first as a clinician and then as director. But after 16 years as a vet, I’d still never treated patients in their natural habitat. That’s when I decided to apply for a job with MGVP as regional vet manager, a post I took up in November 2006. Aside from my veterinary work, I love to write, walk, and read.


Dr. Magdalena Lukasik-Braum on a routine health check visit to Group 13, Rwanda.

Dr. Magdalena Lukasik-Braum joined MGVP in early December 2007 as our regional field veterinarian. Originally from Warsaw, Poland, where she received her veterinary degree, Magda has been involved in chimpanzee health, ecotourism, and research in East Africa since 1998, working initially for Jane Goodall in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, and then in Mahale National Park. She has also served as head veterinarian for CROW, a busy wildlife rehabilitation clinic located in Durbin, South Africa, her husband Doug’s home city, where their daughter Kasia was born in 2003. Magda’s first month as a gorilla doctor was a busy one, thanks to the many orphans now under our care and a variety of potentially serious cases in the field. With her usual warmth and enthusiasm, she plunged right in, working long hours without complaint and quickly becoming part of the team.

5 Dr. Jean Felix Kinani Elisabeth prep for Magayne intervention 8-16-2007 8-40-03 AM.jpg

Dr. Jean Felix Kinani, MGVP Rwandan field vet, preparing to dart a mountain gorilla, with ORTPN vet tech Elisabeth Nyirakaragire.

Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani is MGVP’s Rwandan in-country field veterinarian. Jean Felix received his veterinary degree from Check Anta University in Dakar, Senegal. He joined MGVP in 2004 and especially enjoys fieldwork with the gorillas. He is also interested in domestic animal health, and recently started an annual rabies vaccination program for domestic dogs in the region. Near the Virungas, there have been several recent cases of rabies in jackals and feral dogs; humans too have died of this disease. Jean Felix is the project’s great communicator. He speaks many languages, knows many people, and has by far the highest cell-phone bill. His hobbies include playing and watching soccer, or football as it is known here. He and his veterinarian wife have just started a family.

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Jean-Paul Lukusa, MGVP regional laboratory manager, teaches basic hygiene at Art of Conservation class; photo by Julie Ghrist.

Jean-Paul Lukusa is MGVP’s regional laboratory manager. He received his degree in microbiology from L’Institute Superior Médicale in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then worked as a professor at a medical school in Rwanda before joining MGVP in 2003. Jean Paul lives in Goma, DRC, but commutes regularly to MGVP’s main office in Rwanda. His duties range from running fecal parasite checks and bacterial cultures on mountain gorilla samples to administering the MGVP employee health program. The latter job involves coordinating doctor visits and laboratory samples for hundreds of park rangers, guides, and patrols each year. Jean Paul is MGVP’s most gifted teacher and public speaker. And as we learned when he participated in Julie Ghrist’s Art of Conservation class (www.art-of-conservation.com), he can make even brushing one’s teeth exciting!

7 Dr. Benard Ssebide Nkuringo Gp.jpg

Dr. Benard Ssebide, MGVP Ugandan in-country field vet, on a routine health check in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda.

Dr. Benard Ssebide is MGVP’s Ugandan in-country field veterinarian, and the team’s newest staff member. Benard (yes, this is the correct spelling) received his veterinary degree and masters of Science in wildlife health and management from Makerere University in Uganda. For six years, he worked for the Ugandan Wildlife Authority as veterinarian and chief park warden, based in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. During that time, he became a collaborator and friend of MGVP. He joined the project early in 2007 to concentrate on field vet work rather than administration. Benard has a keen interest in wildlife diseases and will begin work on his PhD soon. With a home in Kampala and his patients spread out among dense jungle, Benard travels more miles over rough terrain than the rest of MGVP staff combined.

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Dr. John Bosco Nizeyi, MGVP research veterinarian and professor, at Makerere University in Uganda.

Dr. John Bosco Nizeyi is MGVP’s research veterinarian, and a professor in the Wild Animal Resource Management Department of Makerere University in Uganda. JBN (he’s known by his initials) received his veterinary degree at Makerere, his masters of science in recreational resources from Colorado State University, and his PhD in veterinary medicine at Makerere University in 2005. He has worked for MGVP since 1993, when he started as a field vet. His research interests include the use of fecal cortisol testing to monitor stress levels in wild animals. Because JBN lives in Kampala, a long way from mountain gorilla habitat, and his days are full of teaching and guiding students, we don’t see him often. But when we do get together for an all-staff meeting in Kisoro, Uganda, everyone looks to JBN for his historical knowledge and experience.


Dr. Eddy Kambale, MGVP DRC field vet, helps care for the orphaned mountain gorillas, in addition to field work.

Dr. Eddy Kambale is the other MGVP in-country field veterinarian based in the DRC. Eddy received his veterinary degree at the Catholic University of Graben, Butembo, in the DRC. Before joining the MGVP in 2004, he was a scholar at the Technical Institute for Agriculture and Veterinary Science in Butembo, DRC. In cooperation with Dr. Jacques Iyanya, Eddy’s duties include monitoring Grauer’s gorillas as well as mountain gorillas—and caring for the orphans. He enjoys every aspect of clinical medicine, including pathology, or the study of disease after an animal has died. Eddy performed field necropsies on the gorillas shot in the DRC last July, hoping to learn something from this tragedy. Among MGVP staff, Eddy has a wry sense of humor and can make people laugh in any number of languages. At work, however, he’s seriously quiet.

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Dr. Jacques Iyanya, MGVP DRC field vet, monitoring gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park.

Dr. Jacques Iyanya is one of MGVP’s two in-country field veterinarians based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He received his veterinary degree from the University of Lubumbashi in the DRC, then worked for the Department of Agriculture and Development in the eastern part of the country before joining MGVP in 2004. His duties include monitoring mountain gorillas on the DRC side of the Virungas and Grauer’s gorillas in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. He and his colleague, Dr. Eddy Kambale, also take care of the two newest infant mountain gorillas in Goma, DRC. Jacques speaks perfect French, is exceptionally well connected and diplomatic, and understands DRC’s complicated political system. As a result, he often accepts the role of MGVP political advisor. He is rapidly learning English, and will soon be correcting me in my native language as well as in French!

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MGVP’s support staff, including Leon Ntahobavukira, the house manager (left), eagerly helped put the new truck’s roof rack together.

MGVP’s support staff includes long-time employee, Leon Ntahobavukira, the house manager. Felicien Mulinda, Faustin Nemeye, and Samuel Nshimiyimana work as guards/grounds staff at the headquarters in Ruhengeri. Jean-Claude Rusengamihigo, Michel Mwemezi, and Innocent Barimenshi perform a similar function at the interim quarantine facility (IQF) for orphaned gorillas in Kinigi, Rwanda. MGVP employs five of the seven caretakers who work at the IQF: Amiel Bapfakwita, Dieu Donne Muyambabazi, Jean Baptise Bisenigamana, Innocent Kabendera, and Fabian Bahati.

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  1. Samantha (WildlifeDirect)
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the introduction Lucy to all your colleagues. An eclectic and interesting bunch!

  2. Lisa, California
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Dr. Spelman, Thank you for introducing us to the entire gang at MGVP. Keep up the great work. Lisa

  3. Wanda, Atlanta
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Most impressive group-so….very impressive I wish some world-wide publication would publish about your group soon because it is so interesting!

  4. Faye
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Hello to the entire MGVP team. It’s so nice to see everyone and get an idea of their duties and responsibilities. Thank you for the work you’re doing for the gorillas!

  5. Posted December 1, 2007 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Very nice to “meet” everyone! Thank you, Dr. Spelman, for introducing all the fine people of MGVP. You have a very impressive group of colleagues.


    Posted January 20, 2008 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Took me a while to read everyone’s resumes, training, etc. and then I had to read it again! Wonderful, how some people actually make their life long dreams come true. My sincere thanks to each of you for choosing this difficult but oh so very important challenge.

  7. Christine C.
    Posted January 20, 2008 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Fantastic…thank you so much for this wonderful introduction! Hmmm, I didn’t see Andre…does he work for MGVP, or for a different organization?

  8. Pam/Shell Beach, CA
    Posted January 20, 2008 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I very much enjoyed this post!!! What an amazing group. Makes me wish I was a wildlife vet so I could work with such a fantastic team. I admire the work you do and thank you for your dedication.

    Posted January 20, 2008 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    So sorry to post this sad news that I just learned. Zimbabwe has plans to kill at least 500 elephants to make biltong, a dried meat snack popular among hunters and rugby fans…for info go to ZWNEWS.com and click on environment. Elephants, like primates, are so highly social and intelligent…I’m devastated by this news…and again mourning for man’s war on all wildlife.

  10. cathy-california
    Posted January 20, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    How inspiring all of you are. Dr. Spelman, do any of the veterinarian students receive specific training from your group or do you groom any of the students ie field work or internships with the hopes that they will also join MGVP?

  11. Annie/Texas
    Posted January 20, 2008 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    You guys are awesome…and lucky to do the jobs you do as we don’t get to see these magnificent animals like that here in the states! Theresa…that is horrible what will happen to those elephants….just sickening..how is that possible????

    Posted January 21, 2008 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Annie, I have very busy since I learned the news! The director of the national parks is planning this and he intends to go forward. If you go to the website you can read it all there. I have emailed 3 letters of strong opposition to newspapers listed at this site. I’m not supposed to give this number out, but this is CNN’s Wolf Blizter’s office number 202-898-7900; I plan to call his office Monday am and ask him to investigate this. The Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington DC is 202-322-7100 you can call there and/or send email via their embassy website. I have also emailed API/BORN FREE as they do a lot of elephant investigations. I also emailed WLD newest contibutors, Zimbabwe Wild Dogs and Zimbabwe 7, to get their perspectives/advice. This is simply an outrage and it can not stand!

  13. paula
    Posted January 21, 2008 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    It’s wonderful to see that so much has gone into training locals from Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. This capacity building is perhaps the most important step towards sustainability. You set a good standard for others to follow.

  14. Annie/Texas
    Posted January 21, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Theresa, I did read the ZNEWS and it does say plain as day that they plan to move forward with this kill..just sickens me..I did leave an email expressing my dislike and outrage…it is not like these hunters and rugby players need the elephants for food..I am appalled and then think this is what man does and thinks he has a right to do……..using guns to kill these innocent animals! I will try to do what I can and also leave an email to the US Embassy……..thanks!

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