By Dr. Fred Nizeyimana
The month of April found me in Davis, CA, USA. I arrived at the Sacramento airport in California on the night of April 1 after a long flight from Entebbe, Uganda, via Amsterdam and Detroit. It was my first time traveling so far and visiting the USA. The flight was an experience filled with breath-taking views. I kept reflecting on how far away Bwindi and the Virunga Mountains were. My biological clock was switched 10 hours backwards! However, the month spent in Davis was worth the long journey and jet lag.
On April 2, Gorilla Doctors Co-Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center oriented me to the campus and introduced me to the place where I would conduct my animal health training, the California National Primate Research Center or CNPRC. The center works with three species of monkeys:, rhesus macaques, cynomolgus macaques, and titi monkeys.
During my month of training I worked alongside the Primate Center’s veterinarians and veterinary technicians, especially Stephen Cital-Bruhn, and was supervised by Dr. Kari Christe. I was able to participate in or observe all of the daily veterinary activities that happen at the CNPRC.
The CNPRC has two hospitals where the macaques are treated for health problems ranging from diarrhea and respiratory disease to trauma. I anesthetized animals for treatment; cleaned, sutured, and dressed wounds; and administered IV therapy and medications to sick monkeys. I observed surgeries as well.
I spent some time in the Primate Center’s specialty medical areas as well, including nurseries for infants that were ill or had been abandoned by their mothers. I performed physical exams of the infants, gave treatment, and fed them. CNPRC has digital x-ray facilities and I was able to read and review radiographs obtained on the trauma and dental cases. Dental cases would be referred to the hospital and I assisted in cleanings, extractions, and other procedures.
I also attended necropsies and pathology rounds to discuss the different health cases at the Primate Center. I was able to appreciate how post-mortem exams are done at the center and learned some new techniques that will help me in the field.
Monitoring the health and behavior of the macaques living in the outdoor enclosures was another important activity. Each cage housed several macaque families and the monkeys were able to interact socially. The researchers helped me to understand the macaques’ hierarchy and the meaning of the animals’ different gestures, grimaces, postures, and sounds. Every day I checked for new babies (it was baby season) and carefully observed the macaques looking for signs of trauma or ill health. In April, all of the Primate Center’s monkeys were due for full health exams, so I was able to perform physical exams on many monkeys. During this time, animals received vaccines and deworming medication, had blood samples taken, and were tested for tuberculosis. Adult females were given pregnancy exams.
Besides training, I had the opportunity to meet many new people. The people I met were warm, helpful and welcoming. Most of them wanted to know about life in Africa, and in Uganda particularly. My host, Ms. Jacqueline Gilardi, was a very nice and caring lady who gave me a lot of her time. She introduced me to her friends and family who warmly welcomed me. I appreciated the support offered by the Wildlife Health Center staff members including Dr. Kirsten, Dr. Jonna Mazet, Amanda Mahler, Lisa Stevenson, and Elizabeth Leasure. They organized different dinners in my honor. Drs. Ray Wack and Nancy Anderson, who work at the School of Veterinary Medicine, were also good people and kindly toured me around the California coast and San Francisco.
As Gorilla Doctors is based in Davis, I met some of our board members, advisors, and donors in person. Board member Deborah Dunham hosted a reception in my honor at her home, which was attended by several donors as well as Gorilla Doctors Advisory Board member Jonna Mazet and Science Advisors Linda Lowenstine and Lynn Gaffikin.
While in California I did some sightseeing around Sacramento and San Francisco. I especially enjoyed the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, and Stinson Beach. Before departing the U.S. I made a stopover in Baltimore to visit the Maryland Zoo and Dr. Mike Cranfield. I also had dinner with Gorilla Doctors Board Chairman Roger Powell and board members Kim Hammond and Mike Hankin. I even met some U.S. friends who have become supporters of Gorilla Doctors. The entire trip was a memorable experience for me!
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