Category Archives: Field Procedures

Sick Female in Rushegura Group Successfully Treated By Dr. Fred

By Drs. Fred and Hameed

Ruterana, an adult female in Rushegura group, was observed by trackers to be moving slowly and laying down a lot the morning of September 26. They thought she looked very thin and unwell. The trackers called me and I joined them immediately. She did indeed appear weak, dehydrated, and emaciated. Her mammery glands were flat but her nipples were elongated, indicating she had been nursing recently. She gave birth to an infant on September 13 but she no longer had the baby with her. Despite our efforts to search the area, we did not find the infant in the vincincity. I decided to return the next day to assess her again

On September 27, we observed Ruterana feeding and keeping up with the rest of the group, but there were no signs of her infant. I asked the trackers to continue monitoring her closely and call me if her health deteoirtaed further.

By September 30, Ruterana’s health had not improved. I thought her weakness might be attributed to a post-partum infection, so, after a discussion with park authorities, the decision was made to dart her with antibiotics to help boost her immune system.

That morning, while waiting for tourists to finish their visit with the group, I prepared two darts: one with a long acting broad spectrum antibiotic, and the other with a anti-parasitic drug. After the tourists had left I darted the Ruterana without incident.

Over the following days, the trackers reported that Ruterana was gradually growing stronger and feeding more. On October 7, Drs. Hameed and Rachael returned to the group. Here is Hameed’s report:

We visited Rushegura group to check on Ruterana. She was moving in tune with the group feeding well on the fruits of Myrianthus and pith of Afromomum. Her stomach was full.

Despite her strength, her body still appeared thin, most likely because she has not recovered all of the muscle mass she lost during her illness. Although still a bit emaciated, the prognosis is good as she seems to be on her way to full recovery. We will continue following the rangers’ daily status reports on her condition.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting us by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

After Intervention, Starved Gorilla Able to Feed Herself Again

By Dr. Dawn Zimmerman

On August 7, Karisoke Research Center (KRC) reported that 17-year-old adult female Kunama of Ugenda group appeared to have a protruding tongue and difficulty eating. I visited the group the following day and observed the same behaviour, although I could not determine the cause of her condition through visual observation. A plan was made for a team to check her again on Thursday and intervene if she showed no improvement.

The next morning, a team including myself, Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani, Elisabeth Nyirakaragire from the Rwandan Development Board, KRC Researcher Winnie Eckardt, and KRC trackers, trekked to Ugenda group. Kunama looked weak and was hunched over, although she was still trying to eat. Her tongue appeared even more swollen and her abdomen was flat, indicating that she had ingested little or no food recently. We needed to intervene.

We easily darted Kunama with anaesthesia and she fell asleep within minutes without the other gorillas, including two silverbacks, seeming to notice. Kunama appeared to be moderately dehydrated and undernourished so we gave her IV fluids and dextrose.
Her tongue was grossly swollen and protruding from her mouth. There were several ulcerated lesions on her tongue that appeared secondary to the tongue’s enlargement, but I could find no other obvious problems. There were no foreign bodies or masses, and the throat and mouth all appeared normal. We administered IV steroids to help reduce the inflammation of her tongue and antibiotics to treat potential infections.

During the exam, we also noticed some reproductive abnormalities that may indicate Kunama recently had a miscarriage. She has a five-year-old son, and this would have been her second baby. We can’t tell if the miscarriage is linked to her current feeding problems, but we took many samples to analyze at the laboratory to help us better understand her condition. After the exam, Kunama was given a reversal drug and returned to her group.

There  were many possible causes of Kunama’s condition and I consulted with human doctors to help narrow down the list of possibilities since we were unable to perform a wide range of tests in a limited amount of time. Dr. Jean-Felix and the KRC trackers reported, in hindsight, that they had observed Kunama playing with her tongue excessively over the past year, suggesting that her condition might be chronic rather than acute. A chronic inflammatory (deposition) disease seemed like a strong possibility.

On August 10, I returned in the morning to recheck Kanama’s condition.  She appeared stronger but with little change in the condition of her tongue and ability to eat. Winnie monitored Kanama for four hours and though Kanama continued trying to eat, she grew weaker as the afternoon went on. Drs. Jean-Felix and Noel arranged to check her again on Saturday to determine if a second intervention was needed.

The next morning, the veterinarians were surprised to see Kanama looking much better. Her tongue was not protruding and she was eating.

Today, Monday the 13th, I went up to see Kanama for myself. She looked well and was eating non-stop. My only concern was that she continued to stick her fingers in her mouth, so her tongue may still be bothering her. Unfortunately, I could not actually visualize the tongue. Perhaps it is not quite yet back to its normal size, and certainly the ulcerated lesions could be a bit painful when she’s eating. I was also unable to visualize her abdomen, but based on her rate of eating, I imagine it will be back to normal in a few days if not already. Otherwise, we are happy with the progress, and will continue to ask the KRC trackers to update us on her status.

In light of this progression, I wonder if perhaps there was a foreign body or allergen that was removed prior to our intervention and it just took longer than expected for the inflammation to be alleviated. However, because many of the possible causes of her inflamed tongue are chronic conditions, we will continue to closely monitor the condition of her tongue in the future.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting us by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Juvenile Ngwino Succumbs to Snare Wounds

This month, the Gorilla Doctors clinically managed the complicated case of Ngwino, a juvenile gorilla from Inshuti group in Rwanda who was found caught in a snare in early July. Normally, the Gorilla Doctors intervene to treat a snare-wounded gorilla the very next morning after the wound is first observed, but this time, silverback Inshuti prevented trackers and our veterinarians from approaching the infant, and then engaged another silverback in battle. Somewhere in the melee, Ngwino disappeared. More than a week later, Ngwino finally reunited with her mother and Inshuti, but still had the snare around her ankle. On July 13, Gorilla Doctors and Karisoke Research Center trekked to the group to intervene, but unfortunately found Ngwino suffering from severe injuries that ultimately proved fatal.

Dr. Dawn recounts what happened:

On July 13, a team including myself, Drs. Eddy and Noel, Elisabeth Nyirakaragire from RDB, Karisoke Research Center Director Felix Ndagijimana, and several trackers trekked to find Inshuti group in order to perform an intervention on juvenile female Ngwino. When we found the group, it was difficult to approach Ngwino as the silverback Inshuti was guarding her. However, we were able to visually confirm the presence of the rope snare still around her left ankle and damage to the tissue of the left foot. Based on our visual assessment, it was clear an intervention was needed to remove the snare and hopefully save her foot. Due to Inshuti’s aggressive behaviour and unpredictability, he would need to be immobilized in order to anesthetize Ngwino.

Inshuti was darted at 11:09 a.m., and fully anesthetized 10 minutes later. While Dr. Eddy and I performed a thorough physical exam on Inshuti, Dr. Noel and the trackers looked for Ngwino who was found approximately 30 minutes later, was separated from her mother Shangaza, and was darted intramuscularly at 11:43 a.m..  She was down by 11:48 a.m.

Once we were able to physically examine Ngwino, the devastating scope of her injuries became clear. The rope snare was so tight around her left ankle that it was cutting into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Her entire left foot was necrotic and cold to the touch, gangrenous from losing blood supply and essentially “dead.” We might have considered amputating the foot if it were not for an even more serious shoulder wound.

An open humeral fracture of Ngwino’s right shoulder had become severely infected with exposed necrotic bone and soft tissue, an open joint capsule, and gross purulent infection resulting in a foul smell characteristic of dead tissue. We do not know how Ngwino sustained this injury but the trackers suspected Inshuti may have tried to free Ngwino when she was first caught in the snare, wrenching her body away from the tree where the rope was tied. Due to the stage of tissue death, the infection had likely spread systemically and she had become septic. In addition, Ngwino’s body showed signs of dehydration and mild to moderate muscle wasting, and her lungs crackled under auscultation indicating a possible pneumonia.

The severity of Ngwino’s injuries and the advanced stage of the necrosis and infection put her in a grave situation. We believed that the infected shoulder wound would result in her death if not amputated. However, such a high amputation had never before performed on a wild mountain gorilla; we have previously only amputated to the elbow. In addition, the loss of the right arm and the contralateral foot would mean that Ngwino would likely not be able to keep up with the group, feed efficiently, reproduce successfully, or defend herself in the future. She would have a poor quality of life should she be able to survive.  Therefore, after discussing the options with park authorities, the decision was made to treat Ngwino as best we could without performing any amputations.  Though her prognosis was grave, euthanasia was not opted.

The wounds were flushed copiously with a povidone iodine solution, We were not able to debride much of the infected or necrotic tissue since little could be accomplished without removing the necrotic bone and while still maintaining the limbs. Injectable and topical antibiotics were administered, as were fluids and painkillers.

While Inshuti was waking up, we injected Ngwino with a reversal and placed her near Inshuti to recover. To avoid aggravating Inshuti we quickly moved from the area, but trackers remained nearby and reported just awhile later that Ngwino was reunited with her mother and was able to suckle. However, we were not optimistic about her chances for survival.

The next day, Karisoke Research Center trackers found Ngwino had moved very little from the recovery site and was very weak. Inshuti and Shangaza remained by her side. The next day, trackers found her deceased body. They wrapped her in blankets and brought her down to the Gorilla Doctors’ laboratory for a post mortem exam.

Ngwino is the second gorilla this year to die after being caught in a snare. In February, a Karisoke anti-poaching team found the body of an infant gorilla from an unhabituated group whose deceased body was found still ensnared to a tree.

While the number of snares found by Karisoke’s anti-poaching team has not reportedly increased, we wonder if the gorillas are perhaps frequenting areas more often used by poachers, or areas less often patrolled.  Inshuti’s other infant, Akaruso, was also thought to have been caught in a snare around the same time as Ngwino, as a chewed-through rope snare was found in the group’s area concomitantly to Akaruso not using his arm well.  Subsequent to an interaction with Giraneza group, Akaruso went missing and has not been seen since July 10.

Just days after Ngwino’s death, Karisoke discovered a blackback and two juveniles from Kuryama group dissembling two snares.  Although adult gorillas, mostly silverbacks, have been known to recognize and dissemble snares, this is the first time Karisoke has witnessed juveniles doing so. Such an event is encouraging in light of Ngwino’s death, although we hope for a future when no gorilla has to worry about snares.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Concerns Mount for Two Injured Infants of Inshuti Group

Over the last few days, the Gorilla Doctors have been following the complicated cases of two injured infant gorillas belonging to Inshuti group. One infant was caught in a snare and in the other the case the cause of the trauma was unclear. It has not been possible to intervene yet in either case due to high stress levels in Inshuti group and fighting between silverback Inshuti and his rival Giraneza.

Dr. Dawn reports:

July 9

On July 3, trackers from the Karisoke Research Center reported finding the infant gorilla Akaruso dangling upside down from a tree by a rope snare that had caught his left leg. Akaruso is the three-year-old infant of Taraja who transferred to Giraneza group, the new group that formed when silverback Giraneza took some members from Inshuti group in February. Akaruso remained with Inshuti group. The trackers were able to cut the snare from the tree, and the infant was reunited with Inshuti, although he appeared to be weak and limping with the rope still around his leg. As standard practice, we did not attempt an intervention that same day in order to allow the stressed group to regain some composure.

The next day, Karisoke reported that Inshuti made it very difficult to check on Akaruso. Inshuti charged multiple times and kept the infant out of view. It was not possible to perform an intervention.

Over the next few days, Inshuti continued to charge the trackers, and they could only catch glimpses of Akaruso.  On July 8, trackers reported seeing the snare still on Akaruso’s left leg.  However, later in the day, the Inshuti and Giraneza groups met and the silverbacks fought, making it impossible to intervene again.

Today, I went up to assess the situation for a possible intervention to remove Akaruso’s snare.  Our team found Giraneza’s group first and, surprisingly, Akaruso was with Giraneza. No snare was observed on Akaruso’s leg, nor was he limping.  However, he was not using his left arm very well.  No wound or swelling could be appreciated, and he could.  I observed his ability to fully extend his elbow, wrist, and fingers, even grasping at some vegetation on the ground.  However, most of the time, he kept his left arm in to his chest, using only his right arm when moving. In addition, Akaruso was not observed eating during our two-hour observation period.

It became apparent that there might have been a misidentification between Akaruso and the two-year-old female Ngwino, who is also a member of Inshuti group. In retrospect, Ngwino may have been the infant cut from the tree on July 3.

Trackers believed that another infant was caught in a snare around the same time, as a piece of bitten off rope was found in the area.  Perhaps this was Akaruso and the snare had been attached to his left arm, causing pain and mal-use of the arm.  Another possibility for Akaruso could be trauma due to aggression from Giraneza. When an infant gorilla joins a group with an unrelated silverback, there is always the risk that the silverback could commit infanticide. We observed one episode of aggression by Giraneza towards Akaruso, but Giraneza subsequently groomed Akaruso and they rested together.

Soft tissue trauma to the arm is the most likely differential, although we are unable to rule-out a fracture and/or dislocation.  Due to the movement of the elbow, wrist, and finger joints, I suspect he will improve without needing intervention. However, we cannot rule-out any internal abdominal trauma due to aggression from Giraneza that would explain the infant’s decreased appetite. Stress could be another factor as it has been only one day since the infant moved to a new group post-interaction.

Later in the day, we found Inshuti with the adult female Shangaza not far from Giraneza group’s location. Inshuti appeared uneasy. Ngwino was not with them. Tomorrow, a large tracker team will set out to try to find her.

July 10

Today trackers found Inshuti and Shangaza but no sign of Ngwino. The search will resume tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the tense situation between the silverback Giraneza and the male infant Akaruso, who left Inshuti group on July 8 to join his mother Taraja, has evolved. This morning trackers reported that Akaruso appeared to be trying to run away from Giraneza with his mother. Later Akaruso was observed by himself, running in the direction of Inshuti group. He was half way to Inshuti group when trackers left the forest at the end of the day.

We are very concerned for the safety of both Ngwino and Akaruso. Tomorrow our colleagues at the Karisoke Research Center and the Rwandan Development Board will attempt to track both infants.

July 11

Neither infant was located today. The search will continue tomorrow.

July 12

Karisoke Research Center trackers finally found  Ngwino today with Inshuti group. She still has the rope snare around her leg and appeared very weak. We are planning to intervene with the Karisoke team first thing tomorrow morning. Sadly, the infant Akarusho is still missing.

To be continued …

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Warring Silverbacks Keep Ugandan Veterinarians On Their Toes

The silverbacks and blackbacks of Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park keep the Gorilla Doctors on their toes with their near constant fighting, which frequently leads to one or more individual being injured—sometimes quite seriously. In 2011, the adult female Samehe died after sustaining a severe a head wound in a fight between males. This year, Kirungi, the third-ranking silverback in the group, has borne the brunt of the beat downs and suffered numerous deep cuts and lacerations. While none of these wounds have been immediately life threatening, Drs. Hameed and Fred have followed him closely, prepared to act should his wounds become infected.

Early in June, Kirungi received another deep bite wound on his hip that became septic. Dr. Hameed and Dr. Fred report on what happened:

From Dr. Hameed: On June 8, we received word from the Bwindi Conservation Area Manager’s office that there had been a fight in Nkuringo group that had left Kirungi with a deep wound on his right hip. The fight most likely involved the dominant silverback Safari who also sustained a minor cut on his forehead. I tracked Nkuringo group and found that the wound was about 4 days old and was healing. Kirungi was feeding and had a ¾ full stomach. He had good use of his hind limbs.

On June 11, we were informed by the Warden in charge of Nkuringo subsector that Kirungi’s wound was septic (infected) and he was not feeding or keeping up with the rest of the group.

The next day, Dr. Benard, Dr. Racheal, and I tracked the Nkuringo group along with 2 UWA rangers. The gorillas were still by their night nests. We found Kirungi feeding. The deep longitudinal cut across his right gluteal region was progressively healing. He moved in tune with the rest of the group.

Kirungi was alert and exhibited only slight discomfort when bearing weight on his left hind limb. He sat down on his right hand side showing probable progression of the healing process. Nevertheless, we darted him with 4 ml of the antibiotic Ceftiofur and made plans for Dr. Fred to check on him in two days.

From Dr. Fred: I went to Nkuringo on June 13 to check on Kirungi. He was with the group near Safari and moved as the group moved. He was feeding on Mimulopsis arborescens pith and Pilea holstii leaves on our arrival. He ate actively and his stomach was full. I took time enough to see the wound on his right thigh. The wound affected his moving speed but not his feeding. It was open but pinkish in color and had no signs of infection. The limb was not swollen but he moved with some limping. He was not lethargic. Rangers will continue to monitor Kirungi, but he seems to be on the mend.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Gorilla Doctors Treat Injured Grauer’s Gorilla Silverback in Kahuzi-Biega

While the Gorilla Doctors have been unable to visit the mountain gorilla groups in DRC this month due to ongoing fighting between rebel groups and the Congolese army, our field veterinarians Dr. Eddy and Dr. Martin have been able to travel to Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu to check on the park’s Grauer’s gorillas. This time, their visit coincided with a health scare in Langa group. Dr. Eddy reports:

On the morning June 8, Dr. Martin and I prepared to visit Langa group in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Trackers informed us that silverback Langa was in poor health after being injured in fight with Ganywamulume group on May 28.

Langa group includes silverback Langa, one adult female, two sub adults, and three juveniles. The silverback lost two adult females and an infant to a lone male in March. The family has been under intensive habituation for the past 10 months and visitors can now approach the group within 7 meters, although Langa still charges frequently.

When we arrived at the group we heard Langa screaming and charging. Later he came in to open and began eating with the three juveniles. He appeared very thin with wasted muscles. He is thin partly because of his old age but this has been aggravated by painful-looking wounds, which have clearly reduced his appetite. Langa was moving slowly with a limp in the left leg. He was only using his right arm while walking and feeding.

Severe, open wounds were visible on both arms, and there was a noticeable bad smell emanating from the gashes. He had a wound that looked about 7 cm long and 3 cm deep halfway up his right arm and had a smaller wound on his left arm close to the wrist. Despite his wounds, he was alert and responsive, and breathing normally. His appetite was quite good and his stomach looked to be about half full.

After observing him for some time, we made the plan to return the next morning to dart him with antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drugs. On June 9 we found the group at about 10:15 am. They hadn’t moved far. Unfortunately the place had dense vegetation with branches so it was not easy to find a good spot to shoot the darts.  We saw Langa trying to eat with his left hand. He had cleaned both of his wounds and we did not notice the bad smell.

We prepared two darts, one with 50mg of the antibiotic Ceftriaxone to help with wound healing and another with 5 mg of the anti-inflammatory Ketoprofen to ease his pain. I was able to successfully dart Langa with the antibiotics, but then he ran into the forest and I was not able to get another good shot. However, the antibiotic was the most important.

Trackers will check on Langa every day and report back to the Gorilla Doctors on his progress. If he does not improve we should consider to a full intervention so we can examine him fully.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Two Health Scares in Pablo Group in Two Days

After an extremely quiet spring with no veterinary interventions in Uganda, DRC, or Rwanda, June brought the Gorilla Doctors a flush of new veterinary cases. The first full week of June, two female gorillas in Pablo group, Mukecuru and Turimaso, found themselves in need of medical attention. Drs. Dawn and Jean-Felix report on the cases:

From Dr. Dawn: On May 20, Karisoke Research Center requested a health assessment of a 9-day-old infant born to Mukecuru, an elderly female in Pablo group. The infant was reported to be crying and weak. Sadly, the infant was dead when we arrived the next day. Mukecuru continued to carry the body and no visual abnormalities could be appreciated. Because she kept the deceased infant to her breast with her arms folded, it was not possible to observe her mammary glands during our visit. However, trackers reported the subsequent day that her mammary glands appeared to be flat with little to no milk. This is the third infant Mukecuru has lost in four years.

During my visit on May 21, Mukecuru herself appeared to be in good health, moving and eating normally. This is in contrast to the lethargy and weakness observed when she lost her last infant in 2009.

From Dr. Jean-Felix: On June 2, Karisoke Research Center trackers reported that Mukecuru was lethargic, not eating, and lagging behind the rest of the group. The following day Volcanoes National Park Veterinary Warden Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, a team of Karisoke Research Center trackers, and I traveled to Pablo group to perform an intervention on Mukecuru.

We arrived at the group at 9 am and saw all of the group members except Mukecuru. After some searching, trackers found her alone, 50 meters away from the others. Elisabeth and I observed her for 2 hours. She was laying on her stomach and very lethargic. Her respiratory rate was fast and her gums and mouth appeared pale. Her breasts looked entirely empty and her abdomen was flat—she had not eaten in a few days. She also had watery diarrhea.

We decided to dart her with 1 gram of the antibiotic Ceftriaxone and 75 mg of the anti-inflammatory Ketoprofene. She was darted on the right thigh and didn’t cry out. We attempted to herd her back towards the group and she yowled at us, but eventually found her way to Cantsbee, the group’s leading silverback. She looked much more calm once she was back with the group. In the days that followed, Mukecuru gradually recovered her strength and began eating normally and moving with the rest of the group.

On June 4, the day after the Mukecuru intervention, Turimaso, a 9-year-old female gorilla from Pablo group, was caught in a snare attached to a tree. Karisoke Research Center trackers tried to cut the rope snare from the tree but they were charged repeatedly by silverback Gicurasi who was protecting Turimaso. Fortunately, Turimaso chewed off the rope from the tree (but with the snare still around her wrist) and she was able to rejoin the group. Because the gorillas were so aggressive and agitated, we decided to try to remove the snare the following day.

The next morning, Drs. Eddy, Noel, and I along with Elisabeth and a Karisoke team arrived at the group around 9 am. Trackers noticed that the snare was gone from Turimaso’s wrist. It was difficult to get close to her as Gicurasi was shielding her from our view and it was raining. After 1 hour we were able to observe Turimaso well, who was using only her left hand when moving and eating. Her right hand was slightly swollen but she was calm and ate abundantly. We decided to give her some time and see if the right hand could regain normal functioning after a period of rest.

On June 6, Karisoke trackers reported that Turimaso was keeping up with group and eating well, although still not using her right hand. Trackers will continue to monitor her daily.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Dr. Dawn Checks on Ailing Baby in Urugamba Group

For every gorilla health case that requires a full medical intervention, the Gorilla Doctors probably follow up on at least half a dozen other cases that thankfully do not require emergency treatment. To ensure we catch health problems in the early stages, the Gorilla Doctors keep in close contact with the trackers who monitor the gorilla groups on a daily basis.  Whenever a problem is noted, such as coughing in the group, a wounded silverback, or a sickly baby, the Gorilla Doctors trek to the group to make a visual health check and determine what additional care is needed.

In a case earlier this month, Dr. Dawn visited Urugamba group to check on a new baby that appeared to be in pain. Here is Dr. Dawn’s report:

Karisoke Research center trackers reported on April 3 that Bishushwe’s 4-month-old infant  group was not observed nursing this past morning, was crying, and appeared to be experiencing abdominal pain based on unusual movements of the infant. Historically, trackers reported that this mother Bishushwe has raised her previous offspring well. The next day I went to assess the infant. Trackers had been with the group for about 15 minutes prior to my arrival and reported that the infant appeared much improved and they had observed it nursing. A visual examination of the infant revealed normal activity and body condition, although nursing was not directly observed during my veterinary assessment.

The infant was not crying nor did he or she display any abnormal abdominal movements attributed to pain. The mother, Bishushwe, also appeared in good general health and I observed no visual abnormalities of her mammary glands.

All 7 gorillas in the group were visually checked and appeared in good health. Only the juvenile Inkumbuza was observed with minor healing wounds on the left hand and old scars on the palm.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

The Saga of the Silverback Inshuti

By Dr. Dawn

Inshuti

It’s been a difficult 2012 thus far for Inshuti, a silverback gorilla in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.  Meaning “friend” in Kinyarwandan, Inshuti is considered one of the largest and most aggressive silverbacks within the Karisoke research groups, and he has endured his share of drama. Over the years, Inshuti has survived attacks from other gorillas, a suspected fall, and a respiratory infection.

At 16 years of age, Inshuti left Shinda group to become a lone silverback in search of a family.  Just months later, he met the Beetsme’s group and was beaten badly by a number of gorillas.  He spent three days in his night nest, a sign of critical concern, then suddenly emerged and continued to forge on.

In 2007, after various unsuccessful attempts to acquire some females over his three years of bachelorhood, he was joined by two females from Titus group, Taraja and Shangaza.  In 2008, Shangaza gave birth to a female named Ngwino, and Taraja produced a male, Akarusho, in 2009.  A third female, Nyandwi, joined in 2011 from Pablo group.  Inshuti had finally secured a growing family.

His blissful life of female companionship did not last long.

Inshuti's head wound.

On Friday, January 27, I received a call from Karisoke Gorilla Program Coordinator Veronica Vecellio reporting that Inshuti had sustained severe wounds from an interaction with two lone silverbacks.  Karisoke researchers had witnessed the interaction, which lasted for over 2 hours and left Inshuti with bite wounds to the head, neck, back, hands, and feet.  The two lone silverbacks were identified by Karisoke as Tuyizere and Turatsinze, originating from Pablo group, and had continued to follow Inshuti after the interaction.

Inshuti's wounded hand.

A veterinary assessment was requested, and the next morning, Dr. Jean-Felix and I trekked up to the Basumba area which lies between the Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes.  We were joined by Dr. Winnie Eckardt, a Karisoke post-doctoral researcher, and numerous Karisoke trackers who knew the group well, as Inshuti’s aggressive reputation warranted many bodies for protection should an intervention be needed.  Along the way, we came across one of the lone silverbacks, Turatsinze, with a few minor wounds on his back.

We found Inshuti lying on his belly, often a pose associated with not feeling well.  He seemed to care less that we were there, unusual for him.  He was quite weak and sore but alert, responsive, and eating.  He was moving very slowly and we discovered the reason – a large wound on the sole of his right foot. As a mature silverback, he is likely close to 200 kg in weight, and as gorillas walk on the knuckles of their hands and the soles of their feet, a significant percentage of their weight is distributed to each foot.

Inshuti feeling badly.

We followed him to his next resting place, sadly only a few meters away, and watched him for over an hour documenting his wounds and looking for any signs of serious internal injuries (such as blunt trauma or deep puncture wounds impossible to observe by visual examination at 7+ meters away).  His abdomen was fairly flat, a sign that he had not eaten much in the last 24 hours.  Numerous other bite wounds were observed, including a severe laceration to his head: approximately 20 cm in length and 1 cm in depth, scaling from his right ear to the top of his head.  Although this wound was of significant concern, it did not appear life-threatening and therefore did not warrant an intervention.

A Gorilla Doctor protocol, the decision to intervene is based on whether the injury or illness is human-induced and whether the injury or illness is life-threatening.  In Inshuti’s case,  his wounds did not appear to be immediately life threatening, and undergoing anesthesia could weaken him further, making him an easier target for the lone silverbacks who had continued to follow the group.  We decided to not to intervene but monitor his wounds and if signs of infection were observed, we would be ready to dart with antibiotics.  The Karisoke trackers would stay and watch him for the next several hours and check on him daily.

The next day, the trackers reported that Inshuti was not eating nor moving much.  Although this would not be unusual if feeling sore, it was still of concern that the wounds may have been worse than our visual inspection suggested.  While preparing to return for a possible intervention, we waited anxiously for the next report.  The call came mid-day . . . he was eating and moving around much more! We breathed a sigh of relief, but still scheduled a visual recheck for the next day.

Dr. Jean Felix confirmed Inshuti’s improved condition; however, during the veterinary health check, Inshuti had another interaction with

Tuyizere

Inshuti was seen charging Tuyizere many times to prevent him from getting close to the females but no physical contact was observed. Inshuti did not display any signs of weakness or pain when displaying and running the lone silverback off, and his wounds appeared to be healing well.  This, at least, was good news that he was feeling well enough to defend himself.  Nyandwi, only nine years old and without an infant, appeared as if she wanted to go with Tuyizere, but Inshuti would run after her and pull her back.  Despite such advances, Inshuti’s group remained intact.

However, the very next day, trackers reported an interaction with yet another lone silverback, 17-year-old Giraneza, who also originated from Pablo group. The next, day, Inshuti and his group went missing.

No sign of them could be found for the next 5 days.  Karisoke trackers searched intensely starting from the trail on the last day they were seen, even employing a second patrol assisted by the Volcanoes National Park anti-poaching team who had recently discovered 16 snares and arrested a poacher, but to no avail.

A main concern was that another interaction had led to group to flee so quickly that they left no trace of their path behind.  And assuming there had been another interaction, we needed to find him soon to assess his health.  Further complicating things was the thought that they may have fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Giraneza

Finally, trackers found Nyandwi, not with Inshuti but with the lone silverback, Giraneza. Five days after going missing, Karisoke trackers found Inshuti.  He was alone and weak, but still moving and eating.  Just one kilometer away, the lone silverback Giraneza and female Nyandwi had been joined by Taraja and her infant Akarusho.  This was concerning for almost 3-year old Akarusho as infanticide is not uncommon in gorilla groups where the dominant silverback is not the sire.

The same day, lone silverback Turatsinze approached the group and fought with Giraneza.  The group dispersed during the interaction.  Afterwards, Akarusho did not return to the group and was not seen for the rest of the day.  Meanwhile, Shangaza and infant Ngwino had not been found.

Fortunately, the next morning,

Akarusho and Inshuti

joined Inshuti, stressed after spending a night alone for the first time, but otherwise fine.  Karisoke researchers reported that he cried when he saw Inshuti and remained close to him for the rest of the day.  Inshuti remains weak but moving and feeding, and still recovering from wounds of the initial attack almost two weeks ago.

On February 10th, Dr. Jean Felix returned to check on Inshuti’s condition.  He found Inshuti very active, with the majority of his wounds healing well with exception of the one located behind his left ear extending to his neck which was still open and probably taking longer to heal as the laceration was pulled open when Inshuti moved his head to the side.

Two days later, Shangaza and infant Ngwino joined Inshuti, looking fine and healthy.  After one of the few lone silverbacks to successfully acquire a family group, and then lose one, it appears that Inshuti once again has a family.

Weeks later, Inshuti’s group was found on Karisimbi, quite far from their normal territory.  It is not known whether they continue to run from lone silverbacks, or if, perhaps, Inshuti is looking for his lost females.

Meteo: Part One

There is a large National Park on the south side of Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) called Kahuzi Biega. This is a huge protected area that is home to many families of Grauer’s gorillas, several of which are habituated and visited by tourists, now that the area is politically secure again. Grauer’s gorillas and Mountain gorillas are very closely related – they are subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla species (Gorilla beringei).

meteo_image_1Kahuzi Biega is a beautiful, thick forest with steep ravines and moss covered trees.

Gorilla Doctors received a call from Kahuzi Biega rangers that a 3 year old Grauer’s gorilla in one of the habituated groups had a very serious injury to his left wrist. We immediately sent Dr. Jacques to the park to access the wound. This involved a 3 hour boat ride the length of Lake Kivu from Goma to Bukavu, and then a one hour car ride to the park headquarters, and another hour hike through the forest to the group. Here is the first photo we got from Dr. Jacques. Poor Meteo’s left hand was literally falling off.

meteo_image_2Meteo’s left hand was dead, and the bones of the arm were exposed.

We immediately put together a team to join Dr. Jacques in Kahuzi Biega. Dr. Mike and I, along with MGVP volunteer Dr. Donna Shettko, who is a veterinary surgeon, rushed to Goma to try to get on the late morning boat to Bukavu. Travel between countries is complicated. Dr. Eddy spent hours at Immigration trying to get our Visas sorted out – we were traveling between 2 provinces, so many permissions were required. Unfortunately we missed the last ferry that day while waiting for our Visas, but got on the early ferry the next morning, arriving in Bukavu at 10am. The boat ride down Lake Kivu was beautiful – rolling hills and rugged mountains flanked the length of the lake. But we were focused on the potential task ahead of us. It would be best medically for us to amputate the hand and exposed bones, but we had never done an intervention in this forest with these gorillas. There were many things to consider – field conditions, safety of intervention for gorillas and people, gorilla group composition and temperament, tracker comfort level with the procedure, and PNKB chief park warden’s thoughts and permissions.

We arrived at Park Headquarters at 11am and proceeded directly to the forest after a quick pre-intervention meeting with park officials, rangers and trackers. Trackers found the group easily, but they were resting in a small thicket. It was raining, and the gorillas were not likely to start moving until the rain stopped. Meteo was with his mother Mugeni, hunkered down under a small fallen tree, so we all hunkered down and waited for the rain to stop too. After about an hour the rain tapered off and the gorillas began moving around to find the choicest plants for their mid afternoon snack. Dr. Mike and I prepared anesthetic darts, hoping to get a good shot at both Meteo and Mugeni. We had decided, after a discussion with the senior tracker, that if only one shot could be taken we would start with Mugeni, and hope we could get Meteo once Mugeni was asleep.

The forest underbrush is very dense. At one point there were gorillas all around us, but we could not see them! It was almost 3pm when we finally had an opportunity to dart. Dr. Mike took a shot and got a dart into Mugeni, and she immediately picked up Meteo and was swallowed by the forest. Trackers stayed with her, and as we approached after about 10 minutes it was obvious that she was getting sleepy. Unfortunately Meteo did not stay with his mother. He retreated to the trees, and we learned that all of the gorillas in this particular group were all good tree climbers, preferring to be in the trees much of the day. This made darting Meteo very difficult.

meteo_image_3Meteo in the tree, making darting very difficult.

Although we did not have Meteo anesthetized, it was important to monitor Mugeni, and get as many blood samples as possible to learn as much as we could from this anesthetic event. However Chimanuka, the silverback, had other ideas. He is the only silverback for this group of over 30 individuals. He has no young sub-adult males, known as black back gorillas, for assistance in guarding his family, so he took his job very, very seriously. He had been watching us from a distance (at one point he went up a tree and could see us from almost every angle), and did not react immediately when the Mugeni was darted. Once she started showing signs of anesthesia he and the rest of the group became alarmed. They surrounded Mugeni, and Chimanuka placed himself between us and Mugeni. There were some tense moments as he charged our group, but he was doing his job, and we behaved appropriately by stepping back. We had to monitor Mugeni from afar. We could see that she was lying down, breathing normally, but could not approach her to monitor further.

meteo_image_4Chimanuka after a charge, telling us to stay away from his family. Mugeni is behind him, sleeping peacefully.

We monitored Mugeni for the next hour. She sat up unsteadily after about 30 minutes, and Meteo sat with her, nursing off and on. After an hour, almost on the nose, she got up and walked away with the rest of the group. Our work was done for the day. We would try again tomorrow.

meteo_image_5Meteo stayed with Mugeni while she woke up. He peaked at us from the security of his sleeping mother’s arms.

meteo_image_6Chimanuka kept a close watch until Mugeni was fully recovered.

The next morning we went back to the forest with high hopes. This time we would dart Meteo first, then Mugeni. We really felt it would be best to try to amputate if at all possible. Unfortunately after following the group for almost 8 hours we had no opportunity for a good shot of anesthetic or antibiotic. The gorillas took to the trees and Chimanuka was very watchful. The amazing thing was that Meteo continued to behave almost normally – he ate well, moved well, and in general did not seem too bothered by the dead hand and exposed bone. We were told that he had been the victim of a fight between two silverbacks, but nobody knows for sure how this terrible injury happened. After a long discussion with the head tracker and Chief Park Warden, we decided to head back to Ruhengeri. Trackers would watch daily and report any changes to Dr. Jacques immediately. We would return in a week and try once more to either amputate the exposed bones or at least deliver antibiotics to this poor little gorilla.

Amazed that Meteo was holding his own, and hopeful that he would either heal on his own or that we could help him when we returned next week, we boarded the boat and headed home. It was raining again as we chugged toward Goma, and the storm clouds were heavy over Bukavu.

meteo_image_7Storm brewing over Bukavu as we headed to Goma on the ferry.

We settled into the 3 hour boat ride, books in hand, and after the first 30 minutes our boat was actually struck by lightning! It was the loudest explosion I believe I’ve ever heard! There was a moment of silence on the boat just after the strike, then lots of animated talking as we all tried to figure out what had happened. The captain turned off the engine for a minute or two, checked his instruments, and then turned the engine back on and we continued on our way. Another first for all of us!
This trip had been a lesson in patience. We Gorilla Doctors never know what to expect, and need to be ready for anything. When we got home we planned our return trip for the following week, and crossed our fingers that little Meteo would continue to be strong.

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