Category Archives: Orphaned Mountain Gorillas

Kaboko, World’s Only Captive Male Mountain Gorilla, Passes Away

I’m afraid we have some very sad news that we weren’t able to publicize right away because of security concerns in the DRC. At approximately 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 25, Kaboko, the world’s only captive male mountain gorilla, passed away at the Senkwekwe Center mountain gorilla sanctuary at the Virunga National Park headquarters in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. His death came as fighting raged between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels less than a mile from the center.

Kaboko, who had a history of gastrointestinal problems, suddenly became ill with vomiting and bloody diarrhea on July 24. With guidance from Gorilla Doctors veterinarians, who are responsible for the health care of the mountain gorilla orphans living at the Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park staff members treated him with antibiotics and oral fluids. Gorilla Doctors veterinarians were ready and willing to travel to the park by road and air, but were not able to reach the sanctuary due to the intense fighting surrounding the park headquarters.

“It is a very sad time for the Gorilla Doctors, the Virunga National Park staff, and the other orphan mountain gorillas, as we have lost our close friend Kaboko,” said Dr. Mike Cranfield, Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors, a veterinary team dedicated to saving the lives of Africa’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. “Kaboko has been under our care since 2007, when he was rescued from poachers and required surgery to amputate his right hand, which had been very severely injured by a snare. It is a shame that we were not able to reach him this time, but we are grateful for the dedication of the Virunga National Park staff, who made valiant attempts to save Kaboko as best they could, and who have bravely remain at the Senkwekwe Center to care for the other gorillas despite the war at their doorstep.”

Nine-year-old Kaboko lived at the Senkwekwe Center with 11-year-old adult female Maisha and five-year-old juvenile females Ndakasi and Ndeze. All four were born to wild mountain gorilla parents in Virunga National Park, but were orphaned by events involving humans conducting illegal activities in the park. In addition to losing his hand, Kaboko suffered from mental trauma as a result of his ordeal and was depressed and solitary for more than a year after his confiscation. Kaboko eventually grew to trust his human caretakers and the other orphans but remained a shy, somewhat nervous gorilla. In the last year and a half of his life he suffered from ongoing bouts of diarrhea, which were successfully treated with antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs.

Much of the southern sector of Virunga National Park, which is home to about 200 of the world’s remaining 786 mountain gorillas, has been under rebel control since May 8 when a group of 1,500 troops defected from the Congolese army and formed the M23 militia. The Virunga National Park headquarters at Rumangabo has remained in control of the park rangers, however. Safe travel between Goma, the regional capital where Gorilla Doctors maintains an office, and Rumangabo has not been possible for much of this time period.

On July 26, Kaboko’s body was transported back to Goma where the Gorilla Doctors performed a post-mortem exam. The veterinarians suspect that Kaboko succumbed to a severe bacterial infection of the small intestine. Tissue and fluid samples collected during the necropsy will be sent to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in the U.S. to be examined by Gorilla Doctors Pathologist Dr. Linda Lowenstine to determine the exact cause of Kaboko’s illness.

For more information please contact:

Molly Feltner, Communications Officer,[email protected] +1-857-719-9258

Detailed Kaboko biography

Sound recording of fighting happening near Virunga National Park headquarters on July 25

Background article on the war in Virunga

Mountain Gorilla Orphans Safe after Security Scare in DRC

By Dr. Dawn Zimmerman

At times, we are reminded of the risk that can be involved in caring for mountain gorillas.  Perhaps none know this better than our colleagues working in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This was evident just a few weeks ago starting with an email from Linda Nunn, the chair of Gearing up for Gorillas (G4G), a nonprofit organization that provides gear to those that protect and monitor the gorillas. Linda had been staying with us in Musanze, Rwanda, before heading to DRC to deliver some equipment to the staff of Virunga National Park at the Rumangabo park headquarters.

The last time Linda was in Rumangabo was in October of 2008, when she was evacuated as Laurent Nkunda’s troops, a political armed militia faction called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), advanced and captured Rumangabo from the Congolese army.  She described the evacuation as a pretty frightening experience, but said many of the rangers and their families faired far worse, some walking the 45 km back to Goma through the dangerous bush, only to reach a city in chaos with tens of thousands of frightened people displaced from the rural areas.

This April, Linda returned to Rumangabo and within 14 hours of arriving, she was once again evacuated due to potential military activity. The precautionary evacuation was calm and quiet, but deemed necessary as troops from the remaining CNDP splinter faction, led by warlord Bosco Ntaganda, were gathering north of Rumangabo after rumors of his imminent arrest. Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. First indicted in 2006, the ICC has accused Ntaganda of using child soldiers for fighting in northeastern Congo from 2002 to 2003, the end of the Second Congo War that saw some of the worst violence and killed millions. In March, Ntaganda’s co-accused, Thomas Lubanga, was the first person found guilty by the ICC of recruiting child soldiers.

As the troops advanced near Rumangabo, Virunga National Park Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode was concerned for the safety of his staff and wards, including the only captive mountain gorillas in the world housed at Senkwekwe Centre: 5-year-olds Ndeze and Ndakasi (survivors of the 2007 gorilla massacres), 8-year-old Kaboko (the only male), and 10-year-old Maisha.  Though these orphans live in a large natural forest enclosure, they rely on their caretakers for their daily needs such as food supplementation and emotional security.

As the reports came in, it became apparent that the orphans should be evacuated due to security uncertainty.  Virunga National Park and Gorilla Doctors’ staff rallied to quickly plan the emergency evacuation before the troops converged north of Rumangabo. Virunga National Park staff started organizing the logistics such as transportation and inspecting the potential holding facility in Goma, while Dr. Eddy and Dr. Noel organized a transfer of crates from Kinigi, Rwanda to Goma, DRC, while I wrote out an anesthetic and transfer protocol.

On the drive to Goma, Dr. Noel and I were stopped three times by military to search our vehicle.  We later learned that hundreds of soldiers had arrived in Goma that day mainly as a presence to restore calm. It was actually quite calming that the Congolese army was so quick to respond, and that the border patrol was so understanding of our situation and allowed a quick transfer of the crates and emergency veterinary supplies across the border. Unfortunately, it was too dangerous for us to travel the road to Rumangabo, and it was uncertain whether we could get the gorillas out in time before fighting broke out around the region. We anxiously awaited reports from Virunga National Park staff on whether Rumangabo had remained secure. Luckily, within 2 days, tensions calmed and the troops retreated to Masisi, a region west of Rumangabo. The gorilla evacuation was called off.

We are happy to have the orphans and their caretakers safe, and are only better prepared for any future security concerns involving Rumangabo. An evacuation is difficult physically, mentally, and logistically with each situation being different; therefore, preparation and organization are paramount. For now, the gorilla crates will stay at Senkwekwe Centre and the emergency evacuation protocol has been refined to include priorities under time limitations, such as the training of ICCN staff and caretakers in options of evacuation under extreme emergency situations. We are glad to have such dedicated partners committed to the safety of these four very important gorillas, in hopes that they will grow up strong and healthy and one day be returned as a family group to the forest.

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.

Mountain Gorilla Orphan Health Update, April 2012

By Dr. Eddy

On April 13, Dr. Martin and I went to the Senkwekwe Centre at Virunga National Park headquarters for the orphans’ quarterly de-worming. Kaboko has had recurrent diarrhea, so Gorilla Doctors has decided to increase the number of de-worming (medicine used to treat internal parasites) treatments to four times per year. The use of Tinidazol and Pyrantel Pamoate will replace Ivermectin and Metronidazol, which have been used for a while, as drug resistance may have occurred. My assessments of the four orphans are below.


Ndakasi’s health is good and greatly improved compared to last year. She is gaining weight and has grown thick shiny black hair all over her body. Her stool is normal, and she is very active. She tested negative for worms.


Ndeze’s health is good and she’s the only gorilla who has had no major health problems. Her immune system looks stronger than the other gorillas. She tested negative for worms.


On April 12, the caretakers reported that Maisha had pasty stool. On the morning of April 13 she defecated normal stool. Otherwise, her appetite was still normal and she was behaving normally. Some of Maisha’s hair is turning lighter but overall her health is good. She was alert and responsive and very active. She also tested negative for worms.


On the morning of April 13, caretakers reported that Kaboko had diarrhea. Kaboko has been having recurrent diarrhea since late last year. During his annual full exam in November, Kaboko was suspected to have Amaebiasis, most likely Galitsis. He was treated with Tinidazole, Ceftriaxone, and Ketoprofen (to fight some possible inflammation which may cause some intestinal wall irritation). Since then Kaboko has shown great improvement and he got diarrhea just twice including the last one, which occurred on April 13, while the previous one occurred in February. When I observed him he appeared to be eating and behaving normally. His fur is still thin and light colored however. His test results were negative.

I treated the four orphans with the de-worming medicine and left two more doses each with the caretakers. The caretakers also have instructions for how to treat Kaboko and the other orphans in case diarrhea recurs.

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.

BREAKING NEWS: Mountain Gorilla Orphan Confiscated from Poachers in Rwanda

examnewmgorphan-4Musanze, Rwanda – On Sunday, August 7, police in the town of Gisenyi, Rwanda, arrested a group of Congolese and Rwandan men after they were caught smuggling an infant mountain gorilla from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Rwanda. Veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving gorillas through health care, were called to the scene to help the infant. While primarily working with wild gorillas, MGVP also provides care to gorillas orphaned as a result of the illegal wildlife trade or armed conflict.

“The MGVP team arrived at the Gisenyi police station at 10 pm to find a very stressed, exhausted mountain gorilla infant of less than one year of age,” says Dr. Jan Ramer, Regional Veterinary Manager of MGVP. The arrested men claimed that the gorilla was taken from the Bukima area of Virunga National Park in DRC. They said they had kept the gorilla for about a week, feeding him bananas and sugar cane. No other details were provided.

“MGVP Orphan Caretaker Fabien Bahati, who has raised many orphan gorillas, scooped the gorilla up, and after a discussion with police we headed to Kinigi, Rwanda, to reopen the MGVP Orphan Quarantine Facility,” says Dr. Ramer. MGVP closed this facility only two weeks ago after transferring six resident Grauer’s gorilla orphans to the GRACE sanctuary in DRC.

“We got to Kinigi around midnight and did a short health inspection of the little boy: He had a very bad cough and a runny nose, but was strong,” says Dr. Ramer. “Fabien stayed with him overnight, and this morning the gorilla is even stronger.”

MGVP will work in close partnership with the Congolese and Rwandan wildlife authorities (L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature and the Rwanda Development Board), the International Gorilla Conservation Program, and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) to determine the best course of action for the gorilla’s future. The orphan will most likely be transferred to the Senkwekwe center in Virunga National Park, which is currently home to four other orphan mountain gorillas: Ndeze, Ndakasi, Maisha, and Kaboko. In the meantime, the gorilla rescued last night will undergo a 30-day health quarantine at the Kinigi facility, where he will receive 24-hour care provided by the MGVP staff and DFGFI Orphan Caretaker Jean De Dieu.

“We are cautiously optimistic for this little guy—he is tense, but accepting of people, and is eating,” says Dr. Ramer. “All are good signs for his eventual recovery.”

About Mountain Gorillas

With only 786 individuals left in the world, mountain gorillas are a critically endangered population. Mountain gorillas live in central Africa, with about 480 animals living in the 173-square-mile Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which combines Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The remaining population lives within the boundaries of the 128-square-mile Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

About the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project

The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, is dedicated to saving mountain gorilla lives. With so few animals left in the world today, the organization believes it is critical to ensure the health and well being of every individual possible. The organization’s international team of veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors, is the only group providing wild mountain gorillas with direct, hands-on care. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project partners with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center to advance One Health strategies for mountain gorilla conservation.

About the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center

The UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, home of the Mountain Gorilla One Health Program and a center of excellence within the School of Veterinary Medicine, is composed of 13 epidemiologists, disease ecologists and ecosystem health clinicians and their staff working at the cutting edge of pathogen emergence and disease tracking in ecosystems. It benefits from the expertise of 50 other participating UC Davis faculty members from many disciplines who are involved in the discovery and synthesis of information about emerging zoonotic diseases (those transmitted between people and animals) and ecosystem health. Its mission is to balance the needs of people, wildlife and the environment through research, education and service.

Media Contact

Molly Feltner, MGVP Communications Officer

[email protected]


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.

For the most up-to-date information about the Gorilla Doctors, “like” our Facebook page. You’ll find gorilla health reports, news items, photos, videos, and links to related content.

Busy Times in Kinigi as Orphans Prepare for Move to DR Congo

The past few weeks have proved to be busy at the Kinigi orphan facility as we prepare the mountain gorillas for their move to the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park and the Grauer’s gorillas for their move to Grace (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) in Kasuo.

The gorillas have been enjoying a fair amount of additional enrichment. Their transport crates are set inside their enclosure for them to explore and familiarize with.
Maisha learn to take juice on her lip.
A new game of sweet/bitter juice given in small portions by a syringe on the bottom lip has been started each evening and morning. When familiar with this procedure, the gorillas will likely take their oral sedatives on the transfer day. Sounds simple, but it took a fair amount of training for the keepers and gorillas to take the dose of juice in a way which will be useful for medication. If a gorilla takes the medicine on the tongue (which they invariably try to do) she or he may spit it out if the taste is not enjoyable. On the other hand, if they receive medication on the inner surface of the lower lip, where there are no taste buds, it will smudge all over their big lip before they even taste it. Too late to spit it then and the medication will be easily absorbed!

New keepers have come from DR Congo to spend some weeks in Kinigi in order to meet and build the base for their future relationships with the gorillas. Even if meeting the new people is stressful at the beginning, after few days the gorillas will adjust and start enjoying their new friends.
Andre says hello to Tumaini
This week most of the Kinigi orphans happily welcomed Andre Bauma-Muhindo, a Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) ranger and the head gorilla caretaker at Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park. He came from Rumangabo to meet mountain gorilla orphans Maisha and Kaboko before they join Ndeze and Ndakasi, who are under his care at the Senkwekwe Center. Andre has never before worked with Maisha and Kaboko, but the Grauer’s gorillas orphans, especially Pinga and Tumaini, are his old friends. He helped care for them after they were confiscated in DR Congo years ago. It was amazing to see Pinga, who never welcomes new visitors nicely, to say hello to Andree in a friendly calm manner. She obviously remembered him even after years of separation!
Pinga, who never welcomes uknown people well, was perfectly happy with Andre's first visit after years!
The gorillas are being moved in accordance with the Confiscated Gorilla Scientific Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives from Rwanda, DR Congo, and Uganda; the Transboundary Secretariate; and the NGO’s participating in gorilla conservation in the area including the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme. They are going to semi-free ranging situations where they can learn to be more independent in the forest. The caregivers known to the animals will accompany them for at least the first two to three months to help them with the transition. The ideal end goal is reintroduction to the wild, but this will only be done after careful consideration of their progress on an annual basis.

Gorilla Doctors Eddy and Jacque will continue to provide veterinary care for the mountain gorilla orphans at the Senkwekwe Center, Ndeze and Ndakasi, and soon Maisha and Kaboko. We’ll miss them in Rwanda, but know this is the best situation for these wonderful creatures.

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.

For the most up-to-date information about the Gorilla Doctors, “like” our Facebook page. You’ll find gorilla health reports, news items, photos, videos, and links to related content.

Ndeze and Ndakasi’s Update

Blog by: Dr. Eddy Kambale
MGVP DRC In-Country Field Veterinarian

Ndeze and Ndakasi are the two Mountain Gorilla orphans who were transferred from Goma to Senkwekwe at Rumangabo, DRC about 6 months ago. They have been showing a very good health state and no major health problem needing MGVP Gorillas Doctors interventions!

In their lovely home, Ndeze and Ndakasi are enjoying a fresh, suitable and cleaned environment with very little pollution compared to Goma. They are taking enough fresh forest food and they are still discovering new forest food items. They enjoy playing, climbing, rolling over and are progressively getting use to their new home, and are behaving normally.

Nevertheless, even in this healthy sate, we continue with the quarterly preventive medicine program that includes visual and physical examinations and a de-worming program for Ndeze and Ndakasi.

On May 11, 2010, Dr. Arthur, the ICCN veterinarian and I visited Ndeze and Ndakasi for their quarterly health check. We found them to be very active, playful, running, rolling over on grass, climbing on us very often and showing a degree of their satisfaction! We took the opportunity to start lesson teaching the little gorillas to be comfortable with stethoscope, syringes and needles. We will progress to getting them to accept injection as part of this activity.

nz_nk_1Playing with their doctors!

I used a sterile syringe without a needle for this training session; Ndeze and Ndakasi played with the syringe with no fear. After that I took another sterile syringe with sterile needle on it, and a second syringe filled with honey (they LOVE honey!). I offered them the honey and when they ate it I pricked them in the arm, one after another. Because they had honey as a reward for accepting the injection, no one ran – they gave me a positive reaction! After this lesson I put in the syringe the indicated dose of Ivermectin for their quarterly de-worming and gave it directly in mouth to Ndeze and Ndakasi, they continued even lapping drug on the empty syringe. Success – they took their medicine, they accepted some small pricks in their arms and left Ndeze and Ndakasi with a very good memory!

nz_nk_2Enjoying honey from a syringe.

nz_nk_3They don’t mind a little prick with the needle if honey is available.

nz_nk_4Receiving Ivermectin.

Gorilla Doctors will continue these routine health checks – to be sure they stay healthy, and to maintain a good relationship with Ndeze and Ndakasi.

nz_nk_5Happy girls even after their medicine.

Become Ndakasi and Ndeze’s Gorilla Orphan Guardian today!


The phone rang at 1am, which almost never happens here. It was Sandy, who was staying in Goma, DRC with Ndjingala, our newest Grauer’s gorilla who had been confiscated only a week earlier. Sandy was almost in tears. She had been trying to call and text me for 2 hours but the network was down. Ndjingala had been vomiting since 11pm.

Emergencies are always tense, but this was an especially difficult situation. I was in Rwanda and my patient was in Congo. The border was closed until 6am and the phone network was sketchy. As I cleared my head of sleep I started asking Sandy the questions that would help me decide my next move. Was Ndjingala alert and responsive? What was coming up when she vomited? What was her behavior last evening? When was her last meal? Sandy filled me in, and I became less alarmed. Ndjingala was alert and responsive, vomiting about every hour or so and sleeping in between bouts. She had not eaten well the day before and had been burping a lot. She was still not drinking any liquids well, and had not urinated or defecated for a day or so. I knew we had to examine her, but was feeling more comfortable that she was just going through a bad gastric upset; much like my kids did when they were little. On top of that she was probably quite dehydrated, which was more worrisome than the vomiting.

I tried to call Drs. Eddy and Jacques, our Congolese veterinarians, to make a plan, but it took me almost an hour to get through to them. After much discussion we decided that Dr. Jacques would go to the border at 5 to make sure Dr. Mike and I could get across immediately when we arrived. Dr. Eddy would meet us at the facility where Sandy and Ndgingala were staying. I woke up Dr. Mike to fill him in, and after packing the medical bags we caught another hour or two of sleep before leaving MGVP headquarters at 5am. Sandy called or texted me each hour with an update, as the network allowed. By 4am we learned that Ndjingala had stopped vomiting and was resting, but still clearly uncomfortable.

When we arrived at the quarantine facility, Ndjingala was resting on Sandy’s lap. She was alert and responsive, but looked like she felt terrible.

Ndjingala_image_1Sandy with Ndjingala, who was feeling pretty crummy.

Dr. Eddy prepared the anesthetic injection while Drs. Mike, Jacques and I prepared the examination table and the gas anesthetic we would use to supplement the injection. The poor little gorilla was so dehydrated that we knew she needed IV fluids at the very least. While she was resting in Sandy’s arms Dr. Eddy gave Ndjingala a quick injection. She barely noticed, she felt so crummy. She went to sleep quickly and we Gorilla Doctors began our work. A thorough examination told us she was indeed very dehydrated – her gums were dry, her skin was dry, her stomach empty. She had blood collected for evaluation, fluids delivered through a vein, an antibiotic injection was delivered and within 30 minutes we were finished and she was allowed to wake up from anesthesia.

Ndjingala_image_2Drs. Mike, Jan, and Eddy working to get samples and deliver fluids as Ndjingala slept.

Ndjingala_image_3Dr. Mike doing a thorough examination.

Ndjingala_image_4The cuts on her hips from the rope around her waist were healing well.

Ndjingala_image_5Waking up from anesthesia with a little oxygen to help her along.

Once Ndjingala was awake, Sandy sat with her for the next few hours, watching carefully for improvement or deterioration in her condition. Drs. Jacques, Eddy, Mike and I withdrew to cause the little girl as little stress as possible, and Sandy kept us informed throughout the day. The first good news came about 2 hours after we left – Ndjingala was feeling MUCH better, eating a small amount and keeping it down, exploring her enclosure a bit, and in general looking stronger. The BEST news came that evening when Sandy sent me a text that Ndjingala was urinating normally and had passed a very large, very dry fecal! Mission accomplished – fluid therapy success!! YAY!!

The next few days went well. Ndjingala steadily improved, and Sandy began shifting the bulk of care giving responsibility to her new Congolese caregiver. We thought we were out of the woods… Alas, Sandy called me 5 days after our examination to report that now Ndjingala had a terrible cold. She was coughing so much that she could not sleep at night, and had such a snotty nose that she could not breath well. On top of that she had stopped eating well, and was at risk for another bout of severe dehydration. Poor baby! Once again Gorilla Doctors made a trip to Goma to examine our newest patient. The good news was that she was feeling well enough to push my hand away when I tried to listen to her chest – a little attitude it good! The bad news was that she had a fever, a very stuffy nose, and a very bad cough. Her chest was clear though, so the virus had not turned into pneumonia yet.

Ndjingala_image_6Ndjingala allowed me to listen to her chest as long as Sandy was holding her.

She needed to be treated as any small child with a bad cold. Anyone with small children knows this story, but it was so much more difficult to treat Ndjingala than a human child. She absolutely hated her decongestant. So much so that it was more stressful to give it to her than to let her cough. She took her antibiotics, but hated her ibuprofen. We really wanted to get her fever down so she would feel better and begin to eat and drink liquids again, so we experimented with what was available in the local pharmacy, and finally found some acetaminophen (Tylenol) that she liked. Poor Sandy was making frequent trips to the store to find foods and juices Ndjingala would take – it was really important to keep her eating and drinking. I’m afraid she got a little spoiled during this illness…but we did what it took to get her treated!

Ndjingala_image_7Ndjingala foraging for peanuts with MGVP consultant Dr. Donna Shettko, who is a veterinarian and physicians assistant (good combination for help with a sick gorilla!).

At the end of the week I got the best call I’ve ever gotten from Sandy. Ndjingala was feeling so much better that she laughed for the first time! She was playing with her toys, wanting to be tickled and climbing on her climbing structure! We were all very relieved. Now it seems she might really be out of the woods.

Ndjingala_image_8Starting to feel better and enjoying a tickle.

Ndjingala_image_9Exploring her enclosure after her exam.

Ndjingala_image_10Sandy is always “home base” for Ndjingala.

Next week Ndjingala will be introduced to Amani, Mapendo and Kighoma, provided she remains healthy. She was named after the place from which she was taken, which is sort of ironic. At least the name of her birthplace will stay with her as she navigates her new human dominated world. Once again her strong spirit prevailed, and she is finally doing very well. Playing and laughing, snuggling next to her caregiver at night, being a gorilla.

Ndjingala_image_11One happy gorilla baby. Finally.

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Confiscation in Walikale

We’d been hearing rumors of baby gorillas for sale in Goma for several weeks. When these rumors are true it means, at the very least, that the mother of the infant gorilla in question was killed. And it is even more likely that other gorillas in the family also lost their lives trying desperately to protect that baby. All this so that someone could have a baby gorilla as a pet, which is tragic. Many times though, these rumors turn out to be just that – a rumor, or someone is trying to get money by claiming they have a gorilla for sale. Rumor or not, we Gorilla Doctors must always be ready when we get the news that there may be a confiscation because when there really is a confiscation, these little gorillas are very stressed, frightened and sometimes badly injured or very ill.

Last Friday morning we learned that there was a young gorilla in Walikale DRC, which is a plane flight north and west of Goma. After a flurry of phone calls, texts and emails in rapid succession, information was sketchy at best – we didn’t know the age or gender of the gorilla. We didn’t know how long he or she had been in human care or the physical condition of the individual. What we did know was that Walikale is considered a “red zone” – a dangerous area of DRC where army and rebels often clash. But we needed to try to rescue this helpless little gorilla. Our partners in DRC scrambled to put together the finances and a team for the confiscation. We needed officials familiar with the area and the permission of the Congolese wildlife authority, the Institut Congo pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). With the help of the Union of Associations for Gorilla Conservation and Community Development in eastern DRC (UGADEC) and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) in Congo, a plan was made. Dr. Eddy boarded an airplane Friday afternoon so that he could be there to assess this little gorilla once it was confiscated. A UGADEC official would follow on the next flight (the first flight only had room for Dr. Eddy).

Unfortunately, the weather was very bad in Walikale. I got a text from Dr. Eddy that was quite alarming – “Weather bad, plane tried to land and could not. Will try again soon.” Turns out that in Walikale the airplanes must land on the streets because there is no runway. I was worried, but about 30 minutes later I got the good news that Dr. Eddy had landed safely. However the UGADEC official’s flight was cancelled on Friday, so Dr. Eddy had to spend the night in Walikale. The next day was complicated and somewhat alarming. Dr. Eddy described that there were political demonstrations in the town, military were present and the situation was tense. While Dr. Eddy waited at the airport, UGADEC officials and local authorities were able to talk with local chiefs to get support for the confiscation, and in the late afternoon a frightened infant gorilla was finally delivered to Dr. Eddy. She is only about 1 year old, but in amazingly good condition. Dr. Eddy stayed with her all night in his hotel room, and early the next morning they got on an airplane and headed to Goma.

confiscation_image_1Here is Dr. Eddy taking the frightened little gorilla out of her travel crate.

Sandy Jones, the MGVP/DFGFI Manager of Confiscated Gorilla Care, and I were in Goma when Dr. Eddy and the little gorilla arrived. She was so very frightened. He took her out of the travel crate and sat her on the ground to see if she would like to explore, but she was so tense she could only lie in a ball in the grass.

confiscation_image_2Clutching the shirt she had been given the day before as her only source of security, the frightened little gorilla just laid on the ground in a tense ball.

Maternal instincts kicked in, and I scooped her up into my arms. She didn’t understand at all, and immediately began biting and struggling, but I sat quietly making gorilla calming noises. I groomed her arms and head, and within minutes she quieted. Still quite tense and clutching her shirt, but beginning to calm down. We sat and rocked, and I groomed her and continued to make calming gorilla noises while Sandy went to prepare food and organize things for this new arrival. Slowly the little gorilla relaxed, although any slight move or sound and she tensed, clutching the shirt and holding her hands and feet tight to her body. We rocked and rocked, groomed and talked. She finally unwound enough and reached for a bit of pineapple – that small victory felt wonderful.


confiscation_image_4She loved pineapple!

confiscation_image_5She sat quietly as I listened to her chest.

Once she had relaxed a bit I needed to give her an examination, to be sure she did not have any serious underlying injury or disease. She allowed me to listen to her heart and lungs, with some trepidation. Much to my satisfaction her heart and lungs were normal. She was not very happy when I tried to look at her belly, but finally allowed me after some coaxing. Body temperature was another thing entirely! I was glad to see she was strong and had an opinion about it – we took her temperature in her armpit rather than the other way…. She was checking out just fine. She was a little dehydrated, and her hair was matted with banana and feces. She had some superficial wounds where the rope had been attached to her waist and wrists, but these will heal. She was given some medicine to get rid of any internal parasites she might have, and we took a small sample of her feces for analysis. Now the task is to get her settled into her new home. She will be in quarantine, away from other gorillas, for a month – we want to be sure Mapendo, Amani and Kighoma do not get sick. New caregivers were assigned, and they will only be with our new little girl. They will stay with her day and night to give her love, care and consistency in her life again.

confiscation_image_6Dr. Eddy and head caregiver Jean Paul met with the new caregivers.

confiscation_image_7After her exam we played a bit, and then she finally relaxed enough to get sleepy.

After the examination, and after spending some quiet time with her, I was comfortable that our little patient’s health status was relatively good. Reluctantly, I knew it was time for me to hand her over to Sandy and the other caregivers, and head back to MGVP headquarters.

confiscation_image_8Sleepy gorilla hand-off!

confiscation_image_9Getting to know Sandy

This little gorilla is safe now. Once we are sure she is healthy she will be introduced to Mapendo, Amani and Kighoma so that she can have a new gorilla family. In the meantime, she will be in the loving hands of her new caregivers at all times, and will learn to trust again, but it will take time and patience.

confiscation_image_10Exhaustion finally won and she slept peacefully.

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Two weeks Ndakasi and Ndeze at Senkwekwe Centre

Blog by: Dr. Eddy Kambale

MGVP DRC In-Country Field Veterinarian

After a successful transfer of the two orphan Mountain Gorillas, Ndakasi and Ndeze, on December 1, 2009 to their new home, Senkwekwe Centre, the MGVP team continued to monitor the girls’ health as they adapted to their new environment. No way to compared it with the former Goma gorillas’ environment, as the Senkwekwe Centre offers a special climate, very similar and close to the gorillas natural habitat (beautiful and isolated forest, quiet, secure, large space, less pollution, getting very fresh forest food, healthy…).

Dr. Eddy with Ndeze.

They adjusted quickly.  The first day, the gorillas slept alone in the room and at 2:00 am Ndeze stood up and started vocalizing in fear.  The caretaker looked at through the door and spoke softly, to reassure Ndeze that he is around, and then she went back to sleep until morning. After waking up, both gorillas started playing alone in their night room. The second night, they slept alone again without any complaint, and so up to now they are sleeping alone in the room. This wasn’t yet happening in Goma.

Dr. Eddy with Ndeze on the left and Ndakasi on the right.

Like a dream come true, two weeks now after transfer, Ndakasi and Ndeze are completely adapted to and enjoying their new home. On Saturday, December 12, 2009, I came to Senkwekwe Centre for Routine health checks of the two orphans’ mountain Gorilla. When inside the enclosure, the two girls were very excited, playing actively, clapping, standing up, walking, running next to me through bush, rolling over each other on grass from up to down, climbing small trees and breaking small branches. The new environment appeared greatly interesting to them, and they were feeling at home. While I was inside the enclosure I ran with the gorillas and I got really tired!  I asked the caretakers to stop them by presenting them some food so I could rest a bit. I sat down, Ndeze and Ndakasi came to me, seating next to me and then I started checking them closely, one by one, by grooming and stroking. This is how I do my physical examination!  I find that they are both healthy and still gaining weight.

Dr. Eddy listening to Ndakasi’s heartbeat.

I observe, and learn from Andre, that Ndeze and Ndakasi are behaving normally, very active, currently they are very interested in new forest foods.  They are also eating more Ficus tree leaves from trees growing in the enclosure, and they even discovered a new food plant in the enclosure, named “MUSAVE”, in local language, that is being been eaten mostly by Ndeze.

Dr. Eddy holding Ndakasi’s hand. Ndeze in front.

Ndakasi is most interested in exploring the area without hesitation, going through bush, climbing high trees and watching around the enclosure.  But Ndeze is somehow afraid to move around alone in the thick vegetation, she’s not climbing high trees, but she’s more interesting in forest food, seeking for new food items.   They are both watching the other wild animals around in trees without any worry. Some baboons came around the enclosure and continued their way without any problem. But one blue monkey tried to jump on the enclosure and was directly projected safely out the enclosure.

I hope that the well being that Ndakasi and Ndeze are experiencing in Senkwekwe Centre will help the long term survival of this endangered species by creating a new way to educate and sensitize people to the gorilla habitat and the environment in general.

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Ndeze and Ndakasi return to Rumangabo

For everybody else in Goma, Tuesday morning was like any other – sunny, hot, noisy, busy. When Ndeze and Ndakasi woke up they had no idea that this day would change their lives. But for Dr. Mike, Dr. Eddy, Dr. Jacques, Sandy (she’s in charge of gorilla orphan care in DRC and Rwanda) and me, this was a huge day. Dr. Mike, Sandy and I traveled to Goma Monday night and met with Dr. Eddy, Dr. Jacques and Samantha from ICCN (Congolese wildlife authorities; Institut Congolais pour la Conservacion de la Nature.) to go over the final detail of the move. We could barely contain our excitement, and tried to plan for every contingency. We had veterinary equipment and a plan to handle almost any situation. ICCN supplied a special truck with an enclosed bed where Andre and the girls would ride on a mattress. There was another truck for all the household equipment, and the MGVP truck. We felt like we were ready!

We met at 6:00 Tuesday morning at the small house in Goma where Ndeze and Ndakasi have been living for the past 2 years. We Gorilla Doctors decided to give the girls a bit of oral sedative to be sure they tolerated the 2 hour truck ride from Goma to Rumangabo. They had spent the past 2 weeks climbing all over the truck and were very comfortable in it, but had not been in it on a long ride over bumpy roads, so we were being cautions. After they took their medicine, they climbed right into the back of the truck with Andre, their caregiver, and we were off!

Dr. Mike, Emmanuel and Sandy, waiting for the girls to get into the truck

Our little procession was led by the truck carrying Ndeze and Ndakasi, with Emmanuel (Director of Virunga National Park, the oldest National Park in Africa) at the wheel and Dr. Mike riding shot gun, just in case veterinary attention was needed on the road. Dr. Jacques drove our truck, with Dr. Eddy, me and Sandy on board, along with Dr. Arthur, one of the ICCN veterinarians. Samantha followed in the truck carrying all the household goods to be moved into the new facility. We tried to be inconspicuous as we rolled out onto the streets of downtown Goma.

That’s the truck carrying Andre and the girls safely tucked into the back, with Nyiragongo spewing steam in the foreground

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The paved road through Goma was crowded with people, but soon gave way to a gravel road for the next hour and a half. Nobody paid much attention as we passed by, thankfully. They had no idea that one of these trucks was carrying 2 orphan Mountain Gorillas! We got a call from Andre about 30 minutes into the trip, who reported that the young gorillas were actually playing, behaving normally! What great news! We drove on, passing through village after village, with the active volcano Nyiragongo always visible. Finally we came to a small corridor of the Park that crosses the road about 30 minutes from our destination. The air was fresh and vegetation lush, a hint of what Ndakasi and Ndeze would find at their new home. Then came another call from Andre – Ndeze was asleep and Ndakasi had vomited, but was now resting in his arms. Probably motion sickness, poor girl! Nothing to worry about.

We finally arrived at Virunga National Park Headquarters in Rumangabo. It was cool and the air was full of birdsong. Green plants dominated the landscape. It was nothing like their hot, dusty house in Goma which was about a mile from the airport.

Ndeze and Ndakasi’s new home

It was time to carry the girls from the truck to their new home. They clung to the caregivers as we walked down the forest path.

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All at once it was over – Ndeze and Ndakasi were safely delivered to their cool, quiet forest home! We all breathed a sigh of relief! Now the fun part – watching these baby girls explore their new forest home for the first time. Dr. Eddy put on his coveralls and mask to join Andre and the other caregivers in the enclosure, just in case anything unforeseen should happen. The girls were happy to have another playmate!

Dr. Eddy with Ndakasi in her new home

We all wondered if they would be nervous or intimidated by the change in environment, but our concerns were unfounded. The presence of Andre and the other caregivers provided Ndakasi and Ndeze with the confidence they needed to begin exploring almost immediately. They stuck close to the caregivers, but enjoyed foraging through the lush vegetation. They found one of the banana trees that ICCN had planted several weeks ago, and in short order they had it toppled and began eating it just like big gorillas! They looked like they didn’t have a care in the world.

Ndeze and Ndakasi destroying a small banana tree that had been planted weeks before, for just this purpose

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We all watched through a small window, trying not to disturb as the girls settled in. We were thrilled. Sandy cried. Samantha couldn’t stop smiling. At one point I asked Andre “Are you happy?” He smiled his brilliant smile and said “Yes, I am very happy” as Ndakasi climbed onto his lap after a big meal of banana tree. We are all happy. It is a tragedy that these little girls are not growing up with their families in the forest, but this is the next best thing. They are finally in the right climate, at the right altitude, with natural vegetation all around them. A good place for orphaned Mountain Gorillas to learn to be gorillas.

The girls resting with Andre after a couple of hours exploring their new home

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