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Fighting Prevents Veterinarians From Monitoring Virunga Gorillas

July has proven to be another extremely distressing month for our colleagues in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. In early July, the M23 rebel movement succeeded in seizing several key towns around the southern sector of the park where Virunga’s 200 wild mountain gorillas live. The Congolese army and the UN withdrew from the national park, leaving the defense of the park headquarters to a small team of rangers and Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode. All nonessential park staff and families were evacuated to camps near the regional capital of Goma.

During the last full week of July, a battle raged between the rebels and the Congolese army at the military base just below the hill where the national park headquarters is located. Although the headquarters was not a target, mortars and stray bullets landed in the area, injuring several locals and killing at least one person. At this moment, rebel forces control the Rumangabo military base but are allowing the national park rangers to reenter the gorilla sector of the park to begin searching for Virunga’s six habituated gorilla families.

Due to the heavy fighting and instability, the Gorilla Doctors have not been able to monitor the mountain gorilla orphans at the Senkwekwe Center or the habituated gorilla families in the park. While we are extremely frustrated with our inability to check on the gorillas, we are grateful for the dedication of the Virunga National Park staff members who have bravely remained behind to hold the park headquarters. We have our fingers crossed that the rangers will be able to find all of the habituated gorillas alive and that conditions will improve so that we are able to safely travel to the park.

For the most up to date information about the situation in Virunga, please follow our Facebook page and Gorilla.cd blog.

After Death, A Mountain Gorilla’s Life Story Continues

On September 5, 2010, female mountain gorilla Tuck, one of Dian Fossey’s original research subjects, passed away after a long life in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. When members of Titus group finished their day-long vigil over her body, Tuck was carried out of the forest and brought to the Gorilla Doctors’ headquarters for a post mortem exam. To determine the cause of death, veterinarians inspected her remains and took fluid and tissue samples to be analyzed by pathologists in the U.S. After the necropsy, her body was brought to the mountain gorilla cemetery behind Volcanoes National Park headquarters in Kinigi. She was carefully laid out in a wooden box and buried in the black soil of the Virunga Massif.

Fossey and other researchers from the Karisoke Research Center learned a great deal about mountain gorillas from Tuck, who had been studied on an almost daily basis for four decades. Yet, even after her death, Tuck still has more to teach us.

Every mountain gorilla death, while a sad loss in its own way, provides insight into gorilla health that can help us better understand how to conserve future generations of gorillas. Bones as well can reveal previously unknown aspects of a gorilla’s life: its approximate age, whether it suffered from previous skeletal injuries or disease, and how much stress it experienced. By comparing the analysis of the animal’s bones with the behavior and health notes recorded by researchers and veterinarians during the gorilla’s lifetime, a more complete picture of its life emerges.

Comparing the skeletons of many gorillas from different time periods reveals even more. Scientists can trace  environmental changes, and even how well gorillas were able to recover from serious diseases and injuries after being treated by the Gorilla Doctors.

That’s why Gorilla Doctors is collaborating with the Rwanda Development Board, the Institute of National Museums of RwandaGeorge Washington UniversityDian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), and the New York University College of Dentistry on the Mountain Gorilla Skeletal Project.

When the project commenced in 2008, researchers set out to recover the skeletal remains of deceased mountain gorillas buried since 1995, the year after park authorities stopped burying animals in Dian Fossey’s original gorilla graveyard deep inside the park. Protocols were developed for all future burials to ensure that skeletons would remained intact when exhumed. Gorilla Doctors contributes by carrying out the post-necropsy burial procedures and sharing gorilla health data with the project’s anthropologists. Since the project’s inception, 100 mountain gorilla skeletons have been compiled—the largest collection of mountain gorilla skeletal remains in the world.

Researchers are currently cataloguing and preparing the skeletons for detailed analyses. The specimens, currently curated at DFGFI’s Karisoke Research Center in Musanze, Rwanda, are also being imaged with a three-dimensional laser scanner so that Rwandan students and researchers, and scientists from around the world, will be able to study them.

It is our hope that the research findings of the Mountain Gorilla Skeletal Project will help the Gorilla Doctors to even more effectively diagnose and treat health problems in live gorillas.  Once the Project has finished cataloguing and examining Tuck’s bones, we will have even greater insight into how she was able to survive for almost 40 years in the wild. We’ll be sure to share the project’s findings as results are published.

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. Fred Recounts Training and Travel Experiences in the U.S.

By Dr. Fred Nizeyimana

The month of April found me in Davis, CA, USA. I arrived at the Sacramento airport in California on the night of April 1 after a long flight from Entebbe, Uganda, via Amsterdam and Detroit. It was my first time traveling so far and visiting the USA. The flight was an experience filled with breath-taking views. I kept reflecting on how far away Bwindi and the Virunga Mountains were. My biological clock was switched 10 hours backwards! However, the month spent in Davis was worth the long journey and jet lag.

On April 2, Gorilla Doctors Co-Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center oriented me to the campus and introduced me to the place where I would conduct my animal health training, the California National Primate Research Center or CNPRC. The center works with three species of monkeys:, rhesus macaques, cynomolgus macaques, and titi monkeys.

During my month of training I worked alongside the Primate Center’s veterinarians and veterinary technicians, especially Stephen Cital-Bruhn, and was supervised by Dr. Kari Christe. I was able to participate in or observe all of the daily veterinary activities that happen at the CNPRC.

The CNPRC has two hospitals where the macaques are treated for health problems ranging from diarrhea and respiratory disease to trauma. I anesthetized animals for treatment; cleaned, sutured, and dressed wounds; and administered IV therapy and medications to sick monkeys. I observed surgeries as well.

I spent some time in the Primate Center’s specialty medical areas as well, including nurseries for infants that were ill or had been abandoned by their mothers. I performed physical exams of the infants, gave treatment, and fed them. CNPRC has digital x-ray facilities and I was able to read and review radiographs obtained on the trauma and dental cases. Dental cases would be referred to the hospital and I assisted in cleanings, extractions, and other procedures.

I also attended necropsies and pathology rounds to discuss the different health cases at the Primate Center. I was able to appreciate how post-mortem exams are done at the center and learned some new techniques that will help me in the field.

Monitoring the health and behavior of the macaques living in the outdoor enclosures was another important activity. Each cage housed several macaque families and the monkeys were able to interact socially. The researchers helped me to understand the macaques’ hierarchy and the meaning of the animals’ different gestures, grimaces, postures, and sounds. Every day I checked for new babies (it was baby season) and carefully observed the macaques looking for signs of trauma or ill health. In April, all of the Primate Center’s monkeys were due for full health exams, so I was able to perform physical exams on many monkeys. During this time, animals received vaccines and deworming medication, had blood samples taken, and were tested for tuberculosis. Adult females were given pregnancy exams.

Besides training, I had the opportunity to meet many new people. The people I met were warm, helpful and welcoming. Most of them wanted to know about life in Africa, and in Uganda particularly. My host, Ms. Jacqueline Gilardi, was a very nice and caring lady who gave me a lot of her time. She introduced me to her friends and family who warmly welcomed me. I appreciated the support offered by the Wildlife Health Center staff members including Dr. Kirsten, Dr. Jonna Mazet, Amanda Mahler, Lisa Stevenson, and Elizabeth Leasure. They organized different dinners in my honor. Drs. Ray Wack and Nancy Anderson, who work at the School of Veterinary Medicine, were also good people and kindly toured me around the California coast and San Francisco.

As Gorilla Doctors is based in Davis, I met some of our board members, advisors, and donors in person. Board member Deborah Dunham hosted a reception in my honor at her home, which was attended by several donors as well as Gorilla Doctors Advisory Board member Jonna Mazet and Science Advisors Linda Lowenstine and Lynn Gaffikin.

While in California I did some sightseeing around Sacramento and San Francisco. I especially enjoyed the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, and Stinson Beach. Before departing the U.S. I made a stopover in Baltimore to visit the Maryland Zoo and Dr. Mike Cranfield. I also had dinner with Gorilla Doctors Board Chairman Roger Powell and board members Kim Hammond and Mike Hankin. I even met some U.S. friends who have become supporters of Gorilla Doctors. The entire trip was a memorable experience for me!

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.

Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, the Gorilla Doctors’ Most Dedicated Assistant

By Dr. Dawn Zimmerman

“They looked like old men,” says Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, the veterinary assistant for Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, as we trek up the volcano to check on the newly formed mountain gorilla group, Karisimbi B. She recalls her first impression of mountain gorillas when she saw them at 19 years of age on a school trip during her last year of secondary school. “Their faces looked like old men.” She chuckles a bit at the memory of her amazement, the revelation of how similar gorillas look to humans.  Having grown up in Kinigi, where the Volcanoes National Park headquarters is located, she had never even considered working with wildlife until she saw her first gorilla. She was surprised by their friendly behavior, and immediately became interested in getting a conservation job to help ensure the mountain gorillas’ survival.

Just a few months later, she graduated from secondary school and was hired by the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks (now part of the Rwandan Development Board) as a veterinary assistant, working alongside the very first Gorilla Doctor, Dr. James Foster. Dr. Foster taught her about gorilla diseases and behavior, and how the manifestation and exhibition of illness differs between wild and domestic animals.  From 1991 to 1993, Elisabeth studied to become a wildlife management specialist at the Ecole de Specialist de la Faune in Cameroon.  She learned about wildlife management and animal diseases, including immobilization and darting techniques.

As the first and only veterinary assistant for Volcanoes National Park over the last 25 years, Elisabeth has been responsible for monitoring the health of the Park’s wildlife, mainly the critically endangered mountain gorillas but also the endangered golden monkeys and forest buffalo.  She works closely with the Gorilla Doctors, playing an integral role in assisting with interventions and necropsies, and often the first person to respond to reports of illness or injury. One of the most important aspects of her job is teaching the trackers how to monitor the gorillas’ health on a daily basis, as the trackers take on the substantial and consequential task of reporting any changes in health or behavior of the animals.

When Elisabeth began her tenure in 1987, the mountain gorilla population of the Virunga Massif was estimated to include only 240 individuals, with 4 habituated tourist groups.  Today, there are an estimated 480 gorillas in the Virunga Massif with 10 habituated tourist groups.  This population increase is particularly significant in that mountain gorillas are the only great ape species increasing in number. Elisabeth takes pride in the fact that she not only contributed to the survival of mountain gorillas, but to the growth of this critically endangered species.

As we trek further up the mountain in the cold rain, Elisabeth stops to adjust her knee brace.  Two years ago, she was in a motorcycle taxi accident that tore all the ligaments in her left knee.  She was in a cast for months but when it came off she started right back up the mountains to monitor the park’s gorillas.  I continue to marvel at her experiences, from narrowly escaping a buffalo attack to persevering through the genocide and civil unrest of the 1990s when much of the park staff worked without pay to monitor and protect the mountain gorillas.

The two words she continues to use in describing the gorillas are friendly but protective, and she is both perplexed and awed by their ability to communicate.  Once, she witnessed an infant running into the group, vocalizing to the silverback.  The silverback responded by pushing the group together for safety, then followed the infant out of the group to find a lone silverback, a threat to the group.

In 2006, she recalls an aggressive interaction between two adult females in Agashya group resulting in a severe bite wound to an infant, causing the loss of three fingers.  Elisabeth and the Gorilla Doctors planned for an intervention.  Because it was an infant and carried by mom Isoni, the mother had to be anesthetized in order to assess and treat the baby.  However, once Isoni was darted and became recumbent, another adult female in the group, Icyuzuzo, ran over and grabbed the baby, thinking it was in danger because the mother had died.  The group then became aggressive toward the veterinary staff and the intervention had to be called off.  Although an unfortunate situation, this relays just how protective the members of the group are in caring for each other.

In another incident in 2005 she recalls a female in Susa group, Nyabitondore, giving birth to twins, Ibyishimo and Impano.  At two days old, the twins were a handful and Nyabitondore was unable to move about the forest enough to feed normally.  Elisabeth watched as a blackback in the group gathered food to bring to the female throughout the day.

Elisabeth wonders if there is not something we can learn from the gorillas’ behavior, as it applies to treating our fellow human beings.

When we arrive at the new Karisimbi B group, all seven gorillas are huddled in the brush, trying to keep warm in the cold rain.  We find the silverback Getty, blackback Muturengere, Ruhuka and her infant, Poppy and her infant Ejoheza, and the surprise addition of Isura, a juvenile female from Pablo group.  This split of groups is considered a progression of the population and we hope that Karisimbi B will grow into a larger group with the addition of more infants over the years.

We observe all of the gorillas, especially the two infants, to check for any signs of health problems. This is one of Elisabeth’s favorite tasks—watching all the infants and juveniles, seeing them thrive and grow over the years, from infants weighing a mere 2 kilos to 200-kilo dominant silverbacks. When I ask her if she has a favorite group or gorilla, she gives me her big, trademark smile and says, “No, I love them all.”

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 Habitat Under Siege in DR Congo

The Gorilla Doctors fear for the health and safety of the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo as rebels clash with the Congolese army in the park’s gorilla sector. Virunga National Park is home to about 200 of the world’s remaining 783 mountain gorillas.

On May 8, a reported 1,500 troops loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, the military chief of staff of the CNDP rebel group who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, entered the gorilla sector of the park. Virunga National Park, which employs 275 rangers for the entire park, was forced to withdraw its staff from three of the five patrol posts located in the gorilla sector. Fighting between the rebels and the Congolese army broke out on May 10, culminating on May 13 with the Congolese army shelling rebel positions within the park.

“We are worried about the mountain gorilla population from direct exposure to war and trauma as well as unregulated exposure to troop encampments which could harbor infectious diseases that could be fatal to the gorillas,” said Gorilla Doctors Co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield. “The secondary effect of the conflict is the inability of our veterinary team and the Virunga National Park staff to monitor the health of the gorillas and perform medical interventions if necessary. We are all hoping for a quick resolution to the problem.”

Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode has been posting regular updates about the situation on the Gorilla.cd blog. Rumangabo, the Virunga National Park headquarters and site of the Senkwekwe Center for orphaned mountain gorillas, remains secure.  The Gorilla Doctors Congolese staff is safe in the Congolese city of Goma, which is 1.5 hours’ drive from Rumangabo.

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.

A New Gorilla Doctor and a Big Promotion

Thanks to funds provided by Partners in Conservation, a nonprofit based out of the Columbus Zoo, Gorilla Doctors has been able to expand the veterinary team and give another staff member a much-deserved promotion this month.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Martin Kabuyaya Balyananziu was hired as a field veterinarian to assist Head DRC Field Veterinarian Dr. Eddy in providing veterinarian care to DRC’s mountain and Grauer’s gorillas and the orphans at Senkwekwe.  A graduate of the University of Lubumbashi of School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Martin managed the serological service for the veterinary laboratory in Goma and taught anatomy and animal science courses at Kivu University before joining Gorilla Doctors.

“I am very excited to join the Gorilla Doctors family,” says Dr. Martin. “I won’t just be working with wildlife; I will make a contribution towards saving and protecting mountain gorillas through health reporting and performing medical interventions with the other Gorilla Doctors.”

Dr. Jacques Iyanya, who worked alongside Dr. Eddy as a field veterinarian in DRC for 7 years, will now manage the administration of Gorilla Doctors’ DRC projects from our Goma office so that he can spend more time with his family.

In Rwanda, Dr. Jean Bosco Noheri, or Noel as we like to call him, was promoted to the position of Rwanda In-Country Field Veterinarian. He will work with Rwanda Head Field Veterinarian Dr. Jean-Felix to look after the health of the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Dr. Noel has managed the laboratory as our Musanze headquarters since 2009 and has also assisted in interventions in Rwanda, Uganda, and DRC. We are very proud that Dr. Noel, who began interning for the Gorilla Doctors as a veterinary medicine student in 2008, has become a fully-fledged Gorilla Doctor.

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.

MGVP Receives $30,000 in Donated Veterinary Equipment from Germany

As always, we are grateful to our generous friends who offer their expertise and donate equipment to help the Gorilla Doctors expand their knowledge and toolbox. Last month, Bärbel Köhler, the Business Development Manager for Abaxis, a supplier of veterinary diagnostic equipment, visited our offices in Musanze, Rwanda, to deliver $30,000 worth of donations to the Gorilla Doctors.

Abaxis donated a VetScan VS2 Blood Chemistry Analyzer and a VetScan i-STAT 1-equipment that will allow our veterinarians to quickly analyze blood samples for different diseases and irregularities, enabling them to diagnosis and treat certain health problems faster. In addition, Bärbel brought drugs, syringes, catheters, surgical equipment, and other supplies given by her friends and colleagues in Germany.

“I visited MGVP in Rwanda last year and realized that my company’s products were perfect for the MGVP veterinarians,” says Bärbel. “The veterinarians work under very hard conditions but they do a fantastic job.”

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.

Veterinary Ophthalmologists Train Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda

In early March, veterinary ophthalmologists Drs. David Ramsey and Rick Quinn traveled to Rwanda to conduct a training workshop with the Gorilla Doctors. Dr. Ramsey owns and operates The Animal Ophthalmology Center in Williamston, Michigan, and Dr. Quinn practices at the Veterinary Eye Specialists of London, Ontario, and is an adjunct professor of ophthalmology at the University of Western Ontario. Dr. Ramsey recounts his experience with MGVP below.

“I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful this experience was for us.  Rick and I have lectured to veterinarians and veterinary students on many occasions in the U.S. and abroad to provide continuing education.  We had been talking about traveling to Rwanda for about two years.  When Rick discovered the MGVP on an Internet search he immediately decided to go and we began talking more seriously about this endeavor.  As specialists in veterinary ophthalmology, we feel an obligation to pass forward our knowledge and experiences by teaching to improve the knowledge and abilities of other veterinarians and students.  We felt that if we could contribute our time and talents to improve the knowledge and expertise in ophthalmology of the MGVP veterinarians, we wanted to do so.

I contacted Welch Allyn (a manufacturer of medical equipment) and inquired about donations of ophthalmic examination equipment for the MGVP veterinarians. I was elated that Welch Allyn generously provided the necessary equipment.

When we arrived in Rwanda, the MGVP staff warmly welcomed us and we immediately became good friends with all the MGVP veterinarians–we forged relationships that will last forever.  They were very enthusiastic and interested in learning veterinary ophthalmology–it was an exceptional experience that I will never forget. We gave two full days of lecture about topics in ophthalmology that would be relevant to their work at the MGVP.  We then conducted a wet laboratory to train the MGVP veterinarians to use the equipment donated by Welch Allyn.

Dr. Mike had suggested that we also contact the Makerere University School of Veterinary Medicine in Uganda to lecture to the veterinary students.  We were fortunate to give a half-day of lectures to the 4th and some 5th year veterinary students at Makerere.

The warm welcome and genuine hospitality shown to us by the MGVP was very much appreciated. Rick and I were very impressed by the expertise, commitment and passion held by all employees and associates of the MGVP.  It has now become part of our fiber to do what ever we are able to provide support for this very important organization. I will begin developing some videos of surgical procedures and diagnostic procedures specifically for the MGVP to assist them in their work should an eye problem develop in a mountain gorilla. We hope that we can return to Rwanda again to provide contemporary information about diagnostic therapeutic and surgical procedures which would assist the MGVP veterinarians in their work.”

The Gorilla Doctors are very grateful for your support Dr. Ramsey and Dr. Quinn! We hope to see you again.

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.

MGVP Welcomes Gorilla Doctor Hameed

The Gorilla Doctors would like to introduce our newest veterinarian, Dr. Abdulhameed Kateregga, or Dr. Hameed. Dr. Hameed joined our Ugandan staff this January to serve as the PREDICT field veterinarian in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga national parks and to assist Dr. Fred in the monitoring and care of Uganda’s mountain gorilla population.

hameed

Dr. Fred is currently teaching Dr. Hameed about MGVP’s gorilla health monitoring program and the two have been very busy visiting all of Uganda’s habituated mountain gorilla groups. In his role for PREDICT, Dr. Hameed will assist Dr. Benard in researching emerging infectious diseases in the wildlife populations of Uganda’s national parks.

As a student at Makerere University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, where MGVP supports a substantial capacity building program, Dr. Hameed was selected as one of MGVP’s undergraduate scholars in 2009. He was mentored by our research veterinarian, Dr. JBN, who oversaw Dr. Hameed thesis investigating the prevalence of gastrointestinal disease in the mountain gorillas undergoing habituation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

After completing his studies at Makerere in 2010, Dr. Hameed enrolled in a long-distance learning program at the University of Edinburgh in order to obtain a Master of Science in international animal health. He is due to complete his studies in 2014. Before becoming a Gorilla Doctor, Dr. Hameed worked as a veterinary officer for the Uganda-based non-profit Conservation through Public Health.

“After being chosen as a MGVP undergraduate scholar and working under Dr. JBN, all I really wanted to do was work with mountain gorillas as an MGVP veterinarian,” says Dr. Hameed.  “At the time I graduated, MGVP had no openings, but I’ve waited patiently for this opportunity to come up.”

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.

Grauer’s to GRACE: Dr. Jan’s Report

janorphanmove-3The gorillas were fairly unsuspecting the day they were put into their crates.  They were called into their night house a little early on Friday afternoon.  They came in, but Ntabwoba, the sub-adult male, was a bit suspicious!  He’s the character who has been known to punch holes in the tin roof of the night house to escape when he was not ready for bed and disable the facility’s electric fence with a stick.  It was definitely time for them to head to the better facilities of GRACE, the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education center managed by DFGFI and Disney in Kasugho, DR Congo.  The gorillas were trained to accept a bit of honey from a syringe – this is how Dr. Noel and the caregivers gave them a bit of sedative that afternoon before the rest of us Gorilla Doctors descended on the scene.

Once all the gorillas were sedate, Pinga, Serafuli and Tumaini were darted with anesthetic drugs to make them go to sleep.  These three were pulled out of the night house and given complete physical examinations. Each gorilla had her own private doctor for the weekend! These three stayed the night in large crates filled with elephant grass while the others stayed in the night house as usual, and at 4am the next morning a convoy of trucks set out for the Goma airport. It was pitch black, and we had to use the headlights of the trucks to see what we were doing.  As we snaked our way from Musanze to Gisenyi, day broke and we reached the border at full morning.  The border crossing had been pre-arranged by RDB and ICCN, and so went very smoothly.

janorphanmove-4The convoy, once across the border, proceeded immediately to the Goma airport, where we were given a small warehouse in which to anesthetize each gorilla, one at a time, to load onto the waiting helicopter.  Ben, the pilot of the Tropic Air helicopter, was great, and each gorilla was placed in a cage specially built in the helicopter for this transport.  One by one, they landed at GRACE and were transferred to the waiting enclosures bedded with lots of elephant grass.  Pinga first, followed by Serafuli, and finally little Tumiani.

A team of Gorilla Doctors stayed in Kinigi to sedate, dart, examine and crate the remaining 3 gorillas that afternoon. Ntabwoba, Dunia, and Itebero were ready to go.  That afternoon we got a call from Emmanuel, the Chief Park Warden of Virunga National Park, telling us that an adult male leopard had come out of the park and was in a village about four hours north of Goma.   Villagers were not happy, and wanted to kill the leopard, but ICCN rangers had surrounded it and were protecting it.  They were hopeful that he would go back into the forest that night, but if he didn’t Gorilla Doctors would need to become Leopard Doctors, and go to dart the big cat to return it to the forest.  When it rains it pours some days!  Fortunately he did return to the forest that night.

janorphanmove-1We repeated the whole procedure the next day: another 4am start, another convoy to the border, and three more helicopter flights.  Finally all six gorillas were at GRACE, joining the 7 that were already there – Mapendo, Kighoma, Amani, Ndjingala, Kyasa, Lubutu and Ihome.    Within a week all gorillas were together, one big happy family.  The hard work of all partners paid off.

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.