Celebrating New Gorilla Life in Rwanda

Every new mountain gorilla born in the wild represents hope for the species’ long-term survival. In Rwanda, these births are celebrated every June at Volcanoes National Park’s annual Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony. On June 16, 19 mountain gorilla infants born in the park since June 2011 received Kinyarwanda names.

Our own Dr. Dawn has had the rare experience of seeing two of these babies the day they were born. Here she recalls these special moments.

On February 7th, 2012, I visited Hirwa group for a routine health monitoring check.  As I observed the 17 gorillas with the tracker, he would identify each by their nose print and tell me their name so that I could assess and record their health status.  As we moved from gorilla to gorilla, we came to adult female Mararo.  The tracker explaining that she was pregnant when, mid-sentence, he stopped. Mararo then turned to face us and we saw a newborn clinging to her belly.  The tracker smiled widely, heartened by this discovery.  It seems the amazement of birth endures.

About a month later on March 15, I performed a health assessment of the seven gorillas of Titus group who appeared to be in good health, including adult female Imvune. After 50 minutes of observation I left the group and headed down the mountain. However, upon exiting the forest, a radio call from trackers indicated that Imvune was “bleeding.” As we started trekking back to the group, trackers reported she had given birth.  We returned to the group to visually assess the mother and new infant, who both appeared well.  Imvune was very protective of her infant, hiding the baby from our view as well as from the other gorillas who came to her to check out the new addition.

Trackers say I am very fortunate to have observed not one, but two, mountain gorilla infants on their first day of life.  Having been in Rwanda only 6 months in the position of Regional Veterinary Manager, witnessing new life in the forest has been one of the highlights of my time here.

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. 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.

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.

DNA Tests Reveal Orphan Ihirwe to be a Grauer’s Gorilla

By Dr. Noel

From July 23 to 27, 2011, all Gorilla Doctors veterinarians were involved in the huge and exciting event of moving the six Grauer’s gorillas that had been in the Gorilla Doctors care for years from out interim orphan quarantine facility in Kinigi, Rwanda to the GRACE sanctuary in DRC. However, only two weeks later on the night of August 7, we got a call from the Volcanoes National Park Chief Warden Prosper Uwingeli reporting the confiscation of a baby gorilla in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on the border with DRC. Prosper asked for veterinary assistance, so team of two Gorillas Doctors and one experienced gorilla caretaker packed up and drove to the police station where the gorilla was being held. They found the poor baby gorilla very stressed and coughing with a nasal discharge and poor body conditions.

After preliminary exam, the baby was brought to our quarantine facility for care and treatment. Two more caretakers were hired and I was appointed to be the gorilla’s chief veterinarian. After only two days, the baby started improving and exploring the new area.

The next after the confiscation, we asked the caretakers to choose a name for her and they named her ”Ihirwe”. This is a Kinyarwanda name and means “luck” or “chance” it we used it to express how lucky she was to be saved from the poachers.

Before her confiscation the poachers who had her said she was kept in their house in a sack and fed potatoes and sugar canes for two weeks. In our facility we introduced her to new food including baby formula, fruits and vegetables from the market and also forest food like wild celery. For the first couple days we had troubles with the baby formula because she refused it but we kept trying to feed it to her through a syringe and surprisingly this become her favorite food.

Since she has been under the Gorilla Doctors’ care, Ihirwe has grown very close to her caretakers and me. Whenever I enter the facility she looks happy and receptive, and runs after me and climbs up on me, although she checks to see whether I am carrying any medical equipment first to make sure she is not getting a shot or otherwise restrained for an exam. If I have nothing, then we are very good friends.

When Ihirwe came into our care, we were not able to state firmly whether she was a mountain gorilla or a Grauer’s gorilla.

There was some confusion on Ihirwe’s subspecies because the poachers said she was taken from the Bukima area of Virunga National Park, which is where mountain gorillas live. However, some people thought Ihirwe’s face appeared to look more like that of a Grauer’s gorilla than a mountain gorilla. The only way to know for sure was DNA testing. This would very important for her future because a mountain gorilla orphan would move to the Senkwekwe Center at Virunga National Park to join Maisha, Kaboko, Ndeze, and Ndakasi and a Grauer’s gorilla would move to GRACE to join the other Grauer’s gorillas.

I really hoped Ihirwe was a mountain gorilla because then I would be able to visit her often at Senkwekwe. GRACE is difficult to reach, so I would have very little chance to see her.

We collected blood, feces, and hair samples from Ihirwe and sent them to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany for analysis. The results came back that Ihirwe is a Grauer’s gorilla. We are making plans to send her to GRACE in the next few months.

I am happy Ihirwe will soon be with other gorillas but I am very sad to lose my friend! I will never forget how stressed she was when she was confiscated and when she fell out of a tree knocking out her teeth and how I was there to help her.

Background Notes on Grauer’s Gorillas

Mountain and Grauer’s or Eastern Lowland gorillas are two different subspecies within the Eastern Gorilla Species. They are very similar genetically but are adapted to live in different environments. Mountain gorillas live at higher altitudes in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and have thick black hair coats to insulate their bodies from the cool mountain climate. Grauer’s gorillas live in lower altitude forests through Eastern DRC and have slightly larger bodies and less hair than mountain gorillas. The Gorilla Doctors provide veterinary to both Eastern Gorilla subspecies, although Grauer’s gorillas are much more difficult to monitor due to the insecurity of the regions where they live.

Historically, three quarters of the gorilla orphans that have come into the Gorilla Doctors care have been Grauer’s gorillas. Because many of areas where Grauer’s gorillas live in Eastern DRC are not well protected due to rebel activity, it is easier for poachers to access Grauer’s gorilla groups than mountain gorilla groups. Poacher’s target infant gorillas because of the gorillas’ perceived value as exotic pets in the illegal wildlife market.

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.