About this Blog

Gorilla Doctors is dedicated to saving the mountain gorilla species one patient at a time. We are the only group providing wild mountain and Grauer's gorillas with direct, hands-on medicial care. Research has proven that by intervening to save sick and injured gorillas, the Gorilla Doctors have helped the overall mountain gorilla population to increase. Learn more at GorillaDoctors.org.

Your generous donation will directly support gorilla monitoring, life-saving medical interventions, and health studies to save the critically endangered gorillas

Friday
Apr182014

Ensnared Grauer's Gorilla Juvenile Freed in Veterinary Intervention

by Dr. Eddy Kambale

On Tuesday, April 8, the Congolese Park Authority (ICCN) reported to Gorilla Doctors that a juvenile gorilla in Kahuzi Biega National Park’s Chimanuka group had become caught in a poacher’s snare. When the young gorilla became ensnared, dominant silverback Chimanuka ripped the snare from the tree, freeing the youngster, but causing the wire to tighten around her left forearm. Her fingers and hand were swollen and she was not using the hand properly to feed on vegetation.

Ensnared Grauer's gorilla juvenile in Chimanuka group in Kahuzi Biega National Park, DRC.

Ensnared Grauer's gorilla juvenile in Chimanuka group in Kahuzi Biega National Park, DRC.

When we received the call, Dr. Martin was traveling to Bukavu and then on to Lwiro Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre to help with the transfer of 2 adult chimpanzees, Suena and Sherife, to new enclosures. Gorilla Doctors co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield was at our regional headquarters in Musanze, Rwanda and immediately left for Goma to meet me and prepare for the intervention. Dr. Mike and I took the night boat across Lake Kivu to join the rest of the intervention team, comprised of Kahuzi Biega National Park rangers and Dr. Kizito, the park’s veterinarian. 

This intervention proved to be challenging because the ensnared juvenile was staying close by her mother and the dominant silverback, Chimanuka. Chimanuka is notoriously very protective of his babies and could prove to be dangerous if he perceived us as a threat. In such a situation, we normally dart the mother and the infant in order to safely conduct the intervention, and were prepared to dart Chimanuka if necessary.

Silverback Chimanuka, the leader of the habituated group of Grauer's gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park.

Fortunately, after some observation, the ensnared juvenile moved away to play with other juveniles of the group, leaving her mother and silverback Chimanuka behind. I darted her with a combination of Ketamine and Dexmedetomidine to sedate her and luckily, she didn’t scream, but just settled down on the ground. 

The team of rangers formed a protective barrier between the veterinarians and the silverback. Chimanuka was unaware until some other juveniles wandered up and sniffed the dart, screaming in confusion. This alerted Chimanuka and he began to vocalize and charge the field team. The rangers held their ground (which is no small feat with a silverback the size of Chimanuka) as he displayed and charged. He eventually settled down and watched from the periphery. 

Drs. Martin, Mike and I removed the snare once the juvenile was fully sedated. We cleaned the wound and collected samples for further testing and future research.

The field team conducts the snare intervention in Kahuzi Biega National Park.

The snare cut into the flesh of the young gorilla's arm.

During the physical exam, syndactyly of the fingers on the right hand was noted. Syndactyly is seen throughout the monitored mountain and Grauer's gorilla populations in the Virunga Massif. 
Syndactyly of the digits on the right hand was noted during the physical exam.

The anesthesia reversal was administered once the intervention was complete and we moved away from the juvenile once she was awake to allow the other gorillas to approach. After some time, she moved over to join her mother and they disappeared into the dense vegetation.

The intervention field team, comprised of Gorilla Doctors veterinarians and Kahuzi Biega National Park trackers. This is the fourth snare intervention that Gorilla Doctors has conducted in 2014 in the 3 countries where we work. Even with the challenge of a charging silverback, the Gorilla Doctors intervention was a success with the help of the dedicated Kahuzi Biega park rangers. 

Thursday
Apr172014

Well Wishes for a Friend and Hero

by Jessica Burbridge

Just months after the Congolese Army and UN forces secured the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park after occupation by the M23 rebel group, the Gorilla Doctors were shocked to learn of the attack on Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode on Tuesday, April 15. The warden was shot through the windshield of his truck as he drove from Goma to the Park’s headquarters in Rumangabo on a section of road known as “the corridor”. He sustained severe abdominal wounds, but fortunately, he is stable and is currently recovering in a Goma hospital.

"The Gorilla Doctors board and staff are relieved to hear that he is in stable condition; he is a true role model for conservation" said co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield. "It seems somewhat ironic that the attack occurred following the announcement of the Virunga Alliance". The Alliance is a collaborative effort between businessman Howard Buffet and de Merode on behalf of ICCN. It aims to help the local communities prosper with new hydro-electric sources and a way to sustain the future of the park. 

A Conservation Hero

A Belgian prince and anthropologist, de Merode grew up in east Africa. He was appointed Chief Park Warden, replacing Honore Mashagiro, who was linked to the Rugendo group massacre of silverback Senkwekwe, five females and an infant in 2007. He has worked in DRC since 1993 and Virunga National Park since 2001 and is widely considered one of the great conservation heroes of our time by the international wildlife conservation community. Over the last six years as Park Warden, Emmanuel has endured many hardships, struggling to keep his team of 680 rangers safe and well equipped, often having to negotiate with rebel leaders in order to continue to protect the mountain gorillas and other biodiversity in the park.

Watch Emmanuel’s inspirational TED Talk from Geneva, Switzerland to learn more about his work.

Emmanuel de Merode, Chief Park Warden of Virunga National Park, DRC.

A World Heritage Site

Established in 1925, Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa and spans roughly two million acres. The park is extremely rich in biodiversity and home to an estimated 220 of the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas. UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site in 1979.

Over 140 of Virunga’s rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty since the beginning of the war in 1996. Most recently, park ranger Mbera Bagabo was killed on January 12, 2014 as he was on patrol in the Mikeno sector. Following the ranger’s death, de Merode stated that “the area is sought after by militias for its lucrative illegal charcoal trade with the city of Goma, known to be a major source of revenue for illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” 

Gorilla Doctors in DRC

With an abundance of natural resources, extreme poverty, and rampant rebel activity, DRC has been plagued with violence for many years. Despite the risks, Gorilla Doctors has continued to provide veterinary care to the wild and orphaned mountain and Grauer’s gorillas in both Virunga National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park. Emmanuel de Merode has been immensely supportive of our work in Virunga National Park.

Emmanuel de Merode with Gorilla Doctors co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield in Rumangabo in late 2013.

In light of the recent attack, the annual mountain gorilla orphan exams, as well as the quarantine exam for new orphan Kalonge, have been postponed until we can determine the security situation in and around the park. Gorilla Doctors is in contact with the staff at the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park and all five orphans there are safe with their caretakers.

The safety of our staff and colleagues is absolutely the number one priority. We will refrain from work in the area until we are quite confident that our staff will be safe” said Gorilla Doctors Co-Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi.

On behalf of all Gorilla Doctors staff and supporters “get well soon, Emmanuel”!

 

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

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

Monday
Apr142014

Gorilla Doctors Remove Rope Snare from Infant Ingamiya’s Wrist

Drs. Jean Felix and Noel, along with RDB Veterinary Warden Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, recently conducted an intervention to remove a rope snare from Ingamiya, the 18-month old mountain gorilla infant of mother Tegereza in Ntambara group. With support from Fossey Fund trackers, the field team completed the successful intervention on April 9. Below is Dr. Jean Felix’s report.

Infant Ingamiya with a rope snare around the left wrist.

"Ntambara group was ranging in the Maporomoko area of Volcanoes National Park at 3,088 meters altitude when we located the group and performed the veterinary intervention. Both mother and infant were darted with anesthesia in order to remove the snare safely. Filmmaker Mike Boland, who is working on a documentary for CBC’s The Nature of Things (to air this fall), documented the intervention.

Our visit to the group also included a veterinary assessment of Nahimana’s infant, who was reportedly crying and recovering from respiratory illness. Upon observation, it was clear that the infant was not breathing well, and had foam around the mouth with hyper salivation. After 30 minutes of observation, the infant seemed to calm down, settling into his mother’s arms. Fossey Fund trackers, who regularly monitor Ntambara group, will continue to monitor the infant for any changes or worsening in symptoms. 

Nahimana and her infant, who was showing signs of respiratory illness during the observation.

Once the assessments of Ingamiya and Nahimana’s infant were complete, we prepared for the intervention. We made the decision to dart Ingamiya’s mother Tegereza with anesthesia as well for everyone’s safety. We waited for several hours for a good opportunity to dart her, and successful administered the anesthesia when she moved away from the group and up a ravine. Ingamiya was using his left hand normally, despite the rope snare around the wrist. He was traveling on the back of his mother and suckling normally. Although he was not observed feeding, we watched him put leaves in his mouth, chew a bit and then remove them as if he was playing. He was observed biting at the rope  some, but was clearly unable to remove it by himself.

Infant Ingamiya biting at the rope snare.

At 12:15pm, Tegereza received the full dose of anesthesia. With Ingamiya on her back, Tegereza moved about 15 meters away from the field team after the dart made impact. She then stopped and put Ingamiya down; we noticed the first effects of the anesthesia after 4 minutes and she was fully sedated at 12:25pm. 

Head Rwanda Field Vet Dr. Jean Felix Kinani prepping supplies for the intervention.

Using a syringe, I administered .35 ml of Ketamine to sedate Ingamiya for the intervention. Within 3 minutes, he was fully sedated and we were able to collect throat, nasal and blood samples and remove the snare. The silverbacks of the group, notably 3rd ranking silverback Twibuke, charged us frequently during the intervention but the Fossey Fund trackers did a great job of keeping them away from us while we worked.

Dr. Noel listens to mother Tegereza's heart while she is under anesthesia.

Ingamiya and Tegereza both woke from the anesthesia at the same time, and comfortably laid together while they recovered. Tegereza watched us for 40 minutes, listening to the silverbacks screaming, but we wanted to stay close by until they were fully recovered and able to move on their own. 

Tegereza and her infant Ingamiya of Ntambara group.

Once we moved away, lead silverback Ntambara joined the mother and infant with Kurinda and Twibuke, who hit Tegereza once. The three gorillas surrounded her and after 2 minutes, they settled down and began to feed. We continued to monitor the group for 30 minutes, then packed up our supplies and headed back down the mountain to process the samples at the Gorilla Doctors headquarters in Musanze. Trackers will continue to monitor the group to ensure a full recovery from the incident."

 

Monday
Apr072014

Rwanda: A Resilient Country, Risen from the Ashes

by Dr. Jean Felix Kinani

Twenty years after the genocide, Rwandans have shown the world that our wounds can heal even though we will never forget the past. Through us, the world sees that a country can recover from extreme violence spurned by division and hate. Rwanda suffered the systematic extermination of more than a million people in just 100 days in 1994. Even now, burials are still taking place for skeletons recovered from latrines and mass graves.

During the time of the genocide, my family and I lived in my birthplace of Lubumbashi, in the South of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I remember seeing the events on television, witnessing the indescribable cruelties. I remember my father telling me that this was the worst period of his life. He received frequent letters announcing the deaths of his family members that lived in Kinihira village, in the southern province of Rwanda. Back then, the area was called Mubasinga. During the genocide, we lost 75% of my father’s family. My father took care of the Tutsis that survived in Kinihira village, providing education and support. He moved back to Kigali in 1996 to join in the rebuilding of Rwanda; I stayed behind in Lubumbashi to finish my veterinary medicine studies. In 1998, the Tutsi extermination ideology was running rampant once again, only this time, in DRC, and Kabila's army was being attacked regularly by the RCD (Rally for Congolese Democracy) rebel movement, which was allegedly receiving support from Rwanda.

During this war, all Congolese Tutsis were identified and were either arrested or killed by DRC soldiers, FDRL, Zimbabwean and Angolese soldiers who came to DRC to protect the government. I was arrested in 1998 and spent 11 months in Bakita, a 5-bedroom house used as a Tutsi concentration camp containing almost a thousand people.

Five months after I was arrested, we were visited by the Red Cross and were given the opportunity to leave the jail for 30 minutes to get some sun, take our first baths, and have our conditions assessed. Every day we ate a piece of ubugali (corn meal) and a spoonful of beans at 3 pm. Each morning, we were asked to stand up for identification control and each one of us had to stand for 2 minutes before the jailers. Apparently it was an exercise requested by authorities to make our ordeal more difficult. After 8 months, we received additional food and were evacuated by force to Rwanda. Once I was free, I left for Senegal where I would spend 3 years finishing my degree in veterinary medicine.  

There were many Rwandans who hated one another in Senegal, a climate maintained by former Rwandan government officers who had been exiled to French-speaking African countries. The entire time we were there, we were reminded of how our people had suffered and continued to suffer in the Congo. I remember during the 8th commemoration of the Tusti genocide, I read a Boris Diop piece with these powerful words: “les innocents ne sont pas morts, ils se reposent”: “innocent people don’t die, but they rest”. My father's family members were not killed with guns, but with machetes and spears in the village where they lived. They suffered a lot. 'Les innocents ne sont pas morts, ils se reposent' gives me relief that they are at peace now.

Moving Toward a Brighter Future

I joined my father and four of my sisters in Rwanda in 2003 after completing my studies. For the first time, I was able to see and feel the change and growth that had taken place in the country - especially in the tourism sector. My first job and my great passion is to work with the Gorilla Doctors where I serve as the Head Field Veterinarian for Rwanda and coordinate the health care of the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

Dr. Jean Felix Kinani, Head Field Veterinarian in Rwanda.

I’m proud to have worked as a Gorilla Doctor for eleven years now. We have a great team of veterinarians and through our medical interventions and other extreme conservation practices, the mountain gorilla population has grown by 26%. In fact, they are the only endangered species of wild great ape that are increasing in number. The mountain gorilla success story is a product of intricate collaboration between the Rwandan government and many partner organizations working in the region.

Dr. Jean Felix (center in grey shirt) with staff from the Fossey Fund and the Rwanda Development Board.

We feel that we are apart of this Rwanda success story, through our role of providing medical care to the mountain gorillas and our One Health initiative to support the health of the human and wildlife populations. Through the revenue sharing program implemented in Rwanda, citizens living around protected areas receive 5% of the Rwanda tourism profits, which is helping to reduce poverty in the country, as well as improve healthcare and hygiene, and reduce food insecurity. 

On January 7 this year, Rwanda launched the Kwibuka 20, which, in Kinyarwanda, means “remember”.  Kwibuka 20 is a series of events taking place in Rwanda and around the world, leading up to the annual genocide commemoration, beginning on April 7. “Twenty years later we, Rwanda, ask the world to unite to remember the lives that were lost. We ask the world to come together to support the survivors of the genocide, and to ensure that such an atrocity can never happen again – in Rwanda or elsewhere. Kwibuka 20 is a time to learn about Rwanda’s story of reconciliation and nation building.” (www.kwibuka.rw)

Kwibuka 20: Remember, Unite, Renew.

Rwanda has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Despite the trauma the country experienced in 1994, Rwanda is now ranked as the “easiest place to do business in the region” following the 2012 Doing Business report.

H.E. President Paul Kagame said “we cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again.” Over these last 20 years, Rwanda has risen from the ashes of a horrific genocide to become a country it’s citizens are proud to call home. I believe that I speak for my fellow Rwandan brothers and sisters when I say that “I am proud to be a Rwandan”.


Monday
Mar312014

Dr. Olivier Named Finalist in ROLEX Awards for Enterprise

Gorilla Doctors PREDICT Field Veterinarian in Rwanda, Dr. Olivier Nsengimana, has been named as one of 22 finalists for the 2014 ROLEX Enterprise Awards. The 22 finalists hail from 13 different countries and are in the running to win vital funding for their particular projects, as well as international acclaim as a 2014 ROLEX Young Laureate. 


In a recent press release, ROLEX announced that the finalists were “chosen from more than 1,800 applicants from around the world in a competitive pre-selection process. These pioneers have demonstrated their determination to solve some of society’s greatest challenges in five general areas: science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment, and cultural heritage”. 

Dr. Olivier is a native of Gitarama, Rwanda and graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (ISAE) - Busogo. In early 2010, Dr. Olivier interned with Gorilla Doctors, working to develop a management plan for the dairy farm at Imbabazi Orphanage. Later in the year, he volunteered for the Gorilla Doctors PREDICT program, taking blood samples from rodents around Volcanoes National Park to be analyzed for infectious disease. For the last 3 years, he has worked alongside Dr. Julius Nziza, the Gorilla Doctors PREDICT Rwanda Country Coordinator, conducting research on emerging pandemic threats in and around Rwanda's national parks. 

If Dr. Olivier is awarded the 2014 ROLEX Enterprise Award, he will receive funding for a conservation project to save the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum), an exquisite, large bird found in Sub-Saharan Africa that is threatened from habitat loss and a growing illegal trade. Classified as "endangered" by the IUCN in 2012, the Grey Crowned Crane’s population estimate ranges between 58,000 and 77,000 individuals. 

The Grey Crowned Crane, threatened by habitat loss and a growing illegal trade.

A jury of 8 scientists, environmentalists, conservationists, and social entrepreneurs will meet in Geneva, Switzerland on June 24th to select 5 of the 22 finalists to be awarded the 2014 ROLEX Award for Enterprise. "Each of the 5 winners will receive 50,000 Swiss francs to further their work, a ROLEX chronometer and the benefits of an ongoing, international publicity campaign. They will also have access to the network of more than 100 previous Laureates of the ROLEX Awards”. 

We wish Dr. Olivier the best of luck!

For more information about the ROLEX Awards for Enterprise, click here.

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