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

 

Monday
Nov172014

Young Silverback Muturengere Injured Defending Isimbi Group

Young silverback Muturengere was recently injured defending his group from an intruding lone silverback in Volcanoes National Park. During Dr. Jean Felix’s veterinary assessment on November 12, he observed the leader of Isimbi group interacting yet again with another silverback, Gicurasi of Pablo group. 
13-year-old silverback Muturengere, leader of Isimbi group.

Four of the six Isimbi group females (Isura, Poppy, Ruhuka, and Africa) came from Pablo group but were sticking close to their leader during the nonviolent, 2-hour interaction. Muturengere’s wounds from the previous altercation were clearly painful and he was unable to display and chestbeat. However, the wounds were clean and healing on their own, with no signs of infection.

Muturengere with two females from Isimbi group in Volcanoes National Park.

Muturengere has had a tough year, first being thrust into the leadership role at the very young age of 13 after dominant silverback Getty died unexpectedly and then overcoming a respiratory infection likely exacerbated by the stress of trying to lead a group on his own. Though he had some difficulty convincing the females of the group to accept him as the dominant silverback at first, he has proven himself to be a very capable leader and gradually aquired a few additional females and even sired 2 offspring! 

Muturengere and Isimbi group in Volcanoes National Park.

Two days after Dr. Jean Felix’s initial assessment, RDB trackers contacted Gorilla Doctors to report that Muturengere was not eating and that his wounds did not appear to be healing well. The Head Rwanda Field Vet returned to Isimbi group and found the silverback and his group members in the Gasizi area of the park. Though Muturengere’s wounds were numerous (five lacerations on the right arm, many smaller lacerations on his left hand), they were clean and showed no sign of infection. He was using both arms and hands normally when moving and eating and even displayed a few times during Dr. Jean Felix’s observation. An intervention was not deemed necessary, however the silverback will continue to be monitored closely until he makes a full recovery.

**Muturengere and his group are featured in a documentary about the work of Gorilla Doctors on CBC's The Nature of Things. To learn more about this documentary, click here.**

Sunday
Nov162014

Infant Chimpanzee Confiscated from Poachers at Gisenyi Police Station

Gorilla Doctors and the Rwanda Development Board were notified on the evening of November 15th that a "baby gorilla" had been confiscated from poachers and was being held at the Gisenyi police station, near the border of Rwanda and DRC. When an orphaned ape is confiscated by authorities in the region, Gorilla Doctors makes immediate plans to travel to the confiscation site, assess the infant and transport him/her to a safe location for medical treatment and supportive care. 

An infant male chimpanzee confiscated from poachers at the Gisenyi police station in Rwanda.

When Drs. Jean Felix and Noel arrived at the police station, they first met with the Rubavu Chief of Police, who prepped the vets on the case. What Drs. Jean Felix and Noel found however was not a gorilla, but an emaciated infant male chimpanzee tied in a basket. 

The baby chimp was tied in a basket when Drs. Jean Felix and Noel arrived to the police station.

Drs. Jean Felix and Noel questioned the poachers (who had been arrested and were being detained at the police station) to find out more information on the infant’s origins. They claimed the chimp was purchased for $200 from a man in South Kivu province in DRC. A police officer posing as a prospective buyer arrested the band of poachers and brought them, as well as the infant chimpanzee, to the Gisenyi police station.

Drs. Jean Felix and Noel completed a physical examination at the police station to assess the infant's condition. He was calm but clearly frightened, and curled into a tight ball when removed from the basket and placed on a towel in a crate. 

The baby chimp, curled up in a crate at the Gisenyi police station in Rwanda.

The infant was emaciated with a slight fever, had two small wounds on his right knee and was missing a toe on his right foot. The Rwanda field vets administered an antibiotic, collected blood and throat, nasal, and anal swab samples to assess the infant for infectious disease and prepared him for the 1-hour drive to Gorilla Doctors interim orphan care facility in Kinigi. 

Drs. Jean Felix and Noel prepare to administer an antibiotic and collect samples from the confiscated infant chimp.

Assessing the chimp's condition after confiscation from poachers.The rescued chimp was missing the big toe on his right foot.

Once safely in his new enclosure, the baby ate three bananas and slowly began to relax in his new surroundings. His caregivers were nearby, but patiently waited for the chimp to initiate contact so as not to stress him further. Dr. Jean Felix and Noel will monitor him closely in the coming days and help bring him back to full health.

The Rwandese and Congolese governments are in discussions to decide which sanctuary this chimp baby will go to. But in the meantime, he is safe and sound and receiving much needed food, fluids, medical treatment and supportive care. More soon...


Monday
Nov102014

Orphan Grauer's Gorilla Ntabwoba Succumbs to Encephalitis at GRACE Sanctuary

We are heartbroken to report that Ntabwoba, a 13-year-old male Grauer’s gorilla living at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), passed away unexpectedly on November 5th. Ntabwoba was just making the transition from blackback to silverback and, with his charismatic personality, was a beloved gorilla to the staff and his fellow group members.

13-year-old Grauer's gorilla orphan Ntabwoba. Photo courtesy of GRACE.

Gorilla Doctors Regional Manager Dr. Jan Ramer traveled to the remote Kasugho region to assist GRACE staff and consulting veterinarians in treating Ntabwoba, who had fallen seriously ill two days earlier. Getting Ntabwoba emergency care was a team effort and staff from the Jane Goodall Institute and Disney’s Animal Kingdom also assisted GRACE and Gorilla Doctors.

“His condition was profound,” said Dr. Ramer. “The GRACE team worked so hard to give him round the clock care and Gorilla Doctors provided intensive medical care, but his encephalitis was too advanced. Combined with a stroke, little could be done other than to make him comfortable. He passed peacefully in the night.”

Ntabwoba, whose name means “fearless”, was the oldest gorilla in the group of 14 orphans at GRACE, and he assumed the role of group leader. He was confiscated from poachers in 2003 and was cared for by Gorilla Doctors and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International in Rwanda before he was transferred with five other orphaned gorillas back to their native country of DR Congo in 2011 in an operation sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare [click here to read the blog]. He was arguably the most well-known Grauer’s gorilla orphan, having been featured in the 2005 book Gorilla Doctors by Pamela Turner.

Dr. Jan helping to move the Grauer's orphans to GRACE in 2011.

"This is such a difficult loss" said Dr. Ramer. "He was a beloved individual, and big part of the social group. I have such fond memories of Ntabwoba when he was a goofy, fun loving, mischievous juvenile at the Kinigi orphan facility. He knew how to break the wire and escape, and really all he wanted to do was show us he could get out - he always jumped right back in with the other gorillas! He was a gentle soul."

As he found his place among the group of orphans at GRACE, staff noticed that he quickly became "the peacekeeper in the group as he was the first to welcome newly introduced gorillas. He could be mischievous at times but was also protective, intelligent, and curious, and was the first orphan to investigate anything new."

“We want to thank our staff and partners who did everything they could for Ntabwoba,” Sonya Kahlenberg, GRACE Executive Director said. “We are mourning the loss of a remarkable gorilla, but also take comfort in knowing that, for the past 11 years, he lived a good life. Ntabwoba had a second chance that most orphaned apes never experience. We will honor his memory by giving his group the best life possible and by working to keep Grauer’s gorillas in the wild, where they belong.”

Eastern lowland gorillas – also known as Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) — are classified as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and are found only in eastern DRC. Seriously threatened by habitat loss, human encroachment, illegal trade, disease, and regional instability, it is estimated that no more than 5,000 Grauer’s gorillas remain in the wild.

While losing Ntabwoba was heartbreaking for Dr. Jan, she "loved seeing the other familiar gorilla faces at GRACE.  I'm sure they are mourning Ntabwoba, but when I watched them in the yard Thursday morning they were enjoying the sun, playing and foraging normally - a bittersweet sight."

Friday
Nov072014

Spotlight on Dr. Benard Ssebide: Gorilla Doctors New Head Field Vet in Uganda

Dr. Benard Ssebide, Gorilla Doctors Head Uganda Field Vet and PREDICT Country Coordinator.

With a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a Medical Officer, there was little doubt as he was growing up that Benard Ssebide would one day end up in medicine. After years of study at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, Dr. Benard completed his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. It was in his 3rd year at Makerere, during his clinical training, that Benard met Dr. John Bosco Nizeyi, who currently serves as Gorilla Doctors Capacity Development Coordinator. “Dr. JBN” as he’s known to the Gorilla Doctors staff, was teaching a course on wildlife medicine.

Dr. Benard and Dr. JBN, on Benard's graduation day from Makerere University.

“I read about Gorilla Doctors when I was still in med school. I knew what they were doing and I took a project for my dissertation in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where Gorilla Doctors works,” said Dr. Benard. His Masters project contributed to the development of the IMPACT system, which allows Gorilla Doctors and park rangers to record observations in a long-term database to keep track of the health histories of all monitored mountain and Grauer's gorillas in the region. 

After completing this project and graduating from veterinary school, Dr. Benard began his work as a veterinarian with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), working with many different wildlife species.

While with the UWA, Dr. Benard worked on a project to track elephant movement along wildlife corridors in the Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area.

With years of hard work, Dr. Benard eventually became the warden in charge of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and then Chief Park Warden of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. But his heart was in field work, so in 2007, Dr. Benard joined Gorilla Doctors as a Field Veterinarian and then worked on the PREDICT project to look for emerging pandemic threats in the region. He was recently promoted to Uganda Head Field Veterinarian and PREDICT Country Coordinator.

The Gorilla Doctors PREDICT teams carefully monitor the wildlife populations for highly infectious diseases, such as Ebola and yellow fever. “We are really looking at emerging diseases that can transfer between wildlife to people” said Dr. Benard. The work he and his PREDICT team do include travelling to outbreak sites to collect samples from domestic & wild animals to determine if infectious diseases could be circulating within these populations.

Dr. Benard sets up a mist net near a school on the border of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to trap fruit bats for testing.

Dr. Benard explains the exciting part of working on the PREDICT project: “the opportunity to learn more. With Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, we had the focus on gorillas obviously, but with PREDICT we can look at other species. We know what’s happening in the gorillas. But what about other primates and wildlife species within the gorilla habitat?” Dr. Benard says it’s imperative to study these other species and the infectious diseases found in their populations. “The gorillas are the backbone of tourism here. We have the opportunity to do more research and look at the bigger picture, which will ultimately help to safeguard the health of the gorilla population. With PREDICT, looking at the big picture is the objective, that’s the name of the game.”

The threats to mountain gorillas are great. With only 880 left in existence it is essential that Gorilla Doctors monitors the health and safety of every habituated gorilla group in DRC, Uganda, & Rwanda. “Too much work needs to be done in too small a time for just one veterinarian to do... the Gorilla Doctors work is truly a team effort" said Dr. Benard. "The snare problem, traps set by poachers... it’s just constant.” As well, Dr. Benard points out that, “as communities and countries evolve, so do the diseases that affect eastern gorillas.”

Dr. Benard intervenes to free a mountain gorilla caught in a wire snare in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

“These days, we are seeing new things. More symptoms are showing up, there are more samples to collect, there is more research to be done.” Dr. Benard recalls a Scabies outbreak in 2001 in Bwindi’s Nkuringo group. The group was frequently venturing outside the park boundaries, near the local communities where it is suspected that the group members picked up the disease from domestic animals. "Scabies is more serious in gorillas than it is in humans. Some animals had complete hair loss.” Eventually Dr. Benard, in his interventions, was able to dart each group member with long acting medication to bring them back to good health.

With tourism helping to boost efforts to conserve eastern gorillas, the mountain gorilla is a success story in the conservation world. But, there remains much work to be done and many needs to be met to continue that work. “[Gorilla Doctors] relies on private donations to continue our daily operations and we have a lot of needs in terms of supplies, equipment, materials, books, gear" said Dr. Benard. "The terrain here is challenging, the weather here is challenging. We need good cameras to take high quality photos & recordings. We need post-mortem materials to take samples and expand our knowledge on disease and mortality.” Those who donate through the Gorilla Doctors website are making a huge difference to make sure that this important work can continue and every single eastern gorilla suffering from a life-threatening illness or injury can receive the veterinary treatment they need. 


Thursday
Oct302014

Orphan Kalonge Receives Treatment for Suspected Respiratory Infection

Orphan Grauer's gorilla Kalonge was rescued in early March after she was caught in a snare and brought to a local village chief by a group of young boys outside of Kahuzi Biega National Park (read about her rescue here). Through a joint rescue operation by ICCN and Gorilla Doctors, 2-year-old Kalonge was brought to the Senkwekwe Center in Rumangabo, DRC for medical treatment and rehabilitation after her ordeal. Kalonge was thin, dehydrated, coughing and had a snare wound around her left wrist when she arrived at Senkwekwe. But over the last 6 months, the youngster has made a full recovery and has been in good health. Gorilla Doctors recently received the results of her genetic analysis by the Max Planck Institute, confirming her subspecies as Grauer's. Very soon, she will be moved to the GRACE center in Kasugho, DRC, where she will join a group of rehabilitated orphan Grauer's gorillas and finally have a family again. 
Unfortunately, Kalonge's caretakers reported that their young charge was coughing again on October 23rd. Dr. Martin made the trek from Goma to Rumangabo to assess Kalonge's health and administer treatment (if deemed necessary).
Orphan Grauer's gorilla Kalonge, in her enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center.
Here is Dr. Martin's report:
"The caretakers reported that Kalonge had begun coughing overnight and was having some difficulty breathing. I began my assessment in the afternoon but continued to observe her well into the night to get a full observation of her health condition. Kalonge's appetite and behavior were both normal during my observation - she was alert, responsive and active. When night fell, she began coughing and had some nasal discharge. Her breathing became more labored as well. 
Later in the night, I heard a troop of wild baboons (which live in the forest near the Senkwekwe Center) coughing. It is very possible that Kalonge acquired her respiratory infection from a wild baboon as her outdoor enclosure is open and occasionally other primates will pass through the trees. 
I made the decision to administer an oral antibiotic to help Kalonge overcome her respiratory illness. Her caretakers will continue to closely monitor and report her progress to Gorilla Doctors daily, but she should make a full recovery and be ready for her transport to the GRACE center in the coming weeks."
While at the Senkwekwe Center, Dr. Martin made a visual assessment of the orphan mountain gorillas who reside there, Maisha, Ndakasi, Ndeze, and Matabishi. He reports that the little family of orphans was in good visual health and enjoying playing in their sunny outdoor enclosure during his visit. 
7-year-old orphan mountain gorilla Ndakasi, hanging out in a tree in her enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center.