By Dr. Mike Cranfield
Dr. Eddy got a call from Andre in Rumangabo during our all-staff retreat in Buhoma next to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Two gorillas, Maisha and Ndeze, were having issues. Maisha had diarrhea and Ndeze was not eating well and sitting in abnormal positions.
After talking over the cases, Dr. Eddy placed the animals on acidophilus, which is a dietary supplement that normalizes the gut flora for optimal digestion. Maisha recovered quickly but Ndeze’s health deteriorated and she refused even honey water and apples, which are her favorite food items. She was not playing with the others and her stool was very hard.
Ndeze was orphaned in 2007, when seven mountain gorillas were shot and killed. Andre rescued her and has raised her as if she was one of his own children. He and Ndeze are heavily featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary Virunga.
Dr. Eddy drove to Rumangabo to visit the Senkwekwe center that houses the four mountain gorilla orphans. He has a special repertoire with the orphans, having played with them since they were infants. So Ndeze, the gentlest of the group, allowed Dr. Eddy to enter her enclosure and give an initial physical exam.
The fact that she was happy to see him and responded positively to his presence during the exam gave us hope that the ailment was not serious. The other orphans all had a series of ailments growing up, but Ndeze had remained healthy throughout her childhood. Dr. Eddy found no temperature or other abnormalities except that her upper canine teeth were coming in and there was a slight amount of inflammation associated with the event. She was given ibuprophen, but did not improve over the next three days.
It was decided that I would cross from Rwanda to Democratic Republic of Congo and travel with Dr. Eddy and Dr. Martin for a more in-depth examination. Although Ndeze perked up when she saw strangers, it was obvious that she was not herself. Again Dr. Eddy did a physical exam, but she would not let him feel her abdomen. Dr. Eddy asked if I wanted to help with the exam, but I do not have the same close relationship with her– considering that she now weighs 55 kgs and could be impossible to handle even if she was playing, I declined.
Due to the fact that she had not improved over a week and was losing weight, we decided to anesthetize her for a complete exam and treatment. Dr. Eddy allowed her to climb on his back so that the two of them could be on the scale together. He then subtracted his weight from the total to accurately dose her with the anesthetic. She had lost 5 kg in a week.
Dr. Eddy was able to hand-inject the anesthetic into her arm as she reached through the cage and she went to sleep smoothly. We place a pulse oximeter on her lip that would automatically tell us about her heart rate and how well she was breathing. Dr. Eddy monitored the anesthesia, Dr. Martin collected the necessary samples and I set about seeing what I could find now that she was asleep.
After a careful exam we again noted the inflammation around the newly erupting canines and also learned that her abdomen contained hard material in the colon. She was constipated. This would account for most of the signs present. We gave her antibiotics and a painkiller for the tooth problem and fluids and an enema for the constipation. She was slower than normal to recover, even after reversing one of the anesthetic drugs. But she was up walking around and interacting with Andre by the time we left. We were anxious to see her blood test results, because it could have been a simple case of constipation, or that could have been a sign of an underlying problem. We were delighted when the blood work revealed that other than slight dehydration, her numbers were normal.
We were perplexed when she did not bounce back to her normal self the following day. Dr. Eddy stayed in constant contact with Andre and we all heaved a sigh of relief when, on the second day after our treatment, she was improving and starting to eat and play with the others.
It was nice to see Andre smiling his winning smile when Ndeze started to play again.