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.

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Past Journal Entries


Rugendo Group Battles Respiratory Disease Outbreak

The Rugendo group mountain gorillas have been battling a respiratory disease outbreak since early April, keeping Drs. Eddy and Martin on their toes as they administer treatment to the group members most severely affected by the illness. 

Several group members began to exhibit symptoms of a respiratory infection on April 14th, when the ICCN trackers observed silverback Bukima coughing on the first day, with silverback Kongomani coughing on the next day. As the week progressed, blackback Noel and juvenile Mastaki also began to show symptoms and the Gorilla Doctors were notified for a veterinary assessment.

Silverback Kongomani with nasal discharge.

On April 20, Dr. Eddy traveled from Goma to the Bukima patrol post in Virunga National Park. It is the rainy season and the travel was arduous, particularly on the muddy road near Bukima, and his truck got stuck on three separate occasions. The Head DRC Field Vet eventually made it to his destination and prepared to enter the forest early the following morning.

Rugendo group was ranging in the Kinyagurube area of the park at 2162 meters in altitude on the morning of April 21. The group was resting when Dr. Eddy and the field team arrived. Immediately, six gorillas were observed coughing: silverbacks Kongomani and Bukima, adult female Janja, subadult male Bagambe, juvenile Mastaki and blackback Noel. Silverback Kongomani appeared lethargic and anorexic and he had not moved from his night nest. His cough was deep and laborious and was clearly in need of veterinary treatment.  Dr. Eddy darted the silverback with an antibiotic and in the coming days, administered antibiotics to Bagambe, Baseka, Janja and her infant.

Dr. Eddy prepares medication for the intervention.

Janja resting with her infant

Janja's infant in Rugendo group, Virunga National Park

On April 28, when Dr. Eddy was en route back to Rugendo group, his field team was charged by a lone male buffalo. One of the trackers was severely injured when the buffalo's horn cut into the side of his head. Dr. Eddy administered first aid treatment, stopping the bleeding and wrapping the wound, and he accompanied him back to the patrol post, where an ICCN nurse sutured the wound. Once the tracker was taken care of, Dr. Eddy and the field team returned to the forest to trek Rugendo group.

Dr. Eddy stops the bleeding on a tracker's head injury after being charged by a buffalo.

On May 5, Drs. Eddy and Martin returned to the group to follow up on the sick gorillas. Upon arrival to the group, silverback Kongomani and blackback Noel appeared anxious and were charging and vocalizing. The field team quickly realized that the rest of the group was nowhere to be seen. The two males charged the field team and Drs. Eddy and Martin and the accompanying ICCN trackers retreated. They came upon a trail which led them to an unknown lone silverback. The large male did not charge and seemed habituated to human presence.  Drs. Eddy and Martin observed him for 10 minutes while the silverback fed calmly before leaving to track the rest of Rugendo group. After an hour, the field team located the other group members, none of whom were exhibiting any signs of respiratory illness. The group was calm and feeding on bamboo shoots and Drs. Eddy and Martin reported that each individual was in good visual health.

Kongomani, Janja and her infant resting among the bamboo.

Silverback Bukima and other members of Rugendo group in Virunga National Park.

Second only to trauma (e.g. fatal injuries caused by fights, accidents or snares), infectious disease is the leading cause of death in mountain gorillas, accounting more than 20% of mortality. The most common infection is respiratory disease, which can range from a mild cold to severe pneumonia. For this reason, Gorilla Doctors respond quickly to treat respiratory disease outbreaks to prevent the illness from spreading further in the group and keep any affected individuals from becoming so sick that it could be life threatening.



Welcome Back to Jess Burbridge! 

After three months away on maternity leave, Gorilla Doctors Director of Marketing and Communications has returned to take the reins on the Gorilla Doctors field communications efforts from her homebase in Atlanta, Georgia. With her return, prompt and thorough reporting on all Gorilla Doctors activities will resume. We are also eager to launch our new website, which will feature stunning photographs and the most current information about our work in central Africa.

We would like to thank our team members at UC Davis who pitched in to cover communications efforts while Jess was away: Desiree Aguiar, who handled the social media pages, Justin Cox, who took charge of the monthly E Newsletter, and Matt Blake, who kept our website running smoothly. Also, a big thank you to communications volunteer Michael Morales, who wrote some excellent pieces for our blog!

UC Davis staff Desiree Aguiar, Justin Cox and Matt Blake.


Dr. Martin Reflects on His 'Great Opportunity' Working With Gorilla Doctors

By Michael Morales

Dr. Martin has all the qualities you would want in a veterinary doctor who works with endangered species.

“I’m a gentle man,” said the Gorilla Doctors’ field veterinarian, who works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I’m a patriotic person who really loves his country.”

Born and raised in Goma, Dr. Martin Kabuyaya Balyananziu received a degree in veterinary medicine from Lubumbashi University in 2009, later working for international non-governmental organizations and then for the government at the Veterinary Laboratory of Goma. He joined Gorilla Doctors in 2012 – a moment he remembers proudly.

“It was like a reality dream!” he said.

He originally applied for a similar post at Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where Gorilla Doctors was asked by the Park to assist with the recruitment process. Shortly after, Gorilla Doctors was in need of a new field veterinarian to assist Dr. Eddy. That’s when Dr. Martin was hired to join the team in DRC.

Even after three years with Gorilla Doctors, Dr. Martin still cherishes what a rare opportunity it is to work among the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas.

“Working with these exotic animals is not an opportunity given to everyone, so for me as a vet, it was and it still is an honor,” Dr. Martin said. “Working with Gorilla Doctors in particular to save gorillas' lives is a great opportunity.”

Dr. Martin remembers the first time he saw a gorilla in the wild. He was mildly frightened, but being in the company of Dr. Eddy and the park rangers, he knew with time he would be able to approach the gorillas in his daily work.

“The greatest part of my job is every time we are doing an intervention,” he said. “We are facing danger, but we are also saving a gorilla’s life.”

Dr. Martin very much values the equipment they use in the field for gorilla interventions. By purchasing an item from the Gorilla Doctors Amazon wish list, donors can have a tremendous impact. 

“The cameras are crucial,” he said. “Because without photography equipment we can't share our work reality. This photography equipment allows us to have good visual diagnostics. We use the zoom of the camera to observe. We can give good reports with images that can be seen by everybody in the world on our blog.”

Phones are another crucial need.  

“We must communicate between each other to exchange ideas and get technical advice before intervening or reporting cases,” said Dr. Martin. “We need to communicate with parks authorities, and we can use iPhones to send e-mails using the Internet from our phones.”

Even hiking boots are a great help to the teams, which often spend hours walking just to get to the gorillas that may need an intervention.

Doctor Martin hopes that Gorilla Doctors can “become bigger than it is now, enough to cover all the parks in the Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.”  

He would even like to help cover other endangered wildlife species.


Goodbye to Rukina

By Desiree Aguiar

Gorilla Doctors received the sad news this week that Rukina, the lead Silverback of the Kyagurilo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, was found dead on Tuesday, April 7.

Rukina was observed feeding and moving with his group on Monday. He appeared to be well, and did not show any signs of poor health. That evening, there was a major storm, and the next day, trackers noticed that lightning had struck a tree about three feet from a gorilla night nest. Rukina’s body was found near the tree..

Gorilla Doctors’ Dr. Ricky conducted a full post-mortem examination on Wednesday, and the most significant finding during the examination of the carcass was some bleeding under the skin on one shoulder. Rukina did not have any large wounds or other obvious signs of disease.

Based on the circumstances surrounding his death  – the storm the evening before, the evidence of the lightning strike on the tree next to his nest (see photo), and the bleeding under his skin at just one localized spot on his body, Dr. Ricky concluded that Rukina died as a result of being struck by lightning.

Lightning strikes can not only cause massive burns, they  can also disrupt the heart’s electrical rhythm, causing cardiac arrest.

Gorilla Doctors will further examine Rukina’s tissues to determine the definitive cause of death.


Gorilla Doctors Participates in World Wildlife Day

By Michael Morales
An enjoyable and important part of Gorilla Doctors’ work comes in the form of helping educate local communities about the health of mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last month, our Gorilla Doctors team helped celebrate World Wildlife Day in Uganda. The celebration was at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center Zoo in Entebbe. Gorilla Doctors participated in a mobile exhibit that featured Makerere University students clad in gorilla suits, who travelled from the Ruth Keesling Wildlife Health Education and Research Center at Makerere to the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) in Entebbe. Students from Nkumba University performed skits aimed at educating attendees about the dangers of snares and bushmeat consumption. Community members were able to tour UWEC to view the animals, many of whom had been confiscated from poachers. UWEC’s goal was to teach locals to avoid taking the law into their own hands to kill wildlife, but instead, to work with wildlife authorities to rescue wildlife when possible. The celebration ended with students singing a wildlife song called “This is the Message,” which was composed by Mr. Howard Onyuth, a second-year student in the Wildlife Health & Management program at Makerere University.
We hope you enjoy the photos, which speak a thousand words about Uganda’s appreciation for wildlife and its dedication to wildlife conservation!