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
Sep292014

Thanking Donors at Tucos Restaurant in Davis, California

Gorilla Doctors Directors Drs. Mike Cranfield and Kirsten Gilardi with Chef Pru Mendez in front of Tucos Restaurant in Davis, CA.

On Wednesday, September 24th, Tucos Restaurant in Davis, CA hosted a special evening for Gorilla Doctors. “Small Plates, Big Thanks,” was a chance to honor and appreciate current Gorilla Doctors supporters and reach out to new ones. Pru Mendez (Owner and Chef) prepared a special themed menu of hors d’oeuvres featuring bamboo shoots (gorilla food!) and tasty African wines. Gorilla Doctors Co-Directors Dr. Mike Cranfield and Dr. Kirsten Gilardi updated guests on some of the challenges and triumphs of the program. Gorilla Doctors Advisory Board members Deborah Dunham and Jonna Mazet joined our guests as did Science Advisors Ray Wack and Kelly Stewart.  

"The evening was such a great way to celebrate the people who make Gorilla Doctors possible,” said Gilardi. “ Being able to thank our donors for their support, and to make new friends for the program -- it was a great night!"

Before the evening was over, guests were already buzzing about planning another event soon. In wrapping, Gilardi said "A special thanks to Chef Pru Mendez for dreaming up the evening and then making it a reality. We can't wait to do it again!"

Director Dr. Mike Cranfield, Chef Pru Mendez, Development Assistant Desiree Aguiar and Gorilla Doctors board member Deborah Dunham.

Thursday
Sep252014

Interns Gain Unique Insight into Gorilla Doctors Work in Rwanda

Mentoring the next generation of wildlife health experts in Africa is a top priority for Gorilla Doctors. Thanks to a generous donation by attendees of our inaugural Gorilla Love fundraising event in Beverly Hills last November, we have been able to host two veterinary interns at our Regional Headquarters in Musanze, Rwanda. Both young men are completing an 8-month internship with our Gorilla Doctors and receive a monthly stipend to help offset their living expenses, thanks to the generosity of our committed donors.

Jean Claude and Gaspard, veterinary interns with Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda.

Meet the Interns

Gaspard Nzayisenga completed his Bachelor's degree in veterinary medicine from Umutara Polytechnic University in 2012. Soon after, he became a volunteer with the Gorilla Doctors PREDICT staff in Kigali, working for 7 months as a field assistant alongside Drs. Julius and Olivier, gaining valuable experience in field work.

“Participating in this unique internship will prepare me for my future career goals and aid in my growth as a conservationist” said Gaspard. “I love working in the field amongst experienced veterinarians and gaining hands on training. I want to be able to contribute to the conservation of wildlife in Rwanda, particularly endangered species like the mountain gorilla.”

Jean-Claude Tumushime also completed his Bachelors degree in veterinary medicine from Umutara Polytechnic in 2012. While the focus of his post-graduation training and experience was in dairy medicine, in his heart he wanted to work on wildlife conservation: among his career goals are to "strive to see that conservation imperatives are safeguarded at an excellent level" and "to keep learning so that I can improve my knowledge and skills in relation to veterinary medicine”.

Gaspard and Jean-Claude conduct a routine health check alongside Gorilla Doctors Field Vets and RDB staff.

Both interns have been working under Dr. Jean Felix Kinani, our Head Rwanda Field Veterinarian, and have shadowed Drs. Jean Felix and Noel on surgeries (such as dog neuters and spays), participated in an intervention to release an ensnared jackal, assisted in necropsies on deceased antelopes, buffalo and gorillas, observed the transfer of a Grauer’s gorilla orphan to GRACE, and conducted numerous routine health checks of the mountain gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park (alongside Gorilla Doctors Rwanda Field Vets). Through this internship, Gaspard and Jean-Claude have been able to learn new laboratory procedures and how to generate reports for partners and contribute to the IMPACT database. They have also attended meetings and workshops on conservation over the last several months, such as the Rwanda Development Board Conservation Forum and the Annual Ranger Based Monitoring Workshop with RDB and stakeholders.

“Both Gaspard and Jean-Claude are proving to be great learners, eager to participate and contribute, both in the field and the laboratory” said Gorilla Doctors Director Kirsten Gilardi. “We love having them be part of our team!” 

Monday
Sep222014

Spotlight on Dr. Eddy Kambale, DRC Head Field Vet

Dr. Eddy in the Virunga National Park plane as they transfer a Grauer's gorilla to the GRACE sanctuary.

For Dr. Eddy Kambale, Gorilla Doctors’ Head Veterinarian in the Democratic Republic of Congo, no two work days are ever the same. One day Dr. Eddy may find himself caring for the orphaned gorillas at the Senkwekwe Center, while the next day may have him hiking in the forest for hours to rescue a trapped gorilla from a poacher’s snare. Those rescues, Dr. Eddy says, are one of the most rewarding parts of his job. “When I can be able to save a gorilla’s life, then I feel really happy.” Dr. Eddy, who studied Veterinary Science at the Catholic University of Graben, Butembo, describes his work as a dream job: “This is one of my passions. Working with gorillas, I really feel that is where I should be.”  While living that dream job, Dr. Eddy puts in numerous hours well beyond your typical 9 to 5 job. Working in the office might be a normal 8 or 9 hour shift, but time in the field can last for days. “It is often 24 hours or longer because we have to travel from Goma and sleep there near the forest, ready to trek into the park the following morning for a health check or medical intervention.”

Dr. Eddy treats Grauer's gorilla Busasa's snare wound in Kahuzi Biega National Park, DRC.

Those field interventions, according to Dr. Eddy, can be exciting and risky at the same time. By working in the DRC, there are a number of factors working against him to save the gorillas from poachers, threat of an infectious disease outbreak, or warring rebel factions. “One of the big rebellion bases was in the forests in the gorilla habitat where we used to work regularly. To get there was very challenging. Some nights we were obliged to stay in the rebel’s area if we could not treat the gorilla in the first day.”

Tough days though are balanced out with the days he gets to take care of the orphan baby gorillas. “Babies are always beautiful. When you have a baby gorilla, you learn a lot about their behavior. The baby gorillas are most interesting to me, because they’re the most playful.”

Dr. Eddy with orphan mountain gorilla Matabishi at the Senkwekwe Center.Dr. Eddy with orphan Grauer's gorillas Baraka and Isangi after their rescue at the Senkwekwe Center.

The baby-time doesn’t end at work though, as Dr. Eddy juggles his job and raising three sons of his own with his wife, Guillaine at their home in Goma. Dr. Eddy recalled the time he brought his sons to work with him. “I took them to see the orphan gorillas, because they see my pictures” and ever since then, the boys interrogate him before he leaves for work asking quizzically, “Are you going to see those babies?”

Dr. Eddy works tirelessly to rescue, care for, and assess the health of the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas but says he doesn’t have much time for anything else. “All my energy is spent on gorillas.” When he can relax at home though, he enjoys political debates & documentaries. Dr. Eddy is best known by his Gorilla Doctors colleagues for his sense of humor and like his sons, Dr. Eddy looks forward to a future trip to Florida, where he will attend the 2014 American Association of Zoo Veterinarians annual conference. “I’ve been excited to visit Walt Disney World, too!”   

While the gorilla populations have increased since the early days of Dian Fossey’s research, Dr. Eddy still worries about the future for the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas he works with. “We are seeing how the forest is being cut down. That is a big challenge we are facing now. Their habitat loss is really hard.” In 40 or 50 years, “I’m not sure how the gorilla population will look like” says Dr. Eddy. “Our team is doing everything we can to keep the population healthy and thriving, but there are many threats they face.”

Dr. Eddy has been with Gorilla Doctors since 2004 and hopes to work with the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas for many more decades to come.

Monday
Sep152014

Directors Speak at Docs4GreatApes Event at Western University, Introduce Renowned Primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall

Gorilla Doctors Directors Drs. Mike Cranfield & Kirsten Gilardi gave a presentation at Western University in London, Ontario last Thursday and were honored to introduce renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall. The event, presented by Docs4GreatApes and hosted by the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, was attended by over 2,000 people and raised funds for clinics around the national parks in Rwanda. 

Dr. Mike Cranfield, Dr. Jane Goodall, and Dr. Kirsten Gilardi at Western University in London, Ontario.

Adela Talbot, a journalist for Western University who attended the talk documented Dr. Goodall’s poignant views: “‘The smartest creature on earth seems intent on destroying the planet on which it lives’ [Goodall] explained, noting conservation of chimpanzees is not the only concern. Intensive farming, depletion of resources, extreme poverty caused by lives of extreme luxury, in addition to humankind’s general continued mistreatment of all animals are detrimental to us all. 'There’s a disconnect between the human brain and the human heart. A life lived with compassion for animals and the planet is the answer to all the world’s problems.'” 

Dr. Jane Goodal speaks at Western University on London, Ontario.

The Jane Goodall Institute administers a large grant from the Arcus Foundation to implement the Conservation Action Plan for great apes in the Eastern Graueri Landscape (i.e. in eastern DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda). Gorilla Doctors role within the Action Plan, according to Co-Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi "is to provide life-saving veterinary care to ill and injured Grauer's and mountain gorillas as well as to confiscated poached great apes, train and equip ICCN rangers to conduct daily health monitoring of habituated gorillas, collate daily observations in a centralized system (IMPACT) and provide educational information on great ape tourism recommendations and hygiene."

Gorilla Doctors has also received support from the nonprofit Docs4GreatApes, founded by veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Rick Quinn, who is an adjunct professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Western University. Docs4GreatApes shares our focus on One Health, and is working towards their vision of “a world community that is passionate about improving the health of Great Ape populations, the communities that surround them, and the ecosystem that we share.”

Dr. Quinn visited the Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda and Uganda in March 2012, sharing his knowledge and expertise in ophthalmology with our veterinarians in Rwanda and students at Makerere University in Uganda. Dr. Quinn and his colleague, fellow veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. David Ramsey, arranged a generous donation of ophthalmic examination equipment through medical equipment manufacturer Welch Allyn.

Dr. Rick Quinn speaks to Gorilla Doctors veterinarians at our Headquarters in Musanze, Rwanda.

Dr. Rick Quinn trains Dr. Noel on ophthalmic exam equipment while Drs. Fred and Jacques look on.

Docs4GreatApes is developing a partnership with nursing and medical faculty at Western University to provide Continuous Professional Development for the healthcare providers at the village level that is also home to the endangered mountain gorillas. "There is a responsibility to use my professional connections to bring about change," explained Dr. Quinn. "I'm uniquely placed to get two respectable professions to pitch in together."

The Gorilla Doctors team would like to express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Quinn for his support of our work, both in veterinary medicine and boosting the health of the human and wildlife populations living in close proximity to our critically endangered patients.

For more about the collaboration between Gorilla Doctors and Docs4GreatApes, check out this CBC Radio Report interview with Drs. Mike Cranfield and Rick Quinn.

Wednesday
Sep032014

Jicho's Infant Kidumu Freed from Poacher's Snare by Drs. Eddy and Martin in Virunga National Park

On Monday, August 25, the Gorilla Doctors team received a call from Virunga National Park warden Innocent Mburanumwe notifying our veterinarians that a baby mountain gorilla named Kidumu, the infant of adult female Jicho, was caught in a snare. The park rangers had spotted the snare that morning and was able to cut it free from the anchor point in the vegetation, but the wire noose remained around her arm. 

Infant Kidumu with mother Jicho, before the intervention.

Kidumu is one of the infants in the Mapuwa family, a group of 20 mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park that ranges in the Jomba and Bikenge areas of the park. The group is lead by dominant silverback Mapuwa, but he is now getting old and the second ranking silverback, Mvuyekure, is taking over leadership responsibilities. 

Mvuyekure, Dr. Eddy’s “favorite gorilla” has an interesting story:  it is rumored that when he was a young juvenile, he was poached from the park and park authorities confiscated him at the Bunagana border (on the border of Uganda and DRC). ICCN officials decided to reintroduce him back in his group since he was positively identified. Mvuyekure was successfully reintroduced and now he is a silverback, leading the group. 

Silverback Mvuyekure in Mapuwa group. Virunga National Park, DRC.

Here is Dr. Eddy’s report from the intervention:

“We left Goma around 11am and reached the Jomba patrol post after three hours of travel. Dr. Martin and I, along with a team of ICCN rangers and porters, started treking at 2:30pm, walking along the park boundary in community potato fields. 

The intervention team: Drs. Eddy and Martin, ICCN trackers and porters.

We located the group at 3:45pm, about 200 meters from the park boundary around the Runyoni area (where the M23 rebel group’s former headquarters were located). The group was moving fast looking for bamboo shoots and getting close to nesting time for the evening. We spotted the ensnared baby and she was clinging to her mother Jicho. It was clear that both mother and infant would have to be anesthetized to safely complete the intervention. 

Dr. Martin darted Jicho with the anesthesia first and once she was fully sedated, I hand injected the anesthesia for Kidumu at 4:25pm. ICCN rangers quickly and efficiently formed a protective barrier around Jicho and the infant so that we could safely complete our work. 

Mother Jicho is also sedated so that Drs. Eddy and Martin can safely remove the snare from her infant's arm.

The wire snare was wrapped tightly around Kidumu’s left bicep. The wire was pressing tightly into the skin and the arm was slightly swollen, but thankfully, there was no open wound yet. The snare was removed with wire cutters, a physical exam was completed and samples were collected for future research.

Dr. Eddy works quickly to conduct an exam and collect samples while the infant is under anesthesia.

During the intervention, silverback Mvuyekure and the other group members were mostly quiet, feeding and moving in the periphery. But when the baby began to wake from the anesthesia, the silverback was alert and started charging aggressively. Since it was time for the gorillas to start making their night nests, we left the group and Mvuyekure joined adult female Jicho and infant Kidumu.”

Mother Jicho and infant slowly wake from the anesthesia after the intervention.

Mother Jicho slowly recovers from the anesthesia and moves off to join the group.

This is the ninth snare intervention Gorilla Doctors has conducted in 2014 (five in DRC, three in Rwanda, and one in Uganda). At the end of the M23 occupation of the Mikeno sector, the community members came back to their villages, and among them were poachers. This could perhaps explain the seeming increase in snare incidents in Virunga National Park within the previous months.

It is important to point out that in general, poachers set snares to catch antelope and other forest animals in order to feed their families. The land surrounding mountain gorilla habitat is some of the most densely populated in Africa, and most of the population is extremely poor. The pressure for food is enormous and some people turn to poaching to survive. Unfortunately, gorillas, especially infants and juveniles, sometimes get caught in these snares. Gorillas may lose limbs or digits to snares, or die as a result of infection or strangulation so Gorilla Doctors immediately mobilize to intervene and free the ensnared gorilla when a report comes in from the field.