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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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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!

Ndeze Gets Sick, Gorilla Doctors Respond

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.


Ugutsinda the Silverback is Doing Much Better

By Jean Bosco NOHERI
Musanze, Rwanda

In late January there was an interaction between Ntambara and Gushimira, two silverbacks (SB) in the Ntambara group, after which Ntambara SB was seen with minor wounds on one hand, a swollen face and a flat belly. He disappeared on February 6 and Ugutsinda a 24-year-old male who was then the second SB of the group, took over full responsibilities to lead the group.

Unfortunately, on February 17h trackers noted that he was suddenly lethargic, and staying behind the group. It appeared that his condition could be critical, requiring a veterinary intervention.

Gorilla Doctors visited the group on February 20 to assess the health of Ugutsinda, with intervention equipment in tow,  ready to treat him if necessary. Gorilla Doctors spent about an hour and a half with him the morning of Friday, Februrary 20 and after performing a complete visual physical examination, decided that his condition did not need treating at this time. Instead, Gorilla Doctors planned intensive and close monitoring, even though he was alone approximately 500 meters behind the group.

The following days he was sometimes with the group, sometimes behind, and despite exhibiting general weaknesses, his feeding ability remained within normal limits.

Under the leadership of the 3rd SB Twibuke, the Ntambara group ranged way up to the top of Visoke where some areas are not easy to access, so there were days that the group was not checked by trackers. But even on the days that the trackers managed to see the group, Ugutsinda was not always with them.

On Sunday March 8, when Gorilla Doctors arrived at Buhoma (Uganda) for its two-day annual retreat, we were informed that Ugutsinda was found alone and a veterinary visit was requested. Trackers did not locate him the following two days, but then re-found him on March 11 in the Kurudi area of the park.

Dr. Noel tracked him on March 12, and  found him at Kurudi area (same area as the day before). He was resting by the time Dr. Noel got there, but started feeding on Cardus and Gallium after about a half-hour. Noel was happy to hear him make three hooting vocalizations during his observation. Generally, Ugutsinda appeared active and his general body condition seemed to have improved.

Gorilla Doctors is relieved that his health condition is slowly improving.


Gorilla Doctors Staff Gather for Planning and Rejuvenation

By Kirsten Gilardi and Jaco Homsy

Nearly our entire Gorilla Doctors staff  – 16 of us, from Rwanda, Uganda, DRC and the US – came together March 8-9, 2015 for a retreat at the beautiful Bwindi Lodge in Buhoma, Uganda. Our objectives were to conduct a “check-up” on Gorilla Doctors:  to take our temperature and measure our pulse and respiratory rate as an organization to collectively agree on what we are doing well and what we would like to do better. Strategy sessions were interspersed with breaks for meals and conversation, and the peaceful surroundings of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park helped us get away from the challenges of our daily jobs and instead inspire one another to envision the future of Gorilla Doctors.

Special thanks to Praveen Moman and his staff at Bwindi Lodge for making our stay so comfortable and pleasant and rejuvenating.

Also a special thanks to Dr. Jaco Homsy, MD, MPH, who volunteered to facilitate our retreat. Jaco wrote an important report in 1999 called “Gorilla Tourism: How Close Can We Get?” which set standards for gorilla visitation that would minimize the threat of transmission of human diseases to gorillas. Fifteen years later, we asked Jaco to work with our team, and here is what he had to say about his experience:

“After more than 15 years since first reviewing the gorilla tourism rules, facilitating the March 2015 Gorilla Doctors (GD) retreat in Bwindi National Park was a fantastic opportunity to revisit the many issues we raised back in 1999 in the prospect of a growing gorilla tourism industry in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Fast forwarding 15 years later, gorilla tourism has not just grown, it has exploded! I was simply amazed to see how much has been achieved, learned, and discovered since the Gorilla conservation program started. It is clear that far from being resolved, the threat of disease transmission - both from humans to animals and vice versa - remains a critical risk to the survival of mountain gorillas as the pressure from tourism and other human activities in and around the parks never abates. The discussions we had with the veterinarians, administrators and leaders of GD during the retreat confirmed the vital role they play in ensuring not only that our two species can coexist and the gorillas can survive, but also hopefully that they can bounce back to sustainable levels in spite of the pressure they endure.”

“Thanks to GD's work and collaboration with multiple stakeholders in and outside the parks, many of the rules that were based on assumptions and limited experience in 1999 are now rooted in increasingly solid evidence. In particular, research projects under the One Health approach that GD is spearheading in the region are yielding extraordinary results. And the results of this holistic effort are there to see: the gorilla population has increased, gorilla tourism is booming, and the communities around the park have grown and developed in many innovative and exceptional ways. Needless to say, if it wasn’t for the incredibly inspiring work of the gorilla conservation community in which GD plays a unique role, we and the gorillas wouldn’t be there. I am looking forward to continue my small contribution to this remarkable endeavor.”