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

Friday
Oct172014

A Message from Gorilla Doctors on Ebola and Eastern Gorillas

We share the world's deep concern regarding West Africa's Ebolavirus outbreak and the devastating impact the virus is having on people, communities and nations. We are also concerned about the separate Ebolavirus outbreak occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Gorillas are highly susceptible to Ebolavirus; indeed, many thousands of western lowland gorillas have likely perished in past Ebolavirus outbreaks in central Africa.

Mountain and Grauer's gorillas are among the world's most endangered primates. With just 880 mountain gorillas and only a few thousand Grauer's gorillas left in the world, an outbreak of a disease such as Ebolavirus could have a devastating impact on the survival of the species.

If an Ebolavirus outbreak were to occur within or very close to the range of the mountain or Grauer's gorilla, from a conservation standpoint it would be important to consider all measures for assisting their survival. All options, including the potential for vaccination (if a vaccine were available), would need to be collectively discussed by governments and stakeholders.

All discussions about protecting mountain and Grauer's gorillas from Ebolavirus would of course consider the paramount importance of human health, and any decisions could not be at the expense of protecting the health of people living in the communities surrounding mountain gorilla parks.

Monday
Oct132014

Spotlight on Dr. Noel, Rwanda Field Veterinarian

Dr. Jean Bosco Noheli, better known by his colleagues as Dr. Noel, appreciates every day he spends as a Field Veterinarian with the Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda. “This is a commitment. Our work is motivating. When you do it, you are always proud. It’s something that makes you happy every day.” Everyday is a new challenge for 34-year old Dr. Noel, who says he is constantly learning from the mountain gorilla groups throughout Volcanoes National Park.

Dr. Jean Bosco Noheri, better known as Dr. Noel.

Dr. Noel, now in his 5th year with Gorilla Doctors, is walking proof of the power of perseverance and dedication: getting to where he’s at today was not so easy, he says. “After the genocide, the country was building up everything from zero. They created a veterinary school. When I was in my 4th year, I applied for an internship with Gorilla Doctors.” However, Dr. Noel was not accepted at that time. “In my 5th year I tried again, but I wasn’t accepted either. In my final year at veterinary school, I worked in a laboratory analyzing fecal samples from cows and when I was nearing graduation, a position became available with Gorilla Doctors - the Regional Laboratory Manager... I applied and got it!”

He spent 3 years working in the lab in the Gorilla Doctors Regional Headquarters, analyzing gorilla and other wildlife specimens and assisting in necropsies on deceased animals to learn more about disease and the cause of death in mountain gorillas.

Dr. Noel working in the lab in Musanze.

In 2012, Dr. Noel was promoted to Field Veterinarian, a moment he had waited for a lifetime. “In my very young age, I used to hear Dian Fossey on the radio, how passionate she was. That was motivation.”

Dr. Noel says he and the staff at Gorilla Doctors take every precaution when they are in the field for a medical intervention or conducting routine health checks of the gorilla groups by wearing protective clothing and masks. However, with locals entering the park, the health hazards and risk of disease transmission increase.

“In the dry season in the area bordering the park, kids will be go into the forest to look for water. When they are there, they can urinate and defecate, which can expose gorillas to disease.” Even a human’s common cold can be very hazardous to the gorillas. “The rules say to stay 7 meters away. Human beings know that, but gorillas do not. Sometimes, they just come to you.” 

The Gorilla Doctors spend time speaking with local school children about the plight of the mountain gorilla and the importance of safeguarding the environment in Rwanda. Dr. Noel makes periodic visits, particularly to the schools in close proximity to the national park, to talk about his work as a Gorilla Doctor and share his knowledge of wildlife health. He hopes to inspire the younger generation of Rwanda to become guardians of their country's national treasure. And who knows, in one of those classrooms could be a future Gorilla Doctor! 

Dr. Noel shows school children the dart gun that is used to administer anesthesia to begin an intervention.

In addition to human colds and respiratory disease, the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa is another huge concern says Dr. Noel.

“There is a whole national and regional fight against the spread of Ebola. As people involved in this particular work, we are thinking: “how would we protect gorillas? how would we protect our people? Those involved in gorilla conservation are very much concerned.” 

As a field veterinarian, Dr. Noel explains why every procedure must take place in the wild:  “If you take an animal outside the park for care, there is zero chance to take the animal back in the group. Even if [the procedure] takes several hours, everything has to be done close to the group, immediately, and in the forest.”

Dr. Noel administers medication to an infant mountain gorilla caught in a poacher's snare.

And ironically, it’s often easier to work on a 400 pound silverback mountain gorilla than it is a baby. “The silverback is big. It’s very easy to find the target if you’re shooting [a tranquilizer] dart. But if you are intervening for a sick or injured juvenile or an infant, the silverback is the one to protect his family... this is where you might be exposed to danger if you don't pay attention and stay on your toes.”

But why go by Dr. Noel, if his name is Dr. Jean Bosco Noheri ? A simple explanation: "I was born on Christmas Day. Noel means Christmas in French. So it's very short, Instead of saying Noheri, which is very hard for some people to pronounce."

Dr. Noel remains optimistic about the future for the mountain gorilla population and the people who work to save them. “Our goal is to save every single gorilla. Every single life counts for us. The Gorilla Doctors team has grown bigger, so the outcome in the future can be bigger, both in gorilla conservation and wildlife medicine.”

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Watch Dr. Noel as he is interviewed for Australian television program "The Project" about his work with orphan Grauer's gorilla Ihirwe:

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.