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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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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.”


Coming Together For the Survival of an Endangered Species

Kryan Young, the "Gorilla Walker."

By Michael Morales

It takes a special kind of animal for complete strangers to come together and work to fight for the survival of a species. That animal, the mountain gorilla, was front and center last weekend as the film “Virunga” was nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.

The film documents the mountain gorillas who live in Virunga National Park, as well as the people who risk their lives daily to protect them. Despite not winning the Oscar, the film has touched countless people and brought awareness to the many others who work day after day to keep gorillas safe and healthy.

Gorilla Doctors’ sixteen veterinary doctors and support staff in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo have dedicated their lives to just that cause, protecting mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas. That work includes clinical interventions in the field, helping rescue orphans from poachers, and routine health monitoring of every habituated gorilla. But the workers in the park aren’t the only people who make a difference for this amazing species. 

People like Drew Nichol of Seattle, Washington – a mortgage advisor by day, gorilla activist by night – are doing their part as well. Nichol has hosted local fundraisers, produced his own music CD with the proceeds being donated to Gorilla Doctors, and organized a “One Walk for One Health” community event, raising more than $60,000 to benefit the endangered gorillas. 

Nichol even went so far to walk alone 228 miles from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon in 2008 to raise awareness of the gorillas’ declining population. Two years later, a community walk in Seattle helped fund the purchase of a new truck for the Gorilla Doctors team in DRC. Drew says we have to do everything we can to ensure the future for gorillas. 

“They are an emissary of our connection to the natural world,” he said. “They’re one of our closest allies on the planet. If the mountain gorillas are gone, where does it end?”

Kyran Young had a similar idea, even though he lives thousands of miles from Nichol and had not heard his story. Nicknamed “The Gorilla Walker,” Young will embark on a 4-month journey from Mexico to Canada beginning this May. He has been in training for months and has already completed a 500-mile walk through the Pyrenees Mountains along the borders of Spain and France. 

“Waking up everyday for 4 months, knowing you have to put in 25 miles, it can be quite daunting to think about,” said Young, who was born in Zimbabwe. He credits his upbringing for his love of wildlife. “I was constantly outdoors, surrounded by nature and incredible animals.” 

Once he has completed the 2,663 mile walk through Mexico, the United States and Canada, Young hopes to visit the mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and meet the Gorilla Doctors team.

But Nichol and Young aren’t the only supporters logging miles in the name of gorilla conservation.

Raemonde Bezenar lives in Canada, where Young plans to end his 4-month journey. Raemonde shares Drew and Kyran's passion for mountain gorillas; she took a 2007 trip to Africa that was "the greatest experience of my life." After nine gorilla treks, four in Uganda and five in Rwanda, Bezenar says it will change anyone.

"You look at them, and they look at you, and you can see yourself in their eyes," said Raemonde. "The kids are twirling and playing, just like our children. They remind you of what a family unit is like."

When Raemonde got home from her first trip, she knew she had to make a difference. She had heard that a new home was needed for gorilla orphans Ndakasi and Ndeze, who were rescued when their mother was killed. Funding for a new home was needed desperately, so Raemonde put her own home on the line, remortgaging her house so she could donate the $30,000 needed.  She also created a non-profit organization called Canadian Friends of the MGVP in 2008, and since then has hosted four Gorilla 5K Fun Runs in Edmonton, Canada. She even ran the International Peace Marathon in Kigali, Rwanda while wearing a gorilla suit. 

Her generosity doesn't stop there though. Through her dinner fundraisers and other events, she has helped fund the expansion of the Ruth Keesling Wildlife Health & Research Center at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where many of the region’s young wildlife veterinarians are trained. Currently, her fundraising projects focus on creating scholarships to send African students to veterinary school so that one day they can continue the important medical care for mountain gorillas. 

Raemonde plans to return to see the mountain gorillas she loves so much and hopes everyone can, at one point in their life, go on a gorilla trek. 

"When you leave the gorillas,” she said. “You want to be better human being." 

You can donate to the work of Gorilla Doctors’ efforts in Congo, Uganda, & Rwanda as well. 


Dr. Fred Shares His Gorilla Doctors Journey

By Michael Morales

When Dr. Fred Nizeyimana was hired as a Field Veterinarian for Gorilla Doctors in Uganda in 2010, it was a full-circle moment.

“For me personally, it was like I got a call back home,” said Dr. Fred. “My training at Makerere University was funded by Gorilla Doctors. I did a small research study about enteric bacteria resistance.”

He partly credits that networking experience for his return to Gorilla Doctors.

“In 2009 I had the chance to meet Gorilla Doctors Director Dr. Mike Cranfield at a great ape health workshop in Entebbe, Uganda,” he said. “I had previously been working with the Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Ngamba Island and was looking for a new challenge. It was quite a coincidence I meet the director of another great ape organization.”

Dr. Fred is quick to point out the difference between his work with chimpanzees and his current daily work with mountain gorillas.

“The chimpanzees were in a semi-captive or captive arrangement and we were concerned with their welfare,” he said. “The mountain gorillas are in the wild, where we focus on health care.”

Dr. Fred and his wife, Florence Busingye Nizeyimana, who married in 2011, have two children: a son, Francis Inshuti, and a daughter Felicia Ineza.

“When I checked the pews of the church, seeing my Gorilla Doctors colleagues was heartwarming,” Dr. Fred said of his special day. “When we go into the forest, we are going to see our other family.”

“I like living simple," continued Dr. Fred. "I wake up a 5:30am, get my gear on. I have my kits with me in the truck all the time. By 7 a.m., I am with the trackers, the rangers. They have their briefing. There is nothing that delays me, so we get right to the forest. The time it takes to get through the forest depends on the travels of the gorillas. The longest it’s ever taken me to get to the gorilla is six hours, one way. I stayed overnight once, but not because I wanted to stay. I just felt more safe to remain there, because it was late at night.”

Part of Dr. Fred’s work includes visiting with young kids to teach them about conservation efforts to protect the gorillas.

When explaining the struggles of mountain gorillas to schoolchildren, he takes a basic approach and puts it in terms they can understand. He draws attention to the kids as a group and describes a scenario in which their friends began to disappear one by one with little explanation.

“I see how it saddens them.” Dr. Fred said. “I explain that we have very few mountain gorillas left, so every single one of them counts.”

He also describes the numerous threats that the mountain gorillas face: poaching, setting snares, illegal logging companies and mining companies. 

“All of these affect gorilla conservation,” he said. “Those are real dangers to their survival. If we don’t wake up and do something, then they can disappear on us.”

One of Dr. Fred’s most memorable assignments was early on in his career as a Gorilla Doctor.  In 2010, in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, wire snares were wrapped around the leg and neck of a baby gorilla in the Nyakagezi family.

It took multiple attempts to dart the baby gorilla due to its small size. Once the gorilla was successfully darted and sedated, Dr. Fred and his colleagues removed the snares and cared for the snare-related wounds before returning the baby to its family, which had moved about 2.5 km away. 

“They were overjoyed, as much as the humans were,” Dr. Fred said. “We carried the baby to them, placed it down at close distance, and the whole family came rushing to see the baby and smell the baby. Even the dominant silverback.”

Baby Nvuyekure was soon nicknamed “Baby Fred.”

“I would pray that Gorilla Doctors receives more funding to increase our on-ground capacity,” Dr. Fred said, acknowledging the importance of donations to the program’s success. “We need more manpower in the future.”