Gorilla Doctors completed the second successful snare intervention in 2013 for a Grauer’s gorilla in Kahuzi Biega National Park’s Chimanuka group over the weekend. Gorilla Doctors Head Field Veterinarian Dr. Eddy Kambale was notified by park rangers that a juvenile gorilla had become ensnared on Friday afternoon. Dr. Eddy immediately coordinated with Regional Veterinary Manager Dr. Dawn Zimmerman, who was completing a Routine Health Check of a mountain gorilla group in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park at the time. Here is her report:
“When I received the call from Dr. Eddy that a juvenile gorilla had become ensnared in Kahuzi Biega, I was high up in Volcanoes National Park, having trekked to 3,200 meters elevation (10,500 feet) to conduct a health check of Isabukuru group.
Timing is crucial when dealing with snares, even more so when the snare is wire: wire snares are usually braided such that there are many loose ends of wire that embed in tissue and as the gorilla tries to remove the snare, it can cut through skin, muscle, tendons, and nerve. Within days, the animal can lose the hand. Untreated, gangrene can set in and the individual can die of sepsis.
So, with that in mind, Joseph (the Gorilla Doctors porter) and I ran down the mountain to get back to the Musanze compound by 12:30. There, the Gorilla Doctors team was in full swing: Regional Lab Veterinarian Dr. Methode Bahizi had called Eddy and packed all the supplies and equipment needed that wasn’t already in Congo, Regional Administrator Schadrack secured money and filled the truck with petrol for the trip, the Gorilla Doctors compound guard Samuel quickly washed all my muddy field gear, Rwanda Field Veterinarian Dr. Jean Bosco Noheli helped to pack supplies and agreed to take the two tourist presentations scheduled for the next day, and Papa Leon, our cook, made me a lunch to go!
I drove the hour from Musanze to the Gisenyi-Goma border, crossing within 15 minutes, where DRC Administrator Dr. Jacques Iyana was waiting to drive me to the boat dock where he had reserved a ticket on the 2pm boat, the last boat of the day. We arrived at 1:58pm, just in time. I met Dr. Eddy there who was negotiating a cheese purchase so we would have something to eat that night. All five of our bags were weighed and tagged and we settled in some of the last remaining seats on the “speed boat”, a 3 hour journey across Lake Kivu to Bukavu, DRC.
Once docked at Bukavu, our taxi met us and we sped off through the city stopping only to find some pasta and bread on the 30 minute drive to Tshivanga Station, the Kahuzi-Biega park headquarters, situated at the edge of the park. Dr. Kizito, the PNKB veterinarian, met us on arrival and settled us into our digs in an old hospital outside of the park. Me and fellow female Gorilla Doctors staffer Jess Burbridge usually stay in the old maternity room while the guys stay in other rooms in the building. Once settled, Eddy and I check the field bags while Kizito cooked up some spaghetti on a gas camping cooker on the hall floor. Tired from the trip, we retired early for a 5am wakeup by the local roosters.
In the morning, we repack the field bag (which contains all our drugs including anesthetics, darting equipment, and sampling supplies) and meet the rangers at 7am. We are driven ~15 minutes up the dirt road which transects the park to a trail, where we set off to track the group. Yesterday, the group was found very close to the road but today they had moved farther away and we lost the trail several times. It is also difficult to find them in the dry season as the PNKB forest is very brushy and the eastern lowlands love to climb high up into the trees.
However, at just one hour in, we were in their midst. Now we had to find the juvenile. There are 36 gorillas in Chimanuka group, and we slowly trekked through them stopping at each individual high up in the trees or low under the brush to check all their limbs before moving on. We passed by adult female named Makali, which means “tough” in Swahili. This is the female that made the last intervention difficult due to her nature, hollering at us every time we approached and alerting dominant silverback Chimanuka. Today, however, she seemed calm up in the tree with her infant. And once again, we were lucky, finding the ensnared gorilla up in a tree only 30 minutes later.
Shortly after identifying him, the juvenile male climbed down and was successfully darted intramuscularly in the right upper thigh with 140mg of ketamine and 0.7mg of dexmedetomidine at 9:48am. The first sign of anesthesia was noted at 9:52am, and he was fully induced at 9:55am.
He did well under anesthesia with heart rate, respiratory rate, MM color, and oxygen saturation (pulse oximetry) carefully monitored. The wire snare was tight around his left wrist, cutting into the skin and subcutaneous tissues ventrally. The damaged tissue, however, appeared viable without overt purulence or necrosis though it did have a slight foul odor. Granulation had begun around the wire, suggesting the wound was approximately 5 days old. The left hand was significantly swollen but viable though nerve damage is possible.
Because the wire snare was so deeply embedded in the wrist tissue, it took a while to get the wire cut for removal. After removal, the wound was flushed with dilute betadine. The antibiotic ceftriaxone and anti-inflammatory ketoprofen were administered to help speed the healing process. Additionally, blood and hair samples were collected for future research, as well as nasal, rectal, and oropharyngeal swabs for testing.
The gorilla tried to sit up at 10:24am, when we had almost finished with the intervention. We administered the reversal at 10:25am with 7mg atipamezole. He subsequently rolled away from us, and was on his feet at 10:35am when he moved away joining 3-4 other juvenile gorillas of the group. Approximately 2 hours later, Kahuzi Biega trackers revisited the group and reported him to be climbing and eating. Viability and use of the hand will continue to be monitored, as well as any sign of wound infection.
In a message to poachers "saying we want the gorillas to live freely in their habitat”, the Kahuzi Biega trackers have named the young gorilla Uhuru, or “freedom” in Swahili.
This is the fourth snare intervention performed by Gorilla Doctors in Kahuzi Beiga National Park in the last year. Two Grauer’s gorillas were released from snares in September 2012. For more on those interventions, click here. The third snare intervention, releasing 3.5-year-old Iragi of Chimanuka group, was conducted by Drs. Eddy and Martin on January 29. To read about Iragi’s intervention, click here.
Dr. Eddy and his accompanying team of park rangers found and destroyed two additional wire snares subsequent to the intervention. When the DRC Head Field Vet returned to Chimanuka group to follow up on his patient, he found Uhuru recovering well, using his hand to walk and feed and keeping up with the group without a problem.
You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.
Please consider supporting us by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.