by Dr. Jan Ramer
"Last week, several boys brought a young gorilla who had been caught in a snare to a village near Kahuzi-Biega National Park (PNKB) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nobody knows who set the snare, which group he came from, or the plight of the mother, but the village Chief knew that this gorilla did not belong there. He turned the poor frightened infant over to ICCN authorities who immediately made arrangements for PNKB veterinarian Dr. Kizito Kakule to move the gorilla to Lwiro, a primate sancturary in Bukavu, DRC. Dr. Carmen Vidal (Lwiro's veterinarian) and Dr. Kizito stabilized the little gorilla while plans were made to move him to the Senkwekwe Center in Rumangabo where four other orphaned gorillas live in a forested enclosure. He will remain at Senkwekwe for at least a thirty-day quarantine period while he is further stabilized and assessed for disease.
The best way to get from Bukavu to Goma is on a boat that runs the full length of Lake Kivu, so Dr. Kizito and infant Kalonge (named for the town near where he was rescued) took the 3-hour passenger ferry on Thursday, arriving in Goma in the rain, with full ICCN protection and the buzz of UN helicopters overhead. Dr. Eddy and I were waiting at the port to receive the infant and poor little Kalonge already looked a little green around the gills, and we had another 2 hours to get to Rumangabo in the truck.
When we finally arrived at the Senkwekwe Center, Kalonge slowly came out of the transport crate into the caring arms of his new caregivers Babo and Phillipe. These two men are very experienced in the care of orphan gorillas, most recently caring for Matabishi, the infant male mountain gorilla who now lives with the adult female orphans Maisha, Ndeze and Ndakasi. Babo and Phillipe know how to make gorilla comforting noises, gently hold him when he is frightened, and encourage him to eat – not a small task. They will spend 24/7 with Kalonge, even sleeping with him, to slowly regain his trust. It is clear that Kalonge is still frightened and a little withdrawn after all of his ordeals, but a little love can go a long way.
I gave him a quick veterinary exam, nothing stressful, just easy monitoring while he rested in my lap (some days at the office are better than others!). His is thin but strong, eyes are clear, breathing normal, stomach full. He moves well and his snare wounds have healed.
He has 2 premolars – I saw them when he was yawning! We think he must be between 2 and 3 years old. He was picking his nose a lot, but what 2 year old doesn’t? We will watch him closely for signs of disease. A fecal exam will be conducted and he will be treated appropriately. After he has settled in he will be anesthetized for his full quarantine examination including TB test and samples for genetic testing. Once he is found to be healthy, and his species confirmed via DNA, he will be moved to be with other gorillas of his own kind. He is most likely a Grauer’s gorilla based on this history (and his long face), so his new home will most likely be the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center in eastern DRC.
Friday afternoon he was introduced to forest food – wild celery, some vines – at first he just looked at it and then looked away. But after an hour or two of humans pretending to eat it, along with a full 24 hours of consistent love and affection, he started feeling more comfortable, and started eating celery. Once he realized how good it was (and obviously familiar), he really got into it! Of course he still loves his milk and bananas, but a large percentage of forest food is a very important component of his diet. He even started venturing around the yard a bit on his own, always coming back to a caregiver for comfort, but obviously gaining confidence. He is a strong little man.
Little Kalonge would be better off with his family, but for a gorilla caught in a snare he is one of the lucky ones, rescued by a wise chief and ICCN, with his own personal doctors and caregivers. He’ll be back with his own kind as soon as possible."
Gorilla Doctors has treated over 25 Grauer's gorilla infants orphaned by poachers in DRC and provide ongoing medical care to the four mountain gorilla orphans who live at the Senkwekwe Center. Stay tuned for more details about Kalonge's first full exam and his recovery at Senkwekwe.
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