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Entries in Virunga National Park (31)

Sunday
Mar162014

Poached Orphan Gorilla Finds Sanctuary at the Senkwekwe Center

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. 

Infant Grauer's gorilla Kalonge was rescued in DRC in March 2014.

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.  

Transporting Kalonge to the Senkwekwe Center in Rumangabo, DRC.

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 It is clear that Kalonge is still frightened and a little withdrawn after all of his ordeals, but a little love can go a long way. 

Kalonge's caretaker feeding him a bottle of milk after his arrival at Senkwekwe.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. 

Kalonge's snare wounds have fully 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.

Dr. Jan with new orphan Kalonge and his ICCN caretaker at the Senkwekwe Center.

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. 

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!

Saturday
Mar012014

Dr. Jan Returns to DRC to Visit Rumangabo, Bukima

by Dr. Jan Ramer

Drs. Eddy and Jan with Niall and Virunga National Park rangers in DRC.

I finally got my DRC visa and last week got to visit Rumangabo, Senkwekwe Center and 2 gorilla groups at Bukima – it was soooo great to be back!  And I was lucky to share this visit with Niall McCann, his fiancé Rachael and volunteer Kacie Miller.  During our fun week filming with Niall in Uganda (for Biggest
and Baddest - Gryphon/Wild Planet Productions for Animal Planet and ITV networks) I mentioned that I would be visiting Rumangabo and Senkwekwe Center soon – Niall was very interested in this adventure so all the necessary arrangements were made, and away we went! 

We met Drs. Jacques, Eddy and Martin at the border and once the formalities were completed and when we crossed, Goma was just as I remembered it - crazy noisy and crowded, and above all alive with people, bicycles, cars, motos, cooking smells, honking horns and people going about their business.  So nice to see, after all of the insecurity the past 2 years.  We didn’t waste any time in Goma though, because we wanted to reach Rumangabo before noon so as soon as we crossed the border we headed north.   The road to Rumangabo goes right past Nyiragongo, the active volcano that erupted and covered Goma in lava in 2002, but it was so hazy we could barely see the ever-present steam plume at the top.  We traveled past villages that only months ago were a war zone, but were now once again carrying on with normal village life.  

When we arrived in Rumangabo, location of the Virunga National Park Headquarters, I was happy to see a number of old friends including Emmanuel De Merode, the Chief Park Warden, and Christian Shamavu, the ranger who is in charge of the working dogs.  So nice to see everyone again, even the dogs (which include 4 bloodhounds and 2 sniffer spaniels).  The dog pack had been recently increased by the importation of the spaniels and another bloodhound, and by a surprise puppy born to the new bloodhound – his name is Bonus!  Of course all dogs and especially Bonus needed a small visit from the veterinarians.

"Bonus", the surprise pup born to the new bloodhound in Rumangabo.

Next was a quick but fun visit to Senkwekwe center – I was shocked at how big Ndeze and Ndakasi grew in the two years since I’d seen them last!  But they were just as mischeivious and funny as ever during our visit.  They tried to lure Niall into giving them his hand, but he was way to savvy for that!  Maisha is such a good mother to Matabishi, and he was a confident little guy strutting his stuff for our benefit.  They are thriving, and I was so very happy to see them again (and of course meet little Matabishi)! 

That evening we headed to Bukima so that we could get up early to trek to Humba group for a routine health check, specifically to check on Gashangi, the older female who had a cancerous mass surgically removed from her lip by Drs. Dawn and Eddy last October.  We found Humba after a nice 3-hour hike in the forest and they were busy eating and resting when we found them.  All looked well, but shy Gashangi was difficult to find.  After about an hour and a half she was finally located, so Eddy, Martin and I crawled through a short vegetation tunnel and got a good look at her lip.  Bad news – the mass has come back and is quite large.  Fortunately she is not yet bothered by the mass and is in very good body condition.  She is eating well, moving well, and rangers tell us she may be pregnant!  We Gorilla Doctors, along with Emmanuel and the rangers, have some difficult decisions to make regarding Gashangi.  Malignant melanoma is a difficult cancer and because it has come back so aggressively and quickly the prognosis is not good.  We are consulting with our pathologist Dr. Linda Lowenstine, and an oncologist from UC Davis, and will be making recommendations for her medical care soon.  She will be monitored very closely by rangers in the meantime. 

Gashangi's lesion has grown back after the intervention last October.

The next morning we visited Munyaga group.  This is a very calm group with 2 infants who played the whole time we were there!  We saw Kadogo, the bald silverback too, who is not at all bothered by his shiny head.  It was a great way to end our trip with such a content and healthy group.  It was wonderful to be back in Congo and extra nice knowing that things are now stable and safe.  Mikeno Lodge at Rumangabo is open and tourists are coming back to Virunga National Park. We are all hopeful that this stability will finally last.

***

Multiple snares were found and dismantled during Dr. Jan's recent health checks of the Virunga National Park gorilla groups. Here's a video of TV host/biologist Niall McCann and his fiance, Rachael, destroying a poacher's snare during one of the routine health checks with the Gorilla Doctors:

 

Saturday
Dec072013

Orphan Mountain Gorilla Matabishi Receives 2nd Quarantine Exam

by Jessica Burbridge

Orphaned gorilla infant Matabishi, who was found alone in a cornfield outside of Virunga National Park, was rescued through a collaborative effort between the Congolese Park Authority and Gorilla Doctors in June 2013 (http://bit.ly/1bmrmph). Malnourished, covered in burrs, and with a large wound on his back, Matabishi was brought to the Senkwekwe Center in Rumangabo, DRC on June 22nd and has been given round-the-clock attention from a caregiver and critical medical care from the Gorilla Doctors ever since.

Matabishi, at the time of his rescue in late June, was covered in burrs and in poor condition.

Confirmed to be a mountain gorilla by Dr. Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Matabishi will soon join fellow orphaned mountain gorillas Maisha, Ndeze, and Ndakasi in the large forested enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center.

Maisha and Ndeze, in their large forested enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center.

All newly rescued orphans are kept in quarantine to prevent potential disease transmission and allow the infant to regain it’s health. Last week, Gorilla Doctors Co-Director, Dr. Mike Cranfield, along with DRC Field Vets Dr. Eddy Kambale and Dr. Martin Kabuyaya, conducted Matabishi’s final quarantine exam, ensuring that he is in good health and ready to be integrated into the group of female orphans. 

The 52 Media Inc. crew filmed the Gorilla Doctors as they examined Matabishi for a documentary set to air on CBC's "The Nature of Things." (Details on when the film airs will be posted at a later date.)

Drs. Mike, Eddy and Martin take samples for further testing during Matabishi's exam.

"Matabishi was calm before and after sedation and the exam went very smoothly" said Dr. Eddy. "A second TB test was completed during the exam, and it came back negative". Blood samples as well as nasal, oral, and rectal swabs were also collected for future research and testing.  

Gorilla Doctors Director Dr. Mike Cranfield conducts a physical exam on Matabishi.

Matabishi's teeth and interior of his mouth are inspected during the exam.

The veterinarians administered MMR, Tetanus, Rabies, and Polio vaccines and also gave Matabishi a deworming medication as Trichuris, Strongyles, and Anoplocephala parasite eggs were found in the fecal examination.

Matabishi's caregiver watches as the Gorilla Doctors conduct the exam.

Matabishi recovered gradually from the anesthesia and stayed in his caretaker’s arms for two minutes before crawling down onto the grass. The next step will be to gradually begin the process of integration into the group with Maisha, Ndeze, and Ndakasi.

Congolese Park Authority rangers and Gorilla Doctors have proposed the following integration plan: First, all 3 mountain gorilla females will be given preventative deworming medications. Because Maisha is the dominant individual of the group, she will be introduced to Matabishi first. The oldest and youngest orphans at Senkwekwe will be placed into adjacent cages, where they can see, smell, and touch one another (but Maisha could not harm Matabishi if she tried to). Once it is clear by Maisha and Matabishi’s behavior that they are comfortable around and have accepted one another, Ndeze, the second ranking female of the group will be brought into Maisha’s cage to meet Matabishi. Finally, the most submissive gorilla of the group, Ndakasi, will be introduced to their new group member. If these introduction steps go smoothly, then the gorillas will gradually be introduced to one another in the large enclosure (in the same order, most to least dominant).

Matabishi and his caregiver. Photo courtesy of Bryn Hughes, 52 Media Inc.

Matabishi playing with his caregiver. Photo courtesy of Bryn Hughes, 52 Media Inc.

This process can take some time, but all stakeholders want to ensure the orphans' safety and are striving to create a stable group of gorillas. Although Matabishi is an infant at this time, we hope that he will become the dominant silverback of the group and these gorillas will form a strong, cohesive family unit, prepared for their future release back into the wild. 

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.

Wednesday
Dec042013

Monitoring the Mt. Tshiabirimu Gorillas in DRC

Gorilla Doctors continues to monitor the the last remaining Grauer’s gorillas in the isolated forest of Mt. Tshiaibirimu outside of Virunga National Park. Previously separated into two groups named Kipura and Katsabara, the 6 remaining individuals appear to have joined into one group recently. Silverback Tshongo, who disappeared two months ago, has not been located, and unfortunately trackers found abundant evidence of poaching in the area during the time of his disappearance. For more details on the Mt. Tshia Grauer’s gorillas, visit this Gorilla Doctors blog.

Dr. Martin traveled to Mt. Tshiabirimu to assess the health of these gorillas recently. Here is his report: 

“On Wednesday, November 27th, I trekked to Kipura group for a routine health check. I spoke with the ICCN trackers about silverback Tshongo and they informed me that more than 200 snares were found in the area at the time. Even during my visit, I observed many traces of poachers. The ICCN officer informed me that their team needs to be larger in order to cover all the patrols in the Tshiabirimu sector. ICCN is currently recruiting new rangers and after training, some individuals will be assigned to Tshiabirimu. 

We found the gorillas in the Mabono area of the forest, two hours from Kalibina, the ICCN patrol post. When we located the night nests, it was clear that Kipura and Katsabara groups are nesting together. When we reached the gorillas, we observed Kambula, Mukokya and Mwasananinya from Kipura group, but the Katsabara group gorillas were not seen. 

Mukokya watching Dr. Martin and the team of ICCN trackers.

Kambula resting in the bushes.

The following day, we trekked to the Mt. Tshia gorillas once again. This time, we were able to locate the Katsabara group gorillas. We decided to trek earlier in the morning to see if we could catch the gorillas still in their night nests. Unfortunately, the group was too far from the patrol post and we were not able to reach them before they left their night nests. We did, however, observe the two groups merged together for a time.

The gorillas were feeding when we arrived. Silverback Katsabara immediately charged us. Female Mwengesyali began crying and moved quickly away from us with her infant clinging to her back. This reaction is to be expected, as these gorillas are not habituated to human presence. Silverback Katsabara remained behind with the three gorillas from Kipura group for a time, and then joined Mwengesyali and her infant in the thick vegetation."

Silverback Katsabara watching the team.Mukokya and Kambula on Mt. Tshiabirimu.Mwasananainya watching the team.

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.

Monday
Oct072013

Docs Remove Lesion on Elderly Female Gorilla in Virunga National Park

Drs. Eddy Kambale and Dawn Zimmerman traveled to Virunga National Park (DRC) to assess elderly female Gashangi (Humba group), after Park Authorities reported that the female had returned to the group after missing for more than 4 months. Gashangi was last seen with her group in April with a large lesion on her lip that Gorilla Doctors were monitoring. She also had a 3-year-old infant. Trackers reported that when she reappeared in the group, her baby was no longer with her, and within a few weeks the lesion became much worse and she was lethargic and not eating. A veterinary assessment and possible intervention by Gorilla Doctors was planned for Saturday, October 5th.

Here is Dr. Dawn’s report: 

Gashangi had been observed with a raised prolific lesion at the left oral commissure since the group was first visited post-M23 rebel takeover of the Mikeno sector in Virunga National Park, December 2012. Because the group could not be monitored since March 2012 due to the rebel occupation, the lesion’s origin and progression up until the first observation was unknown.

When Gashangi was last visually assessed in April 2013, we were concerned with the lesion and were discussing the risks and benefits of intervening for a biopsy. However, she disappeared from the group soon after. Trackers reported that Humba group had exited the park but that Gashangi and her infant did not follow them, as she is known to do. Subsequently, the group traveled parallel to the park border before returning, and Gashangi likely lost track of where the group was when they returned to the park.

Gashangi returned to Humba group in September 2013, but without her 3-year-old infant. During the first four days of October, she appeared to deteriorate and was reportedly weak, anorexic, and moving slowly with pale hands and feet.  In addition, the oral mass was growing and she was often surrounded by flies. Dr. Eddy was informed of Gashangi’s condition on October 4th, and a veterinary assessment with possible intervention was scheduled for the following day on October 5.

Dr. Eddy and I, along with 5 ICCN trackers and 10 HUGO (Human-Gorilla) staff left Bukima camp at 6:40am, finding the group at 9:00am in the Rungu area. Dr. Eddy initially assessed Gashangi visually from 9:00 - 9:14am. She was found within the group, bright, alert, and responsive, but moving slowly. The mass at her left oral commissure had grown and appeared purulent. She had significant muscle atrophy, most noticeable in her arms and legs. Initially, she was not observed eating although her stomach was fairly full; however, prior to darting, she was observed eating bamboo. Due to the appearance of the mass, an intervention for diagnostic purposes was recommended. Gashangi was darted with ketamine and dexmedetomidine at 10:20am and was fully anesthesthetized at 10:26am.

Dr. Eddy prepares the anesthesia dart.

Dr. Eddy prepares to dart Gashangi to deliver anesthesia.

Dr. Eddy fires the dart towards Gashangi, who is hiding in thick vegetation.

A complete physical exam was conducted during the intervention. Gashangi was previously thought to be around 20 years old, but the condition of her teeth suggests that she is in fact more than 30 years old. Nasal, oral, vaginal, and rectal swabs were collected for testing, as well as multiple blood samples.

The lesion on the left side of Gashangi's mouth.

The oral mass was resected and samples were taken for histologic evaluation; a culture swab was taken of the purulent material at the surface of the mass, and impression smears were taken to help discern quickly whether the mass was granulomatous inflammation or cancer. If the former, the resection could be curative. 

Gorilla Doctors conduct an intervention to remove the lesion on elderly female Gashangi's mouth.

Gorilla Doctors removed the lesion from Gashangi's lip.

Gashangi, recovering from anesthesia post intervention.

Gashangi was still lactating, although her infant is no longer with her. It is likely that her health was too compromised, exhausting her energy resources, to effectively nurture her infant. Trackers will continue to monitor Gashangi closely and report all progress and/or changes in her condition. Results from the biopsy will be posted when available. 

Update:

An initial assessment by Gorilla Doctors Veterinary Pathologist Dr. Linda Lowenstine reveals that the mass is not suggestive of cancer, but further investigation is required to determine the exact cause.  

Also, Dr. Eddy assessed Gashangi’s condition the day after the intervention and found the elderly female with her group, feeding and moving. The suture line was intact and there was minimal swelling.

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.