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Entries in Virunga National Park (32)


Well Wishes for a Friend and Hero

by Jessica Burbridge

Just months after the Congolese Army and UN forces secured the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park after occupation by the M23 rebel group, the Gorilla Doctors were shocked to learn of the attack on Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode on Tuesday, April 15. The warden was shot through the windshield of his truck as he drove from Goma to the Park’s headquarters in Rumangabo on a section of road known as “the corridor”. He sustained severe abdominal wounds, but fortunately, he is stable and is currently recovering in a Goma hospital.

"The Gorilla Doctors board and staff are relieved to hear that he is in stable condition; he is a true role model for conservation" said co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield. "It seems somewhat ironic that the attack occurred following the announcement of the Virunga Alliance". The Alliance is a collaborative effort between businessman Howard Buffet and de Merode on behalf of ICCN. It aims to help the local communities prosper with new hydro-electric sources and a way to sustain the future of the park. 

A Conservation Hero

A Belgian prince and anthropologist, de Merode grew up in east Africa. He was appointed Chief Park Warden, replacing Honore Mashagiro, who was linked to the Rugendo group massacre of silverback Senkwekwe, five females and an infant in 2007. He has worked in DRC since 1993 and Virunga National Park since 2001 and is widely considered one of the great conservation heroes of our time by the international wildlife conservation community. Over the last six years as Park Warden, Emmanuel has endured many hardships, struggling to keep his team of 680 rangers safe and well equipped, often having to negotiate with rebel leaders in order to continue to protect the mountain gorillas and other biodiversity in the park.

Watch Emmanuel’s inspirational TED Talk from Geneva, Switzerland to learn more about his work.

Emmanuel de Merode, Chief Park Warden of Virunga National Park, DRC.

A World Heritage Site

Established in 1925, Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa and spans roughly two million acres. The park is extremely rich in biodiversity and home to an estimated 220 of the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas. UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site in 1979.

Over 140 of Virunga’s rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty since the beginning of the war in 1996. Most recently, park ranger Mbera Bagabo was killed on January 12, 2014 as he was on patrol in the Mikeno sector. Following the ranger’s death, de Merode stated that “the area is sought after by militias for its lucrative illegal charcoal trade with the city of Goma, known to be a major source of revenue for illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.” 

Gorilla Doctors in DRC

With an abundance of natural resources, extreme poverty, and rampant rebel activity, DRC has been plagued with violence for many years. Despite the risks, Gorilla Doctors has continued to provide veterinary care to the wild and orphaned mountain and Grauer’s gorillas in both Virunga National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park. Emmanuel de Merode has been immensely supportive of our work in Virunga National Park.

Emmanuel de Merode with Gorilla Doctors co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield in Rumangabo in late 2013.

In light of the recent attack, the annual mountain gorilla orphan exams, as well as the quarantine exam for new orphan Kalonge, have been postponed until we can determine the security situation in and around the park. Gorilla Doctors is in contact with the staff at the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park and all five orphans there are safe with their caretakers.

The safety of our staff and colleagues is absolutely the number one priority. We will refrain from work in the area until we are quite confident that our staff will be safe” said Gorilla Doctors Co-Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi.

On behalf of all Gorilla Doctors staff and supporters “get well soon, Emmanuel”!


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.


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!


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:



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.


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.