Gorilla veterinary technician?

June 3rd 2011

It is definitely valuable that I have veterinary experience while I am out daily with the habituated gorillas. There should always be extra eyes from different backgrounds looking after the gorillas whenever the opportunity. The trackers and guides know these animals more than anyone and after each trek I know the guides (not sure trackers) write a report and it includes noteworthy health observations. I have started doing the same in my notebook especially after there was some concern about a pink coloration on the gorillas’ lips and coughing in the Rushegura group. My Nikon D5000 that I finally mustered up enough money to buy last year and the zoom I got in the mail two days before I flew to Uganda have come in very handy. It is my most important research tool that clearly tells my story and remembers details. In fact, I regularly use the zoom lens to help me see something too far in the distance! When I come back from treks I often see things in the photos that I didn’t that day such as nasal discharge or cuts on the gorillas. It is such a useful investment and the guides were recently given cameras and trained by CTPH to take photographs for this very reason.

May 20th 2011 blackback of Rushegura group Kabukojo with nasal discharge.

My basic health monitoring consists of checking individuals for wounds, coloration changes on the skin, hair loss, limping, coughing, sneezing, weepy eyes, weakness and lethargy, decreased interactions with other gorillas, nasal discharge, abnormal breathing, abnormal feces, abnormal behaviors, and anything I think is important. I identify individuals I see and take many photos and videos. I try to label photos and footage in detail that same day with the trackers and guides. I also carry fecal containers in case I see any abnormal droppings, which can then be properly screened at the Gorilla Research Clinic at Conservation Through Public Health.

May 20th 2011 our advanced team finds night nests of the Rushegura gorilla family group at about 7:30am. The tracker in the background is looking down at the silverback’s nest.

Rushegura silverback hair of Mwirima shows us which nest he slept in the night before. All nests were on the ground.

May 29th 2011 mother Buzinza with coral coloration on her lips concerned some staff but we later confirmed it was the maranthas fruits the animals range nearby.

Very ripe maranthas fruit found on trek to Mubare gorilla family group on June 2nd 2011.

May 29th 2011 adult female Nyampazi of Rushegura group lying down. She was lethargic with heavy breathing and dried nasal discharge on her right nostril. The following day I found her very active, alert, and without any of the same signs. Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka believes her symptoms were probably an allergic reaction to the fig sap that they eat.

I continue to closely monitor the animals and return to groups that have individuals with any symptoms or concerns. The only one that still concerns me is Kabukojo’s cough. He coughs louder and more frequently than any other gorilla in Rushegura group. Coughing is common in gorillas that are eating on Ficus fig plants. Figs and other fruits contain a gum sap that irritate their throats and cause them to cough. He is also a fairly lean blackback and trackers have expressed concern about his inactiveness at times. He is closely watched and I like to check on him regularly to make sure nothing worsens. Gorilla veterinary procedures are tricky because you can only intervene if it is a life or death situation or human-induced such as a snare. Good news is that I have gotten a saliva sample from Kabukojo so he will be screened for respiratory diseases. The fact that the infants of Rushegura group are healthy and playful leads us to believe there is no infectious disease being passed around. With serious infectious diseases infants and babies get very sick quickly and often die. I make sure to communicate any news with wildlife staff and doctors. Doctors also come to check on the gorillas even if they suspect it is merely an allergic reaction as a precaution. In general, the more eyes the better to catch anything abnormal quickly and at the early stages in order to protect the health of these Critically Endangered apes.

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