Respiratory Illness Spreads Through Sabyinyo Group

The following article was published on Gorilla Doctors Blog on Wednesday January 23rd, 2013.  Respiratory illness is one of the largest threats to the survival of great apes.

On January 22, the Sabyinyo trackers reported that five gorillas were coughing in Sabyinyo group: dominant silverback Guhonda, beta silverback Gihishamwotsi, adult female Kampanga and her infant Ishimwe, and adult female Gukunda.  A veterinary assessment was requested and completed the following day, confirming six members with respiratory disease: Guhonda, Gihishamwotsi, Gukunda, Kampanga, Ishimwe, and Umurinzi. Guhonda appeared to be the worst, with a deep, persisitent cough, he was lethargic and not feeding normally. Dr. Dawn and Dr. Noel scheduled a recheck and possible intervention for the following day.

Dominant silverback Guhonda, one of the largest silverbacks in Volcanoes National Park, is the most seriously afflicted with the respiratory illness.

Dominant silverback Guhonda, one of the largest silverbacks in Volcanoes National Park, is the most seriously afflicted with the respiratory illness. © Gorilla Doctors

On January 24, Sabyinyo group was found only 2.5 km from the previous day’s site, again in the bamboo region.  Seven gorillas were confirmed to be affected with symptoms of respiratory disease.  The eighth presumably affected gorilla, second silverback Gihishamwotsi, was not found in the group.  The team spent about 2 hours looking for him, including returning to the previous day’s site and tracking back to the current site, but he was not found.  Six nests were discovered out of the usual nine, and multiple nests were thought to be high up in the trees.  Therefore, they could not even assess if he nested with the group.

Dominant silverback Guhonda was seen as soon as they entered the group. He was active and eating; his stomach appeared to be 3/4 full. He still exhibited a cough and nasal discharge, but was much improved from the previous day.

Dominant silverback Guhonda with nasal discharge, but active and feeding. © Gorilla Doctors

Blackback Shirimpumu, who had previously not exhibited clinical signs, was found coughing today. There was no nasal discharge, and he was active and eating. Icyerekezo was also not exhibiting clinical signs yesterday but was found coughing today. But as with Shirimpumu, there was no nasal discharge and he was active and eating.

30-year-old adult female Kampanga appeared weak, moving only about 100 meters at a time and stopping in sternal recumbency to rest.  She would pick at vegetation occasionally but was not observed eating much.  Her stomach appeared only half full.  She was not interested in following or responding to the calls of her 1.5 year old infant, Ishimwe.

1.5 year old infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge.

1.5 year old infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge. © Gorilla Doctors

Kampanga exhibited an intermittent productive cough and an elevated respiratory rate with shallow breaths. A viral origin is presumed with secondary bacterial infection which may be affecting her lower airways.

Kampanga and infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge

Kampanga and infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge. © Gorilla Doctors

Due to the severity of Kampanga’s clinical signs, Park authorities and veterinarians agreed that an intervention was warranted.  However, due to the risk of a full anesthetic event, they decided to dart her with an antibiotic and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

Dr. Noel prepares dart for Kampanga.

Dr. Noel prepares dart for Kampanga. © Gorilla Doctors

At 9:45 and 9:48am, Dr. Noel successfully darted Kampanga in the right epaxial musculature with two 5cc darts holding 3.8 grams of ceftriaxone and 150 mg of ketoprofen.

The respiratory disease is still spreading through Sabyinyo group, with two new clinical cases today. Currently, 8 of the 14 individuals in Sabyinyo group are suspected to be infected. Tomorrow, a search team will be sent to look for the missing silverback, Gihishamwotsi. Elisabeth Nyirakaragire (VNP veterinary warden) will recheck Kampanga and other afflicted individuals in Sabyinyo group while Gorilla Doctors have been requested to assess a very weak silverback in another group, Urugamba. Both groups are ranging close to the park border so response time should be reasonable.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on their Facebook page, where photos and notes are posted from monthly visits.

Please consider supporting Gorilla Doctors 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.

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