UC Davis and the Gorilla Doctors

The University of California, Davis has had a long history of involvement with mountain gorilla research and conservation. Primatologists and Gorilla Doctors Science Advisors Alexander Harcourt and Kelly Stewart, faculty in the Department of Anthropology, conducted extensive research on gorilla behavior at the Karisoke Research Center with Dian Fossey, who attended UC Davis as an undergraduate. Dr. Linda Lowenstine, in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary medicine, has served as the chief veterinary pathologist for Gorilla Doctors since its very beginnings in the mid-1980s. 

In 2009 the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project teamed up with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, to form Gorilla Doctors. The WHC is a multi-disciplinary research, service and teaching unit that brings together dozens of UC Davis faculty, scientists, students, and partner organizations to tackle the complex issues surrounding the health of wildlife and ecosystems in the U.S. and internationally. The Center aims to address these issues using a “One Health” approach, which recognizes that the health of domestic animals, wildlife, and people are inextricably linked with each other and the environment. Established in 1998, the WHC is an integral component of the School of Veterinary Medicine’s One Health Institute. 

Gorilla Doctors Co-Directors Kirsten Gilardi and Mike Cranfield, both WHC veterinarians, lead the organization’s efforts to ensure the long-term health and survival of the mountain gorilla and the human and animal communities that share their habitat. In addition to monitoring the health of gorillas and caring for injured and ill gorillas, Gorilla Doctors conduct research and develop collaborations that build upon the tremendous resources for animal and human health and agricultural development available at UC Davis.

For example, critical questions being answered include:

  • What human diseases are mountain gorillas exposed to, and how can we prevent transmission? Humans and mountain gorillas are close cousins: what affects us affects them.
  • Do preventive health care services provided to park workers and their families reduce the risk of gorillas contracting human diseases? Park workers have close contact with mountain gorillas and should be healthy.
  • How can the health and well-being of the human communities surrounding the parks be elevated? Gorilla Doctors helps bring UC Davis Medical Center residents to Musanze, Rwanda every year to increase the number of physicians staffing the region’s only human hospital.
  • Can the health and well-being of other wildlife species and domestic livestock in the region be increased, so that both the animals and the humans that depend upon them lead healthy and productive lives? 

As well, UC Davis is the lead institution for the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project, a global initiative to detect viral diseases in wildlife that could cause human disease and epidemics. Gorilla Doctors is responsible for implementing PREDICT in Rwanda and Uganda, and has humanely and safely collected hundreds of samples from live wild primates, bats and rodents to test them for viruses that might be risky to humans … and gorillas.

Read more about the Gorilla Doctors' One Health projects.