The University of California, Davis has had a long history of involvement with mountain gorilla research and conservation.

The legendary Dian Fossey attended UC Davis as an undergraduate student before going on to establish the Karisoke Research Center, and later mentored primatologists and Gorilla Doctors Science Advisors Alexander Harcourt and Kelly Stewart, who went on to serve as faculty in the UC Davis Department of Anthropology. Dr. Linda Lowenstine, a professor 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, long before Gorilla Doctors was formally established as a partnership. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 that the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project teamed up with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center (WHC) 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 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.

Critical Questions Being Answered

What human diseases are mountain gorillas exposed to, and how can we prevent transmission?

Humans and eastern gorillas share 98% of their DNA. Due to this genetic similarity between humans and gorillas, gorillas are susceptible to many of the same infectious disease agents that affect people, such as respiratory viruses. Read more about infectious disease in gorillas.

Do preventative 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 and Grauer’s gorillas on a regular basis. In order to protect the health of the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas, it is imperative that the rangers and trackers are as healthy as possible to reduce the risk of disease transmission from them to the gorillas. Learn more about the Gorilla Doctors Employee Health Program.

How can the health and well-being of the human communities surrounding the parks be elevated?

In addition to the Gorilla Doctors Employee Health Program, Gorilla Doctors helps bring UC Davis Medical Center physicians to Musanze, Rwanda every year to help treat patients at 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?

Yes! Gorilla Doctors approach gorilla medicine from a “One Health” perspective- a belief that the health of one species is inextricably linked to that of its entire ecosystem, including humans and other animal species. Read more about One Health.

Did You Know?

UC Davis is the lead institution for the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project, a global initiative to detect viruses in wildlife that could post a threat to human health and lead to global epidemics. Gorilla Doctors is responsible for implementing PREDICT in Rwanda, Uganda, and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and has humanely and safely collected many 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 PREDICT program.