Meet the Newest Gorilla Doctor, Dr. Ricky Okello!By Gorilla Doctors Staff on Monday, January 12th, 2015 in Blog.
At the young age of 28, Dr. Okwir Ricky Okello has become the newest Gorilla Doctor, officially joining our Uganda field team where he will work with Dr. Fred to monitor the health of every single habituated mountain gorilla in Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks. Born in 1986, he shares his birth year with the start of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP), which would eventually become Gorilla Doctors. He was only 17 years old when he saw his first gorilla in the wild: “I had only seen chimpanzees in the zoo, and I didn’t expect a gorilla to be that big! I could not believe how big it was.” Following a few more years of study, Dr. Ricky was on to college and veterinary school.
“When I was studying Veterinary Medicine at Makerere University, I heard about Gorilla Doctors in 2006 when I was in my first year of studies. I contacted Dr. John Bosco Nizeyi [Capacity Development Coordinator in Uganda for Gorilla Doctors]. I told him about my interests in wildlife.” The two remained in touch and in his 4th year of studies, Dr. Ricky Okwir began his internship with Gorilla Doctors, followed by an internship with the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project, which monitors the outbreak of highly infectious disease in wildlife populations. With PREDICT, Dr. Ricky was able to join Drs. Benard and Rachael as they traveled around Uganda collecting samples from wildlife and gained valuable field experience.
Upon graduating with his degree in Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Ricky knew exactly where he wanted to be. There was no question about it. “My dream was to work with the Gorilla Doctors. When I applied for the job, I told almost all of my relatives to pray for me. When I got the job as a Gorilla Doctor, they were very grateful.” In his first week, Dr. Ricky was already in the field observing the Bweza mountain gorilla group in Bwindi, where he spent more than 5 hours monitoring a sick gorilla. He went back the next day again and followed him, and continued to monitor him along with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority rangers. “Fortunately, the gorilla was improving without any intervention. It was a great experience.”
The chance to see mountain gorillas in the wild is limited to a select few each day who are granted permits by local governments. So, Dr. Ricky hopes to share his personal field experience and knowledge with school children and others. “They should know how important the mountain gorillas are and know the threats they are facing.” He also stresses the importance that gorillas are not always how they are portrayed in the media. “The media has shown gorillas to be aggressive, dangerous… that they can kill people – which is not the case. In my experiences in the field so far, the gorillas are so peaceful and calm. Especially with the presence of the UWA rangers who know each group so well, I do not feel unsafe.”
Dr. Ricky Okwir, though new to the Gorilla Doctors, has high hopes and aspirations for the mountain gorillas: “My dream is to see that in the future, infectious disease and snare incidents in the mountain gorilla population are drastically reduced. I will work hard to protect the health of Uganda’s mountain gorillas and I am honored to join the team of Gorilla Doctors.”