Infant with abnormally distended belly near silverback_Bikingi_170121_FrN

By Dr. Fred

An unnamed infant in the Bikingi group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, was observed by trackers with an abnormally distended belly earlier this month. He was ambulating independently but with difficulty due to his sagging belly. Distended abdomens can be an indication that an animal has very low protein levels in its blood, and/or a severe parasite infection.

On January 12, Gorilla Doctors performed a parasite examination on a fecal sample collected from the infant’s night nest, and found live roundworms.

Gorilla Doctors visited the Bikingi group again on January 17 to perform another clinical assessment of the infant. The team was comprised of trackers Wence, Medard, and John Rugambwa as well as Makerere University veterinary student intern Tom Ndagga. Unfortunately, because the Bikingi group is undergoing habituation, they are not always easy to get close to, and so we could not visually assess the infant that day.

On January 21 we trekked into the forest again, this time accompanied by trackers Josephat, Moses, Geoffrey, Augustine, Marius, Bright, Flugence, and intern Tom Ndagga. We finally found the affected infant moving close to silverback Bikingi. Unfortunately, the infant’s condition had deteriorated: its overall body condition score was poor, and with a tentative diagnosis of severe helminthiasis (roundworm infection), in consultation with the park authorities, we decided to treat the infant with an injection of deworming medication.

While all gorillas carry a certain number of gastrointestinal parasites, most of the time these infestations are of no clinical consequence. To date, Gorilla Doctors has treated gorillas for parasites only a handful of times. But if a gorilla is young or old, or suffering from another illness, a parasite infestation can be really debilitating. Since this infant has a lifetime ahead of him and is an important member of a group of Bwindi gorillas that we’ll be able to monitor closely for years to come, it seemed prudent to treat him.

Gorilla Doctors and trackers will continue to monitor the infant: we hope the dose of medication will reduce his parasite burden and thereby improve his condition. We will keep you posted!