By Dr. Dawn Zimmerman

8-year-old female mountain gorilla Izihirwa of Musilikale group.

Yesterday we performed a full veterinary intervention on Izihirwa, an 8-year-old female mountain gorilla who was reported by the Fossey Fund (who regularly monitors Musilikale group) as being very lethargic, not feeding and not moving. The Fossey Fund requested an emergency veterinary assessment, with possible medical intervention, from Gorilla Doctors to assess her condition and conduct a general health check on the rest of Musilikale group. 

On November 20th, trackers reported that Izihirwa was not in her group. The female was found ~200 meters away with blackback Noheli. She was lying down and appeared very weak. No other clinical signs were visually apparent. The gorillas circled back around to the place where Izihirwa was resting and displayed and aggressed her to try and get her to move. She moved ~15 meters, slowly, and climbed into a bamboo stand, laying down again away from the group.

A visual examination was completed between 12:15 and 1:40pm and again from 2:10 – 3:30pm. The weakness and lethargy was confirmed, though all four limbs were mobile. Although she was laying down for most of the observation, she would sit up occasionally to where we could view her head well. She appeared bright and alert, though quiet. She yawned once, showing normal pink oral mucous membranes. No nasal discharge or coughing was observed, and her respirations appeared normal.

Izihirwa was observed picking at the wound on her left shoulder.

She was observed picking at a wound on her left shoulder, which was ~5cm in length, dry and scabby, with no signs of infections. Trackers reported that it was a ~10 day old wound.

At ~3:30pm, blackback Noheli climbed up into the bamboo where Izihirwa was laying, effectively bending the bamboo and forcing her to move from the nest. After climbing down, she moved ~50 meters to rest in a bush. She moved fairly well, but her abdomen was confirmed to be flat, indicating that she had not fed in quite some time.

It was now 4pm, and the decision was made to perform a full veterinary intervention. She was immobilized with ketamine and dexmedetomidine at 4:37pm. No significant abnormalities to explain her condition were found upon physical examination. 

A full physical exam was conducted and samples were collected for further testing and research.

As the sun was setting, the veterinarians worked in the rain to complete the intervention.

Samples were collected for diagnostics, and she was treated with fluids, ceftriaxone and ketoprofen. By the time the intervention was complete, and the anesthesia reversal was administered, the sun was setting and it was almost dark and raining in the forest. After waking up, Izihirwa moved off under a bush, sheltered from the rain. 

A complete blood count and biochemistry profile indicated a likely bacterial infection although of unknown origin since the wound did not appear to be the source.

Update –

Izihirwa has been reassessed by both Dr. Noel and Dr. Jean Felix post intervention. She is back with her group members and her condition is improved; she was observed feeding on bamboo shoots and moving normally with the group. Gorilla Doctors will continue to monitor her recovery.

Izihirwa was moving and feeding during Dr. Noel’s post-intervention assessment.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

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