by Jessica Burbridge

Lone silverback Maraya was just a blackback when he defected from Habinyanja group in 2011. In the past six months, the young silverback has been interacting frequently with Habinyanja, Rushegura, and Mubare group in his quest to obtain females. He finally succeeded in snatching two females from dominant silverback Kanyonyi in a recent series of interactions with Mubare in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Adult female Kisho, who is Maraya’s mother, and subadult female Nyampazi transferred out of Mubare group, leaving injured Kanyonyi behind and thus ending Maraya’s 3-year solitary existence in the forest.

Kanyonyi, dominant silverback of Mubare group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The two silverbacks interacted most recently on Saturday, January 18th, leaving Kanyonyi with various lacerations and bite wounds. Drs. Jan, Fred and I were at Traveler’s Rest in Kisoro, meeting with TV host/biologist Niall McCann and the Gryphon – Wild Planet Productions film crew when we received the call from UWA that Kanyonyi had been severely injured and was in need of a veterinary assessment and possible intervention. We immediately mobilized and made the 5-hour journey to Buhoma, Uganda (location of Bwindi park headquarters), arriving around midnight. 

Our team assembled before sunrise, ate a quick breakfast and headed to the park headquarters. We gathered a faction of porters to help carry the intervention kits and film equipment and set off into the forest. 

Gorilla Doctors, with Gryphon Wild Film crew, trek into Bwindi to find the Mubare group.

After 7 hours of trekking up and down the steep slopes of Bwindi, we finally located the group up in the Kamushongi hills. Kanyonyi made his appearance while the Gorilla Doctors were busy unloading the intervention kits. The wounded silverback slowly wandered up over a hill and through the vegetation, coming to rest close to the team. Lethargic and weak, the large male laid down on his right side, holding his injured wrists out for us to clearly observe. 

Weak and injured silverback Kanyonyi laid down on his side during the veterinary assessment.

The lacerations on Kanyonyi’s right wrist were deep and becoming infected.

Silverback Kanyonyi had wounds on his right brow and right ear.

The lacerations on Kanyonyi’s wrists were deep and necrotic. He also had a bite wound to his right shoulder, a wound on his right elbow, and superficial wounds on the right side of his face and ear. The wounds on his right wrist were becoming infected, with flies buzzing about, and his stomach was not full, indicating he was not feeding normally. There were no visible bones or obvious fractures, but he only used 3 limbs during ambulation. Completing the visual assessment, Drs. Jan and Fred made the decision to intervene and administer medications to the injured silverback.

Drs. Fred and Jan discuss medications and dosage amounts prior to darting.

Dr. Fred prepares a dart of antibiotics for injured silverback Kanyonyi.

The team finished prepping the darts and quickly followed the silverback as he moved down into a ravine. Although the first dart bounced off of his back, Dr. Fred successfully darted Kanyonyi with the antibiotic Cefazolin in the right thigh at 5:20pm. The Gorilla Doctor was unable to administer anti-inflammatory medications as the silverback fled after the initial darting. We were hesitant to follow Kanyonyi and risk causing more stress to the wounded male. As the sun was setting and we were still very deep in the forest, our team began the long trek back to park headquarters, content that we had finally found the group and the injured male had received antibiotic medications to help speed the healing process.

Post-intervention, Bwindi park trackers reported that the wounds were dry and healing, but lone silverback Maraya had returned to take two of his females. Thankfully, Kanyonyi was not injured further and should make a full recovery. This is the second intervention Gorilla Doctors has conducted on dominant silverback Kanyonyi. He was treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications in December 2012, after interacting with a wild gorilla group.  


The intervention was documented by Gryphon – Wild Planet Productions for an upcoming TV series, Niall McCann in Biggest and Baddest. The 1-hour episode on the Gorilla Doctors will air later in 2014 on Animal Planet – we’ll make sure and keep you posted! 

TV host & biologist Niall McCann speaks about Kanyonyi’s wounds and the intervention for his upcoming series on Animal Planet.

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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