Karibu, a young silverback in Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, was moving slowly behind the group for several days when the Uganda Wildlife Authority contacted Dr. Fred for a veterinary assessment. Recently, Karibu has taken to leaving the group for extended periods of time, exploring life as a solitary silverback. During a period of time in early April while he was with the group, Karibu was treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications for a respiratory infection. He disappeared once again and when he reappeared in the group in mid-May, he had a small healing wound on the lower left side of his abdomen.

Silverback Karibu of Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Dr. Fred visited the group on July 8 while they were ranging in the buffer zone at the park perimeter and discovered that in addition to the adbominal wound, the silverback had an infected wound on his thigh, but he was still actively feeding. Dominant silverback Rafiki and other group members were very suspicious and agitated, and Karibu was being evasive of the field team, so Dr. Fred was unable to dart the silverback with antibiotics that day. He decided to give the group a few days to calm down and Drs. Fred, Methode, and Jan, along with UWA rangers, trekked to the group again two days later for further assessment and a possible veterinary intervention. Here is Dr. Fred’s report:

“We found the group ranging in the Cyangara area of the buffer zone inside the park when we returned to the group to assess Karibu’s condition. Karibu was with the group at the time of our arrival in the early afternoon. He was not far from dominant silverback Rafiki, who was busy feeding. Karibu moved a little ways and then sat down. After a brief time, he lied down on his stomach with his head facing the ground. He appeared weak and did not seem to be aware of our presence. Even when trackers began to cut vegetation around the area, he did not bother to turn and watch. Flies were swarming around his infected wound and he was not observed feeding at any time throughout the assessment. 

Karibu’s wound was necrotic and in need of veterinary attention.

A juvenile gorilla wandered up to Karibu and began grooming his wound, which was necrotic and had a purulent discharge. We observed some muscle wasting on his back, chest and sagittal crest. Based on these observations, the decision was made to intervene and administer treatment. 

Muscle wasting was evident on Karibu’s back, chest and sagittal crest.

He was darted with anesthesia at 1:19pm and fully sedated 6 minutes later. We cleaned and flushed the wounds with saline, conducted a complete physical examination and collected blood, hair, saliva, and fecal samples for future research. He was given an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as intravenous (IV) fluids. The intervention lasted a little over one hour. 

Dr. Fred prepares to administer antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.

The vets cleaned Karibu’s abdominal wound during the intervention.

The field team remained with Karibu to monitor him as he recovered from the anesthesia. He began to feed and move soon after waking.

I trekked to the group 3 days later, prepared to administer a second round of medications. When the field team and I arrived to Nkuringo group, Karibu was no where to be found. We continued to trek and found him in the Cyangara area, while the group had moved on to the Busharo region. Karibu was out of his night nest at the time of our arrival mid-morning, but had not moved very far. He was actively feeding and moved fast away from the field team once we were within close proximity. He crossed the Kashasha river and we observed him through the thick vegetation. Fortunately, his condition was much improved. He had a full stomach and was moving and behaving like a strong silverback. The UWA trackers will continue to monitor him closely and report any decline in condition to Gorilla Doctors. 

Update on July 21:

Post-intervention, Karibu kept moving in a different direction than his group and was missing for several days before rangers were able to track him down. Unfortunately, they discovered that the silverback had not completely recovered. Dr. Fred trekked up the following morning to assess his condition and found him ranging alone in the Murunaba area of the park, about 2 kilometers from where Nkuringo group was ranging. When Dr. Fred and the field team arrived, Karibu was out of his night nest and was feeding. There were heaps of Mimulopsis arborescens plants along the trail, indicating that he had been feeding earlier. He moved fast when he saw the field team and then once he reached a comfortable distance, settled under some thick vegetation. Once Dr. Fred was able to get a bit closer, he saw that the wound had pink edges and there were no signs of infection. Karibu’s stomach was half full, but there were still signs of slight emaciation and muscle wasting and he appeared weak at times. Dr. Fred made the decision to go ahead and administer another round of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications to help Karibu “get over the hump”. He will check on the silverback again in 3 days. 

Update on August 10:

It seems poor Karibu just can’t seem to catch a break… The silverback’s infected abdominal wounds were almost finished healing after Dr. Fred administered several rounds of meds last month. Now, he has sustained fresh wounds after fighting with an unidentified lone silverback this weekend. Dr. Fred assessed Karibu’s condition this morning and found him weak and dehydrated, with several large wounds on his back. He gave Karibu antibiotics and anti-inflammatory/pain medication and will be watching him closely to make sure he makes a complete recovery.