By Dr. Eddy

How it started:
On September 2, 2016 I received an email from Maria Martinez, head of the Education Department at the Guadalajara Zoo, inviting me to be a Keynote Speaker at the International Gorilla Workshop 2016 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. I couldn’t believe it at first. My first thought was that it was a scam because I do not know many people in Mexico and had never heard of Guadalajara Zoo. Then I received a second email from Ismael Hirji, a friend of mine who I’d met through Dr. Jan Ramer when he first visited Gorilla Doctors. Ismael introduced me to Dr. Luis Soto, a veterinarian at Guadalajara Zoo, so from that point I contacted Dr. Mike, asking him if he knows something about this particular zoo. He was familiar with Guadalajara Zoo and encouraged me to explore this opportunity. I learned that the world is actually quite small with all the connections we can make through friends, and I was very excited for my first time serving as a Keynote Speaker.

Trip preparations:
I started applying for a visa and I found that not many countries have consulates near my home country of DR Congo except in Nairobi, Kenya. With the help of Guadalajara Zoo and Gorilla Doctors I received all required documents and underwent my visa interview at the Mexican consulate in Nairobi. I was issued a visa within 24 hours (which has never happened to me while travelling away from Africa) and this made me much more comfortable with the idea of visiting to Mexico for the first time in my life.

I prepared my presentation and on October 28, I left home travelling to Kigali to take my flight with KLM Company. While checking in, I was told that I would not be able to travel on this flight because Mexico has a new regulation saying that KLM flights are not allowed to take people to Mexico. It didn’t make sense to me since I had received an email confirming my flight the day before.  Long story short, I was finally allowed to travel to Mexico (2 days later than initially planned) using the same ticket.

In Mexico:
I reached the Guadalajara Airport at 11pm on October 31 and was assisted by a Guadalajara Zoo veterinarian, Luis, who took me to my hotel. By this time I had already missed the pre-conference tour and ice-breaker sessions. But I was just glad to have finally made it to Mexico.

As a keynote speaker, I had four talks to present in four days.
1. Gorilla Doctors’ One Health Approach through Healthcare, Research, Capacity-building and Strategic Partnerships
2. Gorilla Healthcare and Interventions: an overview of various cases and their management (I went case by case to show how each case is unique and how every day we learn new things from our mistakes and successes)
3. Cardiovascular and Hepatic disease in Wild Grauer’s Gorillas and a briefing on the Project of Grauer Gorilla Re-introduction into the Wild.
4. Gorilla Doctors and Community Work: where and how we get involved in community development (specifically, how Gorilla Doctors helps to improve the health of rangers and their family members through the employee health program where people working on regular basis in close proximity to gorillas undergo an annual health check and quarterly deworming process, and are invited to attend various health education presentations. We also contribute to improve the health of domestic animals through research doing survey studies on zoonotic diseases like tuberculosis and brucellosis; helping in dogs and cats rabies vaccination program. I could not forget to mention the work Gorilla Doctors does in human-animal conflicts resolution, e.g. when we transferred animals like the silverback Mukunda, a famous crop raider back to the wild and translocated some baboons attacking people in community.

During my stay, I visited the Guadalajara zoo, a 57-hectare facility with approximately 4,000 animals, and I was scheduled to give two talks for the zookeepers and other employees who could not attend the meeting. I received several questions regarding the processes behind anesthetizing a wild gorilla in a large group and in an open forest area. I explained that we work with experienced teams that are trained with excellent communication skills.

In Mexico, I not only learned about animals, but also about Mexican culture. My visit coincided with Day of the Dead so I participated in the festivities during my stay – I even had my face painted! The people I met in Mexico were amazing and very hospitable, always greeting me with beautiful smiles. I will never forget the people and my wonderful experiences in this country.

I reiterate my gratitude to the Guadalajara Zoo Director Maria, veterinarian Dr. Luis, and the lovely zoo employees for organizing this great workshop for saving gorillas, and for taking such great care of me during my first visit to Mexico.

I also I thank my Gorilla Doctors team for supporting my trip and staying behind to continue the great work of saving gorillas.