A respiratory disease outbreak is spreading through Nyakagezi group in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda. Drs. Fred and Noel have been monitoring the situation closely and decided to intervene to administer treatment to three ailing silverback mountain gorillas in the group this week.

Here is Dr. Fred’s report:

Ndungutse, the fourth ranked silverback in Nyakagezi group was found lying along the trail, with a productive cough and appearing weak on October 15. Trackers reported that he had been coughing for 2 days, but was among his group members, feeding and behaving normally. Ndungutse had also been observed coughing mildly when silverback Rukundo received his second round of medications for his respiratory illness (to read about Rukundo’s intervention, click here). 

During my observation, the group, led by dominant silverback Mark, had moved about 50 meters ahead of Ndungutse, who stayed behind with ailing silverbacks Mafia and Bigingo. Ndungutse had a productive cough, but no nasal discharge was observed. He was breathing fast and hard, his abdomen was less than 1/2 full and he did not feed during my 3 hour observation. Ndungutse remained lying on the forest floor for the duration of the observation. 

Ailing silverback Ndungutse, found lying on the forest floor.Mafia is the second ranking silverback in Nyakagezi group. Two days prior to my observation, trackers reported that Mafia had been observed in his nest with a mild cough, but still actively feeding. Mafia had been moving close to Rukundo, the young silverback previously treated for respiratory illness in the group. On my Oct. 15th observation, Mafia was coughing frequently but did not have any nasal discharge. His abdomen was more full than the other two silverbacks, but he was not observed actively feeding. Mafia remained lying down in ventral recumbency from the time we reached the group at 10am until the time of our approach to deliver treatment 3 hours later. 

Second ranking silverback Mafia was lethargic and coughing.

The oldest silverback, and also the former dominant silverback of Nyakagezi group is a male named Bigingo. Bigingo was also found lying on the forest floor with a productive cough, copious nasal discharge and appearing weak and lethargic during my Oct. 15 observation. After a short time, Bigingo attempted to get up and follow the group, but was obviously weak. Mark, the dominant silverback returned to his side to guard him. He did not feed throughout the 3 hour observation, his abdomen was less than 1/2 full, he was coughing frequently and his breathing was fast and hard. We made the decision to dart Bigingo with medications last, as he is known to be aggressive. 

The oldest silverback of the group, Bigingo, was weak, with nasal discharge and coughing abundantly.

After a thorough observation of each silverback, Dr. Noel and I prepared to dart Ndungutse and Mafia first with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. We decided to dart the silverbacks simultaneously; Dr. Noel prepared the dart for Mafia and I prepared the dart for Ndungutse. Cefazolin and Ketoprofen were successfully administered to Ndungutse via remote darting at 1:46pm. We were unable to dart Mafia with the second round of medications as he moved quickly away from us into the undergrowth after the first dart. The group members became agitated, and dominant silverback Mark, along with Bigingo, became aggressive. We made the decision to reassess in the following days, and wait to dart Bigingo to give the group a rest to recover from the stress of the first intervention. 

Observation on Oct. 16:

When we arrived to the group, the gorillas were restless and moving constantly in the Nyamwesero area of the Park. Bigingo was still coughing and but had less copious nasal discharge. Most of the group members were staying close to Bigingo as if protecting him. Bigingo was vocalizing and aggressive during our follow up observation. After the physical exam and assessment, Dr. Noel and I decided to allow the group additional time for recovery. Trackers will continue to closely monitor Bigingo, as well as Mafia and Ndungutse to assess their feeding, moving, and coughing frequency. Following the lead trackers’ report on Saturday, Oct. 19th, Dr. Noel and I will make a decision on whether another veterinary intervention is necessary. 

On a brighter note, the young silverback Rukundo, was was treated for his respiratory infection last month, has fully recovered:

Silverback Rukundo, in good health after receiving treatment by Dr. Fred.

Silverback Rukundo, fully recovered from his respiratory illness.

Update on Oct. 20th:

Dr. Fred was able to revisit the group today and administer mediations to elderly silverback Bigingo. Adult female Cyizanye had given birth during the night and she kept her newborn infant wrapped tightly to her chest. Unfortunately, Cyizanye has also developed a cough, so Dr. Fred will be keeping a close eye on her as she already appeared weak after the birth. Silverback Ndungutse seemed to have improved after the intervention to administer meds – he was coughing less frequently and was feeding normally. Mafia was still coughing frequently, but was feeding again. In addition to the trio of silverbacks and new mother, adult female Inshuti is now weak and coughing as well. She is still carrying her baby and Dr. Fred will monitor the situation closely. 

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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