by Jessica Burbridge

UC Davis PhD student Laurie Harris has been conducting research on the endangered golden monkeys in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park throughout 2013. Harris met Gorilla Doctors Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi during her stint at the Envirovet Summer Institute and now, Dr. Gilardi serves on Harris’ dissertation committee for her PhD program in Wildlife Epidemiology. With an undergraduate degree in Biology with honors for research in Ecology, and minors in French and International Studies, Harris’ background is well suited for field work in Rwanda. She completed veterinary school in 2008, during which she conducted externships in a variety of wildlife pathology and epidemiology projects in South America, Africa and the United States. 

“I’m really interested in disease ecology and the connections between human, animal, and ecosystem health — in other words, using the One Health approach to understand zoonotic diseases and environmental conservation strategies” says Harris. 

Her work in Rwanda also involves collecting data from the Gorilla Doctors mountain gorilla medical records and developing collaborations with the Ministry of Health and local medical clinics for future sample collection from people living around Volcanoes National Park.

Throughout this month, Gorilla Doctors Head Rwanda Field Vet Dr. Jean Felix Kinani has accompanied Laurie Harris for sample collection among the habituated golden monkey groups in Volcanoes National Park. 

Laurie Harris and Dr. Jean Felix collect samples from Kabawa group in VNP.

Dr. Jean Felix and Harris visited the Kabatwa group of Golden Monkeys, in the Kagaragara area of the park, at an altitude of 2559 meters on October 11th. This group is comprised of 14 adult males (over 6 years old), 49 adult females (over 6 years old), 37 juveniles (3 to 6 years old) and 24 infants (under 3 years old). Another small group of golden monkeys was ranging ~400 meters from Kabatwa group. This group separated from Kabatwa group in June 2012. “The golden monkeys were eating bamboo shoots and moving together throughout the bamboo zone that loops around the lowest altitudes of the park” reports Dr. Jean Felix. “Harris and I were able to collect saliva and feces samples from many individuals in the group and all of the monkeys were in good visual health.”

PhD student Laurie Harris collects samples from a golden monkey troop in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

The researchers visited Kabatwa group for additional sample collection on October 16th. “With the help of the Rwanda Development Board trackers, Harris and I were able to collect 30 feces samples and 20 food samples for saliva study” said Dr. Jean Felix. The group was generally calm, though some of the younger individuals were quite playful. One adult male was observed with a severed tail, however trackers were unsure of how it happened. Six golden monkeys were observed drinking water and playing in a stream.

Dr. Jean Felix observes a golden monkey playing in the water.

A second group of golden monkeys, which is still in the process of being habituated to human presence, will be targeted next for sample collection for Harris’ PhD research. 

Stay tuned for more Golden Monkey photos and info on Laurie Harris’ research!

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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