Dr. Mike Cranfield
Executive Director 1998 – 2019
We honor the life and legacy of Dr. Mike Cranfield, Gorilla Doctors’ executive director from 1998 to 2019, who we lost too soon on August 28, 2023. So much of Gorilla Doctors’ contribution to the recovery of mountain gorillas and the expansion of our mission to include critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, and the people who protect them, is the result of Dr. Mike’s tenacity.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead
No one embodied this idea more than Dr. Mike Cranfield throughout his life and career. He inspired, empowered, and helped build a global community of dedicated conservationists. Gorilla Doctors began in 1986 as a single American veterinarian in Rwanda. Dr. Mike took over the program in 1998, then known as the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). He expanded the project to include health monitoring of the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks in Uganda. In 2006, he expanded our mission even further to include critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas in eastern DR Congo. The Grauer’s gorilla population has declined more than 70% over the last twenty years making Dr. Mike’s foresight and the gorilla’s health monitoring more urgent than ever.
In 2009, he formed a partnership between MGVP and the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine – Gorilla Doctors was established, launching a new era of cutting-edge scientific research. This partnership also allowed for the expansion of Dr. Mike’s pioneering One Health approach to conservation medicine. Early on Dr. Mike recognized the interconnectedness of people, animals, and their shared environment. He knew the health of one impacted the health of all. In 2001, he implemented a preventative health program for employees, park staff, and their families – keeping healthy those people coming into near-daily contact with gorillas in the wild.
Under Dr. Mike’s mentorship, dozens of African veterinarians, scientists, and future conservation leaders have been trained by Gorilla Doctors. Today, Gorilla Doctors staff is more than 80% African with over a dozen Rwanda, Ugandan, and Congolese veterinarians running on-the-ground operations across the three countries.
Dr. Mike’s legacy will live on through each gorilla life he saved, each wildlife veterinarian he trained, and every single One Health project he launched in his quest to transform the health of people, animals, and the environment. Indeed, he changed the world for the better and we honor his extraordinary impact through our daily dedication to saving a species, one gorilla at a time.