In late September, Drs. Fred and Ricky made the long trip from Uganda to Dallas, Texas for the 49th annual American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) conference at the Dallas Zoo. Generous Gorilla Doctors supporters Barbara and Lewis Hollweg hosted our Uganda Field Vets while they were in Dallas and our team would like to extend a special heart-felt thank you to the Hollweg’s! Below, Dr. Fred shares about his experience at the AAZV conference and visiting the United States:

Drs. Ricky and Fred with Dr. Robert Wagner and Gorilla Doctors Board Member Dr. Rob Hilsenroth on the first day of the conference.

“This was an unforgettable experience for me. We felt at home yet also very far away in the States. It was wonderful to meet staff from some familiar and special organizations to us gorilla vets including: UC Davis, Morris Animal Foundation, Houston Zoo, Dallas Zoo and others. The culture and warmth of the people of Dallas were very humbling! The food was plentiful and so was the love. The taxi man hired by our host was great and we had wonderful conversations, with our topics ranging from vaccines, gorillas, weather, Africa, education, Idi Amin of Uganda… and now I know about Tex-Mex and iced tea! But on to the conference….

For those unfamiliar with the AAZV, the AAZV annual conference is an internationally recognized scientific program that brings together professional veterinarians from all over the USA, Canada and Europe. Veterinarians from developing countries are invited to attend through the Dr. Murray Fowler Scholarship. Eight scholarships were given to vets from India, Uganda, Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Nigeria and Dr. Ricky and I were two of the scholarship recipients to attend this year’s AAZV annual conference!

At the conference, I was able to meet with several Gorilla Doctors supporters, board members, former head vets of our organization and many gorilla conservation enthusiasts. One humbling encounter was meeting Dr. Wayne Faber, President and CEO of Veticus Drug Company, a senior retired veterinarian who was a friend and colleague of the first mountain gorilla veterinarian Dr. James Foster. I also enjoyed meeting with Dr. Benjamin Alcantar, who was very supportive and warm to all of the awardees of the Murray Fowler scholarship.

Former Regional Veterinary Managers Dr. Dawn Zimmerman (L) and Dr. Jan Ramer (R) with Gorilla Doctors Veterinary Pathologist Dr. Linda Lowenstine, and Uganda Field Vets Dr. Fred Nizeyimana and Dr. Ricky Okello at the AAZV Conference.

Highlights of the conference for me were learning about: the latest research on the general anesthetic Alfaxalone (safety, formulations, monitoring, species diversity and upcoming standardization) and the latest diagnostic advances using molecular techniques (qPCR, SDMA) and smart phones/tablets (six-lead electrocardiogram). I also enjoyed learning about the latest treatment and therapeutic methods, such as the use of lasers in treatment of glaucoma in captive gorillas, multi-modal therapy using protein interleukin or IRAP in osteoarthritis management, stem-cell therapy in elephants and various alternative treatment techniques.

Through our visit to the Dallas Zoo, Dr. Ricky and I have been exposed to new species of wildlife, new techniques of clinical care for animals and so many new experiences! We were able to accompany the Zoo veterinarians on their morning rounds handling reptiles, primates, mammals, hoofstock, cats, snakes, and birds with reported health related issues. We participated in the health checks of lowland gorillas, cougars, lions, sea turtles, chickens, bats, porcupines and lizards. Treatment techniques involved anesthesia, endoscopy, radiology, and utra-sonography. We also learned about the techniques of dental prophylaxis, acupuncture and laser treatment. We visited the ocean and participated in the release of rehabilitated sea turtles. We have had talks over dinner with the CEO, departmental heads/ curators, education teams, Gorilla Doctors Board Members Annie and Bob Graham and Peter and Sara Riger, Renee Bumpus, the Zoo’s Development & Marketing team, primate keepers and of course the veterinarians Drs. Joe, Maryanne, Judylee and Christine. It’s been a truly wonderful learning experience.

With the AAZV Conference complete, Dr. Ricky and I are now headed to the Houston Zoo to spend time with their Zoo’s veterinarians and Gorilla Doctors Board Members Peter Riger and Annie Graham. We look forward to even more exciting new experiences and learning opportunities at the Houston Zoo! After this, we will be traveling to the Wilds in Ohio, to visit with former Regional Veterinary Manager Dr. Jan Ramer! While we are in Ohio, we will give talks about our work at the Ohio State University Veterinary School, the Columbus Zoo, the Wilds and Muskingum University. We are looking forward to exploring the United States more and so grateful to all of the wonderful people that have helped to make this trip possible!