Blog by: Dr. Mike Cranfield, Executive Director, MGVP, Inc. and Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, Co-Directors, Mountain Gorilla One Health Program

Dr. Mike Cranfield (left) and Dr. Kirsten Gilardi (right)

The United Nations designated 2009 as the Year of the Gorilla. With the world’s attention drawn to these magnificent animals, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) was looked to more than ever for providing expertise on health issues affecting gorilla conservation.

The year 2009 was also unique in that we all experienced the worldwide epidemic of an infectious disease:  H1N1, better known as the swine flu. This pandemic reinforced the concept that diseases emerge and can spread very quickly around the world by modern human activities. This was important for our organization, because the largest threat to the survival of the mountain gorilla, with only 700 animals left in the wild, is disease, especially diseases they can contract from people. For this reason, the “one health” approach to mountain gorilla conservation that the MGVP has always taken has never been more important. And so this year, the MGVP transformed itself into a new and even more powerful organization, the Mountain Gorilla One Health Program, by partnering with the Wildlife Health Center, at the University of California Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. This partnership provides incredible depth, expertise and capacity to the mountain gorilla health program we started in 1986. The Mountain Gorilla One Health Program takes into consideration the fact that the health of the gorillas is intimately linked to the health of other wildlife in the park, and of the people and their livestock surrounding the Park.

With tremendous pride and gratification, the MGVP just moved two orphan mountain gorillas, Ndeze and Ndakasi, to a new facility, thanks to the herculean efforts of Ms.Raemonde Bezenar and the Canadian friends of MGVP, who sponsored the construction of this new Senkwekwe Centre in Rumangabo, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The orphans had been living in sub-optimal conditions in Goma, whereas Senkwekwe is a beautiful forest sanctuary. In collaboration with Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the MGVP continues to care for eight additional gorilla orphans in our facility at Kinigi in Rwanda, as well as three Eastern Lowland Gorilla orphans in Goma.  

Most importantly, to reduce the exposure of gorillas to respiratory diseases from humans, the MGVP and governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda revised the tourist regulations to now require the wearing of masks by conservation personnel and tourists when viewing the gorillas – this will help to reduce the possibility that new viruses like H1N1, mentioned earlier, could infect mountain gorillas.

Last but not least, in 2009 we continued our programs that ensure the health of gorilla trackers and guides, and in collaboration with Wyman World Health Partners, we continued to help renovate community clinics close to the Park to improve the delivery of health of hygiene services to the people of the region. As well, we made great progress in setting up our Model Farms that demonstrate for communities how to increase production and efficiency of cows, and make bio-gas from manure to reduce their reliance on charcoal taken from the forest. In collaboration with Project Rwanda, we are providing cargo bikes to farmers to help them get their products to the local markets, and to district veterinarians to make their jobs more efficient.

This has been an incredibly exciting year for the MGVP, and having now established the Mountain Gorilla One Health Program with UC Davis, 2010 promises to be even more productive. Please join us in our efforts to ensure the survival of mountain gorillas and the well-being of their animal and human neighbors by donating today.  

If you are a new donor, or a returning donor who can make your largest gift ever, your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a donor who, like you, believes that our work to help mountain gorillas and people is critical.

Wishing you a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

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