On Monday March 3rd, Drs. Eddy Kambale Syaluha, Luis Flores Giron and ICCN veterinarian Dr. Lina Aldophine Nturubika successfully rescued and relocated a wild Grauer’s gorilla blackback who was outside the safety of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, DR Congo. This short video captures their extraordinary effort.

A Note from our Executive Director

The rescue and relocation of this wild Grauer’s gorilla this past Monday March 3rd, illustrates the reality of human-wildlife conflict on the health and well-being of both people and gorillas. Kahuzi-Biega National Park is surrounded by subsistence agriculture and densely populated communities, so when an animal – in this case a wild blackback Grauer’s gorilla – leaves the forest and enters a village, the risk of interaction, injury and disease transmission for people and gorillas is extremely high.

Human-wildlife conflict is a complex issue involving far more than wildlife damage.1 In this case, social and cultural challenges underlie human-wildlife conflict in this region. Over the last two years, park authorities have been working with local community leaders to curb illegal park usage (charcoal production, timber extraction), angering people who fear for their livelihoods, and thereby increasing the risk of both human-human and human-wildlife interactions.

When the blackback’s location in a village was first reported to park authorities, they acted swiftly, sending rangers to the village and contacting Gorilla Doctors. The chief warden of the park and Dr. Eddy formulated a plan for logistics and security, and enlisted the help of Dr. Luis Flores Giron, Gorilla Doctors’ capacity-building veterinarian stationed at the Lwiro sanctuary, and ICCN veterinarian, Dr. Lina Adolphine Nturubika also stationed at Lwiro. Because this was a wild blackback (not human-habituated) Dr. Eddy knew that it would be very challenging for just a single team to get close enough to dart him.

Dr. Eddy and Dr. Luis approached from two-sides, both carrying dart guns loaded with anesthetic drugs. Dr. Luis’ team gently drove the blackback toward Dr. Eddy, who was hiding quietly in the vegetation. As the gorilla approached, Dr. Eddy successfully darted him in the thigh, just as the blackback was running away again! It took about 10 minutes for the blackback to be fully anesthetized and then the team went to work treating his wounds. Dr. Eddy sutured a large cut on the blackback’s hand and they administered antibiotics and painkillers. After a 4-hour truck ride, keeping the blackback anesthetized and stable the entire time, the team had him back in the forest and awake by 8:00PM.

Clearly this was a significant effort by a large team of people to save this gorilla. Grauer’s gorillas are critically endangered and their population numbers are declining (77% over the last 20 years) so relocating this individual not only protected the people in the village, it also supports the broader conservation of Grauer’s gorillas. As the human population continues growing in the region, this kind of human-wildlife conflict will likely become more common, as will the need for this kind of ‘extreme’ conservation.

1A.J. Dickman. (2010). Animal Conservation 13: 458-466.