Have you ever wondered how we provide veterinary care when our patients are wild and our hospital is the forest?

In this post we take you step-by-step through a real intervention from 2019 when Dr. Fred, a true guardian of gorilla health, trekked deep into the forest to rescue a mountain gorilla from a snare in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Injuries caused by snares are one of the major reasons for clinical intervention by Gorilla Doctors, and were one of the main reasons Gorilla Doctors was established in 1986. When Gorilla Doctors is able to intervene and save an individual life, it has a direct impact on the stability and growth of the population. In this example, the mountain gorilla also happened to be an adult female with a nursing infant.

Gorilla Doctors Heading into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. © Skyler Bishop for Gorilla Doctors

Clinical Intervention Step-by-Step

Reason for Visit: Wire Snare Removal

Gorilla: Shida (adult female, nursing mother)

Age: 20+ years

GPS Location: 0802026, 9876646

Elevation: 1942 meters (6,370 ft)

Vegetation: Primary Forest

Time: 12:30pm – 6:30pm

Gorilla Doctor: Dr. Fred Nizeyimana

STEP 1: Gorilla Doctors Receives a Report from Park Rangers

Shida, an adult female, was found by trackers caught in a wire snare around her arm. She was unable to move from the point of entrapment, and was struggling to free herself, making loud cries. Her gorilla family, Mishaya group, was agitated and while Bwindi Impenetrable Park gorilla trackers were able to cut the wire from the tree to free her, the wire remained firmly embedded in her arm, cutting the skin. Shida rejoined her group and trackers called Gorilla Doctors. Watch Mishaya group resting, grooming and playing:

Did you Know?

$35 = cost of basic wound care supplies

$30 = single dose of antibiotics

$1,000 = total cost of supplies for a single intervention

STEP 2: Gorilla Doctors Race to the Forest

Gorilla Doctors are always on-call in the event of a gorilla health emergency. Because our hospital is the forest and we never remove a gorilla from its environment for treatment, our field veterinarians maintain ‘go bags’ filled with medical supplies.

Dr. Methode preps a ‘go bag’ with medical supplies. © Skyler Bishop for Gorilla Doctors

Once we have checked all our equipment and supplies, we often have to travel on rough roads to reach the forest entry point before hiking several hours to reach the sick or injured gorilla.

Dr. Fred heads to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. © Skyler Bishop for Gorilla Doctors

Did you Know?

$2,400 = cost of a single set of new tires (Gorilla Doctors maintains 6 field trucks and has to replace the tires on each at least once a year)

$500 = transportation of supplies to/from site of intervention

STEP 3: Visual Health Assessment

Using the previous day’s GPS as a starting point, Dr. Fred located Mishaya group. The group was in thick vegetation and it took another two hours to locate Shida who still had the snare on her arm. Watch Dr. Fred search in dense vegetation:

Did you Know?

$250 = cost of a handheld GPS

During his visual assessment, Dr. Fred noted that Shida’s hand and forearm were swollen. She was holding her arm up in the air, clearly in pain, and not bearing any weight on the arm.

Close-up of wire snare around Shida’s arm. © Gorilla Doctors

STEP 4: Prepping Medication

As is almost always the case with interventions involving a snare, Shida needed to be fully immobilized with anesthesia in order for Dr. Fred to safely remove the snare and treat her wounds. Dr. Fred quickly prepped a dart with anesthesia and with his excellent aim, was able to administer the anesthesia without causing additional distress to Shida or her gorilla family. Still, her family maintained a protective watch over Shida while Dr. Fred worked. Watch Drs. Fred and Ricky prep medication for a dart:

STEP 5: Snare Removal and Treatment

Once Shida was immobilized, Dr. Fred found that the snare had broken the skin and there were additional external injuries of the wrist, elbow joint and shoulder.

Dr. Fred removes wire snare & treats female mountain gorilla Shida. © Gorilla Doctors

Dr. Fred cleaned Shida’s wounds and administered antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and multivitamins. Within one hour, Dr. Fred had completed treatment, administered the anesthesic reversal agent, and Shida rejoined her group.

STEP 6: Follow Up Monitoring Visit

Park trackers kept a close watch over Shida and Mishaya group, reporting her progress to Gorilla Doctors. A few days post-intervention, Dr. Fred returned to conduct a veterinary monitoring visit to visually assess Shida’s condition and the status of her healing. Shida was healing and ultimately made a full recovery.

Become a Gorilla GuardianTM with Us

While we included examples of some of the costs associated with an intervention, the total cost of a single intervention including follow-up monitoring visit/s averages $3,000. In 2020, Gorilla Doctors performed 39 interventions across Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo and our work continues.

One of the most impactful ways you can support our veterinarians in the field is by becoming a Gorilla GuardianTM. Gorilla Guardians provide continuous, reliable support with regular payments automatically charged to your credit card monthly, quarterly or even annually. Gorilla Guardians keep our ‘go bags’ fully stocked, and our transportation and equipment running smoothly so that we can get to the forest and treat our gorilla patients in their forest homes. As a Gorilla GuardianTM you become a guardian of gorilla health, just like our veterinarians in the field.

Learn more and become a Gorilla GuardianTM today!