The call came in at 5:40pm –  Ndakasi, one of the 4-year-old orphan gorillas at Senkwekwe Center in Rumangabo, was in serious condition.  The network was horrible as I tried to communicate with Dr. Eddy and with Emmanuel de Merode, the Director of Virunga National Park.  When the caregivers called the gorillas back into the night house that afternoon, Maisha, Kaboko and Ndeze came in, but Ndakasi was nowhere to be found.  Caregivers Richard and Patrick called and called but she did not come in.  They then went to the observation platforms to look over the yard from above, and saw no movement at all.  Finally entered the yard and began a one-hour search. 

Torn vines on the tree indicate where Ndakasi lost her footing.They found her at the base of a tall tree in the middle of the yard, disoriented and barely able to move.  The caretakers carried her back into the night house and her condition deteriorated.  This was clearly an emergency, and even though it was getting dark and the 1.5 hour drive from Goma to Rumangabo could be insecure at night, Dr. Eddy immediately headed to Rumangabo.

Ndakasi in the fetal position.When Dr. Eddy arrived Ndakasi’s condition was very serious.  She preferred to stay in fetal position, but if stimulated she could only circle to the left, she could not focus her eyes, and could not use her right arm properly.   The most likely scenario was that she fell from a tree and sustained a serious concussion.  Dr. Eddy administered some powerful anti-inflammatory drugs hoping to reduce the inflammation in her brain, and caregivers stayed by her side all night. 

Drinking milk.

Finally, at 1am, there was a hopeful sign of improvement.  Ndakasi seemed hungry, and drank a cup of milk.  Dr. Eddy was relieved and able to get a little sleep for the next few hours.

Feeling worn out the next day.The next morning Dr. Jacques and I left Goma early to join Dr. Eddy at Senkwekwe. We found Ndakasi to be even more alert than the night before, but still very quiet and weak, still not using her right arm/hand normally.  She had regained her eyesight though, and was moving more normally in general. 

Maisha keeps an eye on Ndakasi as Drs. Jan and Eddy examine her.We all still felt it important to do a complete examination, which she would not allow us to do while she was awake (even in her weakened state she tried to bite us!), so we gave her some drugs to sedate her and were able to check her whole body and get blood samples. 

Drs. Jan and Eddy examine Ndakasi.We found no obvious injures, and her bloodwork was normal.  This also supported our diagnosis of concussion.  We gave her another powerful anti-inflammatory injection and waited and watched for more improvement.

Ndakasi and Ndeze eating together.Fortunately, by the end of the day Ndakasi was acting nearly normally!  She was hungry, ate almost a normal amount of food, and even grunted at Ndeze when Ndeze tried to take food from her! She was still not using her right hand completely normally, but she was clearly on the road to recovery.   We were all so very relieved.  By the next morning caregivers felt Ndakasi was completely back to her normal self, and she was reunited with Maisha, Kaboko and Ndeze, and went back into the yard for a normal day.  Let’s hope she learned  her lesson about how to climb tall trees!  

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