Guardians of Gorilla Health: Team UgandaBy Gorilla Doctors Staff on Saturday, August 15th, 2020 in Blog.
Gorilla Doctors began in 1986 as a single American veterinarian stationed in Rwanda. Today, Gorilla Doctors employs 10 full-time veterinarians from Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This extraordinary team works continuously throughout the year, on-call 24/7 to treat ill and injured mountain and Grauer’s gorillas. Over the next few weeks we’re going to introduce you to our veterinarians, these guardians of gorilla health, who have dedicated their lives to protecting these magnificent animals for future generations.
This week we highlight our team in Uganda – Drs. Benard, Fred and Ricky. All three received their veterinary degrees from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and have gone on to earn advanced degrees in wildlife health management, infectious disease and community health. Over the last 12 months (July 2019 – June 2020) alone, Drs. Benard, Fred and Ricky have worked tirelessly, monitoring 21 groups of habituated mountain gorillas across Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks. They performed 23 clinical interventions to treat ill or injured mountain gorillas and conducted more than 100 health checks and monitoring visits. A significant impact of their life-saving work is the growth of the mountain gorilla population. In December 2019, the Bwindi-Sarambwe census estimated the total number of mountain gorillas in the region to be 459, bringing the global total to 1,063, the highest number ever recorded.
While you may be familiar with Gorilla Doctors widely recognized expertise, you may not yet know the stories of how Drs. Benard, Fred and Ricky became who they are today and what drives their dedication to protecting the health of endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda.
Meet the Doctors behind the Gorillas: Uganda
“When I was about 8 years old I never missed this TV show called Daktari (Swahili for Veterinary Doctor) – this show followed a wildlife doctor who would immobilize and translocate wild animals like lions. It was amazing to me that he could make such a dangerous and fierce animal that calm, so I thought veterinary doctors were cool compared to human doctors, and that it might be something I would like to do.”
– Dr. Benard Ssebide
Dr. Benard started with Gorilla Doctors in 2007 after serving as the Chief Warden of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and before that as the Warden for Research and Monitoring for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Today, he is our Uganda Head Veterinarian and PREDICT Country Coordinator, working closely with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and leading the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT work in Uganda, part of an international effort to detect and identify pathogens of greatest threat to both human and animal health. In the video below, Dr. Benard shares his favorite thing about being a Gorilla Doctor.
“My interest in animals began at home when I was young and I started following our family goats. When the goats would stray, I would use my reasoning – I would try and talk to them rather than use a stick to bring them back. My uncles would come to see why I took so long because talking to them didn’t really work.”
– Dr. Fred Nizeyimana
Dr. Fred Nizeyimana (pronounced Knee-zay-MAN-ah) became a field veterinarian for Gorilla Doctors in 2009 after working at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and with the Kibale Eco-health Project in Kibale National Park. One of Dr. Fred’s most memorable experiences as a Gorilla Doctor was being present during the birth of a mountain gorilla. Listen to Dr. Fred describe this moment in the video below.
“I became interested in wildlife around the age of 10 when I found a wounded squirrel. My mother is a retired nurse and I would always watch her treating the wounds of my siblings so I thought maybe I could do the same with the squirrel. After two weeks the squirrel recovered and went back into the bush and I became happy that maybe in the future I could treat wildlife just the way I had treated the squirrel. ”
– Dr. Ricky Okwir Okello
Dr. Ricky’s dream to treat wildlife never faded and in 2014, after first serving as an intern, Dr. Ricky became a full-time field veterinarian for Gorilla Doctors. Just prior to becoming a Gorilla Doctor, Ricky completed a Master’s degree in Global Health and Infectious Disease from the University of Edinburgh. Listen to Dr. Ricky talk about why it is important that we save gorillas.