This week, Dr. Magda traveled to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to perform an intervention in Nkuringo group following a report from rangers that the adult female Msameha had suffered a serious head wound. Dr. Fred, our Uganda field veterinarian, was unable to assist because of a bad case of food poisoning. Here is Dr. Magda’s report:

Msameha is an adult female in who started cycling and mating again when her infant reached 3.5 years. For 4 days all 6 males in the group surrounded her and tried to mate with her, and surprisingly attacked her multiple times. Fights within the group become very fierce and all the males and some of the other females and infants were showing signs of various bites and scratches all over their backs, arms, hands and faces. Msameha had multiple injuries, of which the most serious on the left hand, but none were life threatening. 

However, on February 14 she was found with a terrible injury. There was exposed bone on the left side of her skull and a loose flap of skin falling down to the eyebrows. MGVP was informed around 10am on the following day.

Exposed bone on Msamehe’s skull.

Later that afternoon I went to the group to perform an evaluation. During my observation Msameha was appeared alert and responsive with stomach her stomach half-full. She was resting and touching her wound frequently and there were flies landing on the exposed tissue. Surprisingly, she solicited the silverback next to her and he mated with her briefly. At the end of act he touched the wound on her head and she moved away from him immediately. I planned for an intervention early the next day.

On February 16 we reached the group around 7 am, when gorillas were still in their night nests, which they started to leave on our arrival. The group was very calm and Msameha was closely following the silverback Safari. There was no sign of suspicion from any of the gorillas. I prepared an anesthetic dart and took a shot at Msameha, hitting her in the thigh, but the drug failed to inject due to problems with the gun’s air pressure. This moderately disturbed the female, who walked away and since then was watching us intently.

A second dart was prepared using the same dose. We followed quietly till the female settled again and I was able to successfully dart her. She fell asleep but was guarded by Safari who was accompanied by her 3.5 year-old infant. Both animals were calmly chased away and the female was pulled out of the vegetation to the more open place.

My initial look at the wound revealed that the wound was longer and deeper than we could assess from distance. The cut ran through and below the left ear, with a big area of the skull exposed and a cracked zygomatic arch. The fracture was not exposed, but the bone was mobile and the cracking could be felt below the wound, possibly at the area of its junction with temporal bone. The skin was torn a quarter way down the frontal scull, with the wound extending towards, through and below the left ear. A big amount of necrotic tissue was present, but there were no signs of putrefaction other than in the pocket below the zygomatic arch and the deep ear wound covered by the flap of skin. A few fly eggs were found in the lower part of the wound.

The layer of necrotic tissue was the good medium for bacteria and could cause infection, which, if transferred to the brain, could potentially have a lethal effect. Also the skin moving freely up and down on the skull was making fast healing impossible and even in the best case scenario, the recovery would take months and the female would always have the misshapen head afterward.  In order to ease her suffering and avoid the potential death from infection, the wound was drained with 1.5 liters saline and as much of the necrotic tissue as possible was removed. Later the necrotic pocket in front of the ear was also opened for better drainage. The skin on head was partly closed using a combination of single and pressure mattress stitches to hold the flap in place. Top and bottom parts were cleaned, packed with antibiotic cream, and left open for drainage.

After the procedure.

I brought blood and fluid samples back from the field for analysis at our laboratory in Rwanda. The results show that Msameha had extensive blood loss from the wound and is suffering from an infection. Dr. Fred will visit the group today and dart Msameha with a second dose of antibiotics to help her fight the infection.

Stay tuned for updates…