Kaboko at the Senkwekwe CenterBy Molly Feltner, Communications Officer

Gorilla Doctors is sorry to report some very sad news that couldn’t be shared right away because of security concerns in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). At approximately 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 25, Kaboko, the world’s only captive male mountain gorilla, passed away at the Senkwekwe Center mountain gorilla sanctuary at the Virunga National Park headquarters in the Eastern DRC. His death came as fighting raged between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels less than a mile from the center.

Kaboko, who had a history of gastrointestinal problems, suddenly became ill with vomiting and bloody diarrhea on July 24. With guidance from Gorilla Doctors veterinarians, who are responsible for the health care of the mountain gorilla orphans living at the Senkwekwe Center, Virunga National Park staff members treated him with antibiotics and oral fluids. Gorilla Doctors veterinarians were ready and willing to travel to the park by road and air, but were not able to reach the sanctuary due to the intense fighting surrounding the park headquarters.

“It is a very sad time for the Gorilla Doctors, the Virunga National Park staff, and the other orphan mountain gorillas, as we have lost our close friend Kaboko,” said Dr. Mike Cranfield, Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors, a veterinary team dedicated to saving the lives of Africa’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. “Kaboko has been under our care since 2007, when he was rescued from poachers and required surgery to amputate his right hand, which had been very severely injured by a snare. It is a shame that we were not able to reach him this time, but we are grateful for the dedication of the Virunga National Park staff, who made valiant attempts to save Kaboko as best they could, and who have bravely remained at the Senkwekwe Center to care for the other gorillas despite the war at their doorstep.”

Kaboko in surgery in 2007 shortly after being confiscated.Nine-year-old Kaboko lived at the Senkwekwe Center with 11-year-old adult female Maisha and five-year-old juvenile females Ndakasi and Ndeze. All four were born to wild mountain gorilla parents in Virunga National Park, but were orphaned by events involving humans conducting illegal activities in the park. In addition to losing his hand, Kaboko suffered from mental trauma as a result of his ordeal and was depressed and solitary for more than a year after his confiscation. Kaboko eventually grew to trust his human caretakers and the other orphans but remained a shy, somewhat nervous gorilla. In the last year and a half of his life he suffered from ongoing bouts of diarrhea, which were successfully treated with antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs.

Tank just outside the gate of Virunga National Park (Orlando von Einsiedel/Virunga National Park)Much of the southern sector of Virunga National Park, which is home to about 200 of the world’s remaining 786 mountain gorillas, has been under rebel control since May 8 when a group of 1,500 troops defected from the Congolese army and formed the M23 militia. The Virunga National Park headquarters at Rumangabo has remained in control of the park rangers, however. Safe travel between Goma, the regional capital where Gorilla Doctors maintains an office, and Rumangabo has not been possible for much of this time period.

On July 26, Kaboko’s body was transported back to Goma where the Gorilla Doctors performed a post-mortem exam. The veterinarians suspect that Kaboko succumbed to a severe bacterial infection of the small intestine. Tissue and fluid samples collected during the necropsy will be sent to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in the U.S. to be examined by Gorilla Doctors Pathologist Dr. Linda Lowenstine to determine the exact cause of Kaboko’s illness.

For more information please contact:

Molly Feltner, Communications Officer, mollyfeltner@gmail.com +1-857-719-9258

Sound recording of fighting happening near Virunga National Park headquarters on July 25 

Background article on the war in Virunga