This month we launched Meet the Gorilla Doctors: Guardians of Gorilla Health to introduce you in more detail than ever before to our dedicated team of Ugandan, Congolese and Rwandan veterinarians working to protect the health of endangered mountain gorillas and critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas. Their internationally-recognized work in conservation medicine, and infectious disease research has helped contribute to the recovery of mountain gorillas, the only great ape in the wild whose IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) status has changed from critically endangered to endangered, a rare conservation success story.

A mountain gorilla in Pablo group feeding in a tree. Volcanoes National Park. Photo by Skyler Bishop for Gorilla Doctors.

Gorilla Doctors began in Rwanda in 1986 with a single American veterinarian who established the Volcanoes Veterinary Center. More than three decades later, that team has grown and this week we highlight Team Rwanda 2020 – Drs. Julius, Noel, Gaspard, Methode and Adrien – who operate our regional headquarters in Musanze, and monitor the health of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. In the video below, hear from each of them on topics as varied as why every intervention is unique or how young people can become conservationists. You won’t want to miss each of their stories.

Meet the Doctors Behind the Gorillas: Team Rwanda

Dr. Julius Nziza

“When I was young we had chickens and sometimes when we had many, we could sell them. Every child at home was given a chicken to look after. The chickens often had many issues like Newcastle disease and predators, and mine always survived longer. So, in the whole family, I was taken as the fortunate one because my chickens survived longest. In fact, some of my siblings would give me their chicken to look after so that they would live longer. So, I grew up loving chickens and then goats and cows and then all wildlife but especially gorillas after experiencing multiple encounters with them while doing research in Bwindi National Park back in 2005.” 

Dr. Julius Nziza, Head Veterinarian and PREDICT Country Coordinator. Photo by Skyler Bishop for Gorilla Doctors.

Dr. Julius serves as the Head Veterinarian and PREDICT Country Coordinator for Rwanda, having joined Gorilla Doctors in 2010. Prior to his leadership for Gorilla Doctors, Julius served as the veterinary warden at Nyungwe National Park. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and has a master’s degree in International Infectious Disease Management from the University of Rwanda. Hear Dr. Julius’ advice to young conservationists in the below video.

Dr. Jean Bosco (Noel) Noheri

“My favorite thing about being a Gorilla Doctor is always about the outcome. When you’re doing an intervention it is very stressful and challenging. It takes a team. After a while you see results – an individual getting healthy, a female having a baby – so you feel like, wow, I’ve been a part of this. Saving a gorilla and being a Gorilla Doctor, is a unique group to be connected to – the whole team, from day one up to today, and to see positive change in the gorillas, and know this team is part of it, that is special.”

Dr. Noel preps a dart with medication for an intervention to treat an ill mountain gorilla. Taken pre-COVID. Photo by Skyler Bishop for Gorilla Doctors.

Dr. Noel joined Gorilla Doctors in 2009, originally serving as our Regional Laboratory Technician before becoming a Field Veterinarian. He earned his veterinary degree from the Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in 2010. In addition to his very active field schedule (Gorilla Doctors’ makes “forest calls”), Dr. Noel also serves as the President of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association. In the video below, Dr. Noel tells us how each intervention is unique and why he remembers every single one.

Dr. Gaspard Nzayisenga

“I dedicated my life to this work because I immediately fell in love with gorillas the very first time I saw them. It was a memorable day – I was impressed looking at and studying the silverback and he was studying me. I was sort of paralyzed with emotions and I felt a connection. I really feel like I need to be part of this movement to save this species.”

Dr. Gaspard takes a well-earned break post-intervention. Taken pre-COVID. © Gorilla Doctors

Dr. Gaspard was hired as a full-time field veterinarian after an 8-month internship with Gorilla Doctors where he gained valuable hands-on field experience such as health checks and clinical interventions. Dr. Gaspard also worked on PREDICT, supporting Dr. Julius and Rwandan partners as a field assistant. Dr. Gaspard earned his veterinary degree in 2012 from Umutara Polytechnic University and is currently working on a master’s degree in Wildlife Health and Management from Makerere University. Hear Dr. Gaspard’s beautiful message about why it is so important that we all come together to save gorillas.

Dr. Methode Bahizi

“I became interested in becoming a veterinarian when I was about 6-years-old. One of our cows fell over and broke its horn and so the local veterinarian came. He arrived on a red motorbike and after he treated the cow he got paid in both money and pineapples and I loved pineapples! So, I started saying, I will become a vet because they ride the motorcycles and they can make money to save the lives of animals.”

Dr. Methode, Regional Laboratory Technician, prepares tissue samples for analysis. Photo by Skyler Bishop for Gorilla Doctors.

Dr. Methode joined Gorilla Doctors in 2011 through an internship researching tick control strategies around Akagera National Park. Before becoming our Regional Laboratory Technician the following year, he conducted externships at the Houston and Indianapolis Zoos in the United States. He received his bachelor’s in veterinary medicine from Umutara Polytechnic University. Want to know what it’s like to see gorillas for the first time in the wild? Listen to Dr. Methode’s experience in the video!

Dr. Adrien Emile Ntwari

“The very first time I heard about Gorilla Doctors was on the radio during Kwita Izina, the mountain gorilla baby naming ceremony and they mention all the institutions who are working help the survival of the endangered mountain gorillas, and then the Chief of Tourism said “Gorilla Doctors” – so I rushed into the library to look online and learn about Gorilla Doctors. I didn’t know there were people treating gorillas and my interest grew from there.”

Dr. Adrien working with communities around Volcanoes Naional Park. Taken pre-COVID. © PREDICT

Dr. Adrien completed his veterinary degree from the University of Rwanda in 2016. He was one of a few elite students selected to participate in the University of California, Davis One Health Institute Rx One Health course in the summer of 2017. Gorilla Doctors then hired him in the fall of 2017 to help with our US Embassy-funded project to improve hygiene infrastructure for Volcanoes National Park staff and guests. Today, Dr. Adrien works on special projects for Gorilla Doctors and supports Drs. Noel and Gaspard with interventions when needed. Dr. Adrien has dedicated his life to this work because he wants to serve – learn more in the video: