Orphaned infant gorilla Kalonge at the Senkwekwe Center. Photo Credit: Marcus Westberg

by Dr. Eddy Kambale

On March 12th, the Congolese Park Authority (ICCN) informed Gorilla Doctors that a young gorilla had been confiscated in Kalonge village, outside of Kahuzi Biega National Park. The female infant, estimated to be between 2 and 3-years-old was named Kalonge after the village where she was rescued. ICCN reported that she had been caught in a snare and brought to the chief of a local village by some young boys. Being aware of gorilla conservation efforts in the region, the chief turned her over to the ICCN authorities.

Kalonge was temporarily housed at the Lwiro Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre in South Kivu province for initial care, and she was kept separate from the rescued chimpanzees who reside at the Centre. On March 13th, Kalonge was transferred by boat to Goma in the North Kivu province and then travelled onto the Senkwekwe Centre in Rumangabo (Virunga National Park HQ).

Kalonge began her quarantine period on March 13th and has since received round-the-clock care from two experienced caretakers, Babo and Phillippe (both former ICCN rangers). When she first arrived, it was clear that she was very frightened, but took to Babo immediately for comfort and security. She had no external wounds upon first examination, however there were healed scars on her left wrist and two circular scars on her head.  She was thin, with some muscle wasting in her arms and legs, and slightly dehydrated. 

Since her confiscation, Kalonge has also had a persistent cough, however her health has been quite stable compared to other orphan gorillas we have monitored during past quarantine periods. Kalonge’s appetite has been very good and she has been enjoying forest food (mostly wild celery collected in the surrounding forest). When Kalonge takes her bottle of milk, it’s important that no one disturbs her or comes too close as she is very serious about her milk and ready to attack anybody who tries to touch her bottle.

On May 5th, Drs. Jan and I, along with volunteer veterinarian Dr. Jessica Magenwirth, conducted her first quarantine exam under full anesthesia. From her physical examination, no abnormalities were detected. We administered a Tuberculosis test with Mammalian Old Tuberculine (MOT), administered vaccinations and a deworming medication.

Drs. Eddy and Jan, and volunteer veterinarian Dr. Jessica Magenwirth conduct Kalonge’s exam. Photo Credit: Marcus Westberg

Orphan Kalonge’s TB test. Photo Credit: Marcus Westberg

Kalonge, under anesthesia during her quarantine exam. Photo Credit: Marcus Westberg

We also collected samples for disease screening and genetic studies to determine her subspecies. If the results show that she is a mountain gorilla, she will be transitioned into the small group of four mountain gorilla orphans at the Senkwekwe Center (Maisha, Ndakasi, Ndeze, and Matabishi). If the results show her to be a Grauer’s gorilla, she will join the 14 other Grauer’s gorilla orphans at the GRACE center in northeastern DRC.

The laboratory results (chemistry, hematology and fecal exams) did not show any sign of illness and the tuberculosis reaction test appeared to be negative on 24, 48 and 72 hours of reading. To treat Kalonge’s persistent cough, we started her on antibiotics to fight a suspected bacterial respiratory infection. After the exam was complete, she awoke from the anesthesia in her caretaker’s arms.

Orphan female gorilla Kalonge recovers from the anesthesia in her caretaker’s arms. Photo Credit: Marcus Westberg

Kalonge is currently doing really well at the Senkwekwe Center and we are waiting for results from her genetic analysis, which will determine her future home.

Kalonge plays in her enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center. Photo Credit: Marcus Westberg