by Jessica Burbridge

Orphaned gorilla infant Matabishi, who was found alone in a cornfield outside of Virunga National Park, was rescued through a collaborative effort between the Congolese Park Authority and Gorilla Doctors in June 2013 ( Malnourished, covered in burrs, and with a large wound on his back, Matabishi was brought to the Senkwekwe Center in Rumangabo, DRC on June 22nd and has been given round-the-clock attention from a caregiver and critical medical care from the Gorilla Doctors ever since.

Matabishi, at the time of his rescue in late June, was covered in burrs and in poor condition.

Confirmed to be a mountain gorilla by Dr. Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Matabishi will soon join fellow orphaned mountain gorillas Maisha, Ndeze, and Ndakasi in the large forested enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center.

Maisha and Ndeze, in their large forested enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center.

All newly rescued orphans are kept in quarantine to prevent potential disease transmission and allow the infant to regain it’s health. Last week, Gorilla Doctors Co-Director, Dr. Mike Cranfield, along with DRC Field Vets Dr. Eddy Kambale and Dr. Martin Kabuyaya, conducted Matabishi’s final quarantine exam, ensuring that he is in good health and ready to be integrated into the group of female orphans. 

The 52 Media Inc. crew filmed the Gorilla Doctors as they examined Matabishi for a documentary set to air on CBC’s “The Nature of Things.” (Details on when the film airs will be posted at a later date.)

Drs. Mike, Eddy and Martin take samples for further testing during Matabishi’s exam.

“Matabishi was calm before and after sedation and the exam went very smoothly” said Dr. Eddy. “A second TB test was completed during the exam, and it came back negative”. Blood samples as well as nasal, oral, and rectal swabs were also collected for future research and testing.  

Gorilla Doctors Director Dr. Mike Cranfield conducts a physical exam on Matabishi.

Matabishi’s teeth and interior of his mouth are inspected during the exam.

The veterinarians administered MMR, Tetanus, Rabies, and Polio vaccines and also gave Matabishi a deworming medication as Trichuris, Strongyles, and Anoplocephala parasite eggs were found in the fecal examination.

Matabishi’s caregiver watches as the Gorilla Doctors conduct the exam.

Matabishi recovered gradually from the anesthesia and stayed in his caretaker’s arms for two minutes before crawling down onto the grass. The next step will be to gradually begin the process of integration into the group with Maisha, Ndeze, and Ndakasi.

Congolese Park Authority rangers and Gorilla Doctors have proposed the following integration plan: First, all 3 mountain gorilla females will be given preventative deworming medications. Because Maisha is the dominant individual of the group, she will be introduced to Matabishi first. The oldest and youngest orphans at Senkwekwe will be placed into adjacent cages, where they can see, smell, and touch one another (but Maisha could not harm Matabishi if she tried to). Once it is clear by Maisha and Matabishi’s behavior that they are comfortable around and have accepted one another, Ndeze, the second ranking female of the group will be brought into Maisha’s cage to meet Matabishi. Finally, the most submissive gorilla of the group, Ndakasi, will be introduced to their new group member. If these introduction steps go smoothly, then the gorillas will gradually be introduced to one another in the large enclosure (in the same order, most to least dominant).

Matabishi and his caregiver. Photo courtesy of Bryn Hughes, 52 Media Inc.

Matabishi playing with his caregiver. Photo courtesy of Bryn Hughes, 52 Media Inc.

This process can take some time, but all stakeholders want to ensure the orphans’ safety and are striving to create a stable group of gorillas. Although Matabishi is an infant at this time, we hope that he will become the dominant silverback of the group and these gorillas will form a strong, cohesive family unit, prepared for their future release back into the wild. 

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

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