Our Work ContinuesBy Gorilla Doctors Staff on Friday, March 27th, 2020 in Blog.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of Gorilla Doctors and our monitoring of gorilla health has become more important than ever as we are the only organization in the world dedicated to providing veterinary care to ill or injured eastern gorillas (mountain and Grauer’s). Together with government wildlife authorities we continue our work, exercising best practice guidelines for protecting the health of both our veterinarians and the gorillas. [Note: Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, our Executive Director & Chief Veterinary Officer, was the lead author on drafting the IUCN Best Practice Guidelines for Health Monitoring and Disease Control in Great Ape Populations].
Our veterinary teams in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo are providing leadership and expertise in implementing the necessary measures for best protecting mountain and Grauer’s gorillas from the threat of SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease in humans. We issued memos to our government partners in early February and again on March 11 (when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in a range state, DR Congo), advising the protected area authorities to consider SARS CoV-2 a threat to gorilla health, and that strict adherence to tourism and great ape health protection best practices were essential.
Since then, Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo have all temporarily suspended gorilla tourism and severely restricted access to the parks. Park staff and Gorilla Doctors’ veterinarians have implemented these additional protective measures:
- All park staff wearing masks during health checks (Gorilla Doctors has always worn masks when close to the gorillas)
- Daily temperature checks of people before entering the park
- Maintaining a minimum distance of 10m (the distance Gorilla Doctors always practiced during health checks and monitoring visits whenever possible)
- Hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizer
- Boot disinfection
In addition to helping enforce these safety measures, we are working with our government partners to keep the number of people coming into close daily proximity of the gorillas to the essential minimum to ensure their safety and protection.
Gorilla Doctors has also been contributing to laboratory diagnostics, especially in Rwanda. Dr. Julius Nziza, Gorilla Doctors’ Head Veterinarian, is on the national COVID-19 Technical Advisory Team, as he led the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT Project in Rwanda from 2009 – 2019. Dr. Nziza also has particular expertise with the coronavirus family of viruses, having recently published a collaborative PREDICT study that detected coronaviruses in bats in Rwanda (not the current coronavirus causing COVID-19 disease in humans).
Gorilla Doctors’ Recent Health Checks
On March 18th, Dr. Gaspard conducted a routine health check of Igisha group in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Of 31 total individuals in the group, Dr. Gaspard was able to visually assess 27 and found the gorillas to be in good general health. Adult female Impano had a fresh cut on her upper left arm but she was otherwise active and able to still use the arm. Pictured is adult female Icyeza with her two-month-old infant.
On March 9th, Dr. Fred Nizeyimana, one of our field veterinarians in Uganda conducted a routine health check of Nyakagezi group in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Gorilla Doctors’ visiting pathologist, Dr. Sarah Corner, accompanied Dr. Fred. They arrived at 8:00AM just as the gorillas were coming out of their nights nests and beginning to feed.
Nyakagezi group has eight (8) mountain gorillas led by silverback Mark with silverback Ndungutse second in command (pictured). Infant Tulambule, who many of you will remember was caught in a snare in August 2019, was active and well. You can read the full report of Dr. Ricky’s extraordinary rescue of Tulambule HERE. During Drs. Fred and Sarah’s observations, all the gorillas were healthy, calm and actively feeding.
In case you missed our post earlier in the month, on March 3rd Dr. Eddy rescued a wild Grauer’s gorilla blackback, and with Congolese wildlife authorities successfully relocated him back into the safety of Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Watch the video.
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