Students James and Kris and Laboratory Technician Dr. Noel indentify cattle to be sampled on a farm bordering the park.

By Molly Feltner, MGVP Communications Officer

To complement our efforts to save mountain gorilla lives in the field, we support research projects examining gorilla and ecosystem health issues. This September, James Hassell, a veterinary student at the Royal Veterinary College, and Jennifer Hogan, an epidemiology PhD candidate at UC Davis, are in residence at our regional headquarters in Rwanda for a new project. The two are assessing the potential route of transmission of the intestinal protozoa cryptosporidium and giardia between domestic cattle, forest buffalo, and mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Students Jen, Kris, Jimmy, and James analyze cattle fecal samples in MGVP’s Musanze lab.Cattle, which are considered reservoirs for intestinal protozoa, often intermingle with forest buffalo at the edge of park. Through analysis of fecal samples collected from cattle, buffalo, and gorillas, the students hope to determine if buffalo may be an intermediary transferring these pathogens to gorillas. The samples will be processed at MGVP’s Musanze laboratory and UC Davis to determine the prevalence of parasites and to obtain DNA for genetic analysis.

Kris collects a fresh sample.“The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project’s One-Health approach is centered on the premise that gorilla health is intricately connected with that of people, domestic animals, other wildlife species, and soil and water,” says James. “The ultimate aim is to inform decision makers about disease transmission between domestic animals and endangered wildlife. To this end, the project is essential in order to identify routes of disease transfer, which would focus both the development of human and animal health management improvements and further research into other known pathogens.”

James and Chris make notes in the field.At the suggestion of our board member Jack Hanna, Ohio State veterinary students Kris Abbott and Jimmy Johnson have also come to Rwanda to help Hassell and Hogan collect and process samples for the study. “Working with MGVP has shown that conservation medicine not only means supporting the health of the gorillas but also the research and population health of other wildlife and domestic animals in the region,” says Jimmy.

James, Jimmy, and Noel study a slide.They have been assisted by MGVP Regional Laboratory Technician Dr. Noel and MGVP interns Rosine Manishimwe and Celestin Munyaneze, both Rwandan veterinary students at the Ecole inter-Etats des Sciences et Medecine Veterinaires in Senegal.

Rosine and Celestin look at results on a computer.“We have been learning so much through our work on this project,” says Rosine. “The new laboratory techniques we have been practicing will help us so much in the future.