Dr. Eddy in the Virunga National Park plane as they transfer a Grauer’s gorilla to the GRACE sanctuary.

For Dr. Eddy Kambale, Gorilla Doctors’ Head Veterinarian in the Democratic Republic of Congo, no two work days are ever the same. One day Dr. Eddy may find himself caring for the orphaned gorillas at the Senkwekwe Center, while the next day may have him hiking in the forest for hours to rescue a trapped gorilla from a poacher’s snare. Those rescues, Dr. Eddy says, are one of the most rewarding parts of his job. “When I can be able to save a gorilla’s life, then I feel really happy.” Dr. Eddy, who studied Veterinary Science at the Catholic University of Graben, Butembo, describes his work as a dream job: “This is one of my passions. Working with gorillas, I really feel that is where I should be.”  While living that dream job, Dr. Eddy puts in numerous hours well beyond your typical 9 to 5 job. Working in the office might be a normal 8 or 9 hour shift, but time in the field can last for days. “It is often 24 hours or longer because we have to travel from Goma and sleep there near the forest, ready to trek into the park the following morning for a health check or medical intervention.”

Dr. Eddy treats Grauer’s gorilla Busasa’s snare wound in Kahuzi Biega National Park, DRC.

Those field interventions, according to Dr. Eddy, can be exciting and risky at the same time. By working in the DRC, there are a number of factors working against him to save the gorillas from poachers, threat of an infectious disease outbreak, or warring rebel factions. “One of the big rebellion bases was in the forests in the gorilla habitat where we used to work regularly. To get there was very challenging. Some nights we were obliged to stay in the rebel’s area if we could not treat the gorilla in the first day.”

Tough days though are balanced out with the days he gets to take care of the orphan baby gorillas. “Babies are always beautiful. When you have a baby gorilla, you learn a lot about their behavior. The baby gorillas are most interesting to me, because they’re the most playful.”

Dr. Eddy with orphan mountain gorilla Matabishi at the Senkwekwe Center.Dr. Eddy with orphan Grauer’s gorillas Baraka and Isangi after their rescue at the Senkwekwe Center.

The baby-time doesn’t end at work though, as Dr. Eddy juggles his job and raising three sons of his own with his wife, Guillaine at their home in Goma. Dr. Eddy recalled the time he brought his sons to work with him. “I took them to see the orphan gorillas, because they see my pictures” and ever since then, the boys interrogate him before he leaves for work asking quizzically, “Are you going to see those babies?”

Dr. Eddy works tirelessly to rescue, care for, and assess the health of the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas but says he doesn’t have much time for anything else. “All my energy is spent on gorillas.” When he can relax at home though, he enjoys political debates & documentaries. Dr. Eddy is best known by his Gorilla Doctors colleagues for his sense of humor and like his sons, Dr. Eddy looks forward to a future trip to Florida, where he will attend the 2014 American Association of Zoo Veterinarians annual conference. “I’ve been excited to visit Walt Disney World, too!”   

While the gorilla populations have increased since the early days of Dian Fossey’s research, Dr. Eddy still worries about the future for the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas he works with. “We are seeing how the forest is being cut down. That is a big challenge we are facing now. Their habitat loss is really hard.” In 40 or 50 years, “I’m not sure how the gorilla population will look like” says Dr. Eddy. “Our team is doing everything we can to keep the population healthy and thriving, but there are many threats they face.”

Dr. Eddy has been with Gorilla Doctors since 2004 and hopes to work with the mountain and Grauer’s gorillas for many more decades to come.