Jessica Burbridge

For Clementine Usanase, mountain gorilla conservation work runs in the family. Daughter of longtime Volcanoes National Park’s Veterinary Warden Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, Clementine grew up with an appreciation for this critically endangered species and a keen understanding of the importance of their survival.

In October 2012, Clementine joined the Gorilla Doctors team as the Regional Data Technician. Clementine grew up in Musanze, raised by a parent with an important, longstanding position in the mountain gorilla conservation world. Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, the Rwanda Development Board Veterinary Warden for Volcanoes National Park, has worked side-by-side with the Gorilla Doctors for over 25 years, participating in medical interventions and monitoring the health of the habituated groups of gorillas in the park since she was 19 years old.

As the first and only veterinary assistant in the history of Volcanoes National Park, Elisabeth has been responsible for monitoring the health of the Park’s wildlife, mainly the critically endangered mountain gorillas but also the endangered golden monkeys and forest buffalo.  She works closely with the Gorilla Doctors, playing an integral role in assisting with interventions and necropsies, and is often the first person to respond to reports of illness or injury. 

Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, Volcanoes National Park’s Veterinary Warden

One of the most important aspects of Elisabeth’s job is teaching the trackers how to monitor the gorillas’ health on a daily basis, as the trackers take on the substantial and consequential task of reporting any changes in health or behavior of the animals. This information is recorded in the IMPACT (Internet Management Program to Assist Conservation Technologies) system, which was created by Medical Decision Logic, Inc. In 2011. By keeping a highly organized record that includes information on location and gorilla group membership over time, a unique data resource is being created (with over 6,000 observations as of March 2013) that will provide Gorilla Doctors and other researchers with a much more in-depth understanding of the health trends in the population as well as a clearer picture of the overall health of individual gorillas.

And who is entering in this enormous amount of data every day? Elisabeth’s daughter, 25-year-old Clementine. 

After completing primary and secondary school in Musanze, Clementine worked with the Gorilla Doctors, formerly the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, as an Administrative Assistant in 2008. With her degree in Electronics and Information Technology completed, Clementine joined the Gorilla Doctors as the full time Regional Data Technician in October 2012.

Clementine enters IMPACT data at her desk in Musanze, Rwanda.

“I grew up seeing my Mum doing veterinary work with mountain gorillas and I was very proud of her” said Clementine. “When I was young, I can remember my mum receiving calls to intervene when a gorilla had been ensnared. My mum was always so passionate about caring for the gorillas. I wanted to be apart of the team of people who takes care of them.”

As the Regional Data Technician, Clementine says she “likes to think about people around the world wide accessing the Gorilla Doctors website to find the medical data related to the life of mountain gorillas… It is a dream of mine to be apart of a team like Gorilla Doctors, to be apart of a group who is contributing to the survival of the mountain gorilla species.”

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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