by Jessica Burbridge

A generous donation of a Viamo Portable Ultrasound Unit by Toshiba has greatly increased the Gorilla Doctors’ ability to diagnose and treat tricky conditions in wild gorillas. Previously, with no way of seeing what was going on internally, the vet’s ability to diagnose a condition was limited to physical examination with palpation in the field.

The unit’s light weight and small laptop size make the ultrasound ideal for assessing wild gorillas in the field, where portability and battery-operation is a necessity. Along with the ultrasound unit, Toshiba has also donated three different types of probes, for use depending on the organ being scanned (whether it be the heart, vasculature of a hand or foot, or the uterus). 

“Although this unit and wide variety of probes gives us much capability, our predominant uses will likely be reproductive and vasculature assessment to determine the viability of a gorilla’s limb after a snare incident” says Dr. Dawn Zimmerman, Regional Veterinary Manager. “We can also use the unit to assess abnormalities (such as masses) of abdominal organs such as the liver, kidney, spleen and bladder.”

The ultrasound unit is marketed for human use, but Peter Brunelli, President of Universal Ultrasound, formatted the equipment for veterinary use in the field. Brunelli and staff then trained director Dr. Mike Cranfield, who in turn is training the Gorilla Doctors vets on the equipment.

The acquisition of this vital piece of equipment began late last summer, when former Gorilla Doctors Board of Directors member Richard Cunningham (who also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine) reached out to UC Davis faculty member Erik Wisner, a radiologist, to see if he might be able to help get imaging equipment donated to Gorilla Doctors. 

Gorilla Doctors Co-Director, Dr. Mike Cranfield, personally brought the portable ultrasound unit to Africa last month. Although the unit will stay at the Gorilla Doctors compound in Musanze, Rwanda, Dr. Dawn will travel with the unit to Uganda and DRC as needed. The three orphaned mountain gorillas, Maisha, Ndeze and Ndakasi, at the Senkwekwe Center in the Democratic Repubic of Congo, were each due for their annual exams and Drs. Mike, Dawn, Eddy and Martin used the ultrasound on Thursday when they traveled up to Rumangabo to examine the orphans. 

Dr. Dawn uses the ultrasound unit during a mountain gorilla orphans’ exam.

“We often use ultrasound to establish a “baseline” as to how things normally appear in a species to know when something is abnormal” says Dr. Dawn. “This new ultrasound will allow us to provide a higher quality of care to the captive orphans as well as aid in diagnostics in the field.” 

Thank you, Toshiba, from everyone at Gorilla Doctors for this generous donation! We look forward to reporting on the cases where this new equipment will play an important role. More to come!