Here’s the update on Samehe, the adult female from Nkuringo group in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park who suffered a serious head wound and has been receiving ongoing treatment from the Gorilla Doctors. Dr. Magda reports:

Samehe’s wound on March 16.

On March 15 Dr. Fred reported Samehe to be weak and alone. Her group left her hiding in thick vegetation inside the small ravine outside the Park. Dr. Fred visited her immediately and recommended the MGVP intervention team arrive on the following morning.

On March 16 we found the female in the same place she had been left the previous day. The group was some kilometers away. Samehe was hiding in the thicket and tried to avoid people, but she was visibly weak. The wounds on her ear and hand were healed, but the bottom part of the head wound deteriorated further: no healthy granulation was present, but necrosis and multiple maggots were seen in the deep cavity in front of the left ear. She was walking away from people, and finally went into a small cave under some tree roots at the bottom of the river bank.

An anesthetic dart was prepared and Samehe was darted into her gluteal area. She walked out of the cave and moved some 30 meters, after which she sat down and fell asleep within 6 minutes. She was in terrible shape, actually she looked like she would not last through the night. Her temperature went down to 95F and the maggots were hatching all over her body. The wound on top of her head was dry and decreased in size, but the part on the side of her head and face was enlarged, penetrating the underlying soft tissue and full of maggots. The bone of the brow-ridge and above had a dry, dull look and parts of it were crumbling under the forceps. The maggots extended subcutaneously to the other side of saggital crest and tissue around the left eye. The parotid gland was exposed and partly necrotic. The wound was cleaned and de-debrid, flushed with multiple doses of clean water, weak chlorhexidine solution and ivermectin solution. Finally it was packed with iodine sponge to help keep insects out.

Working to clean Samehe’s wound.

Samehe was given the pharmacy of supporting drugs:  big doses of fluids, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitics. Though her heart was very weak, she kept stable throughout anesthesia and slowly woke up after the reversal.

She was so weak, that even though fully conscious she just lay there face down for hours. We were worried that in her state she may not get up again – but as few times before, we underestimated the stamina of the wild gorilla! She was followed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority trackers and was reported to be growing stronger and feeding on March 18. We planned to return on March 19.

Samehe’s wound stuffed with iodine pads.

On March 19 we found the female alone in the same area as previously. She was visibly stressed with people’s presence and kept running away on our approach. At this stage it was impossible to assess the wound. It was also raining constantly since midday.

We darted her anesthesia so we could more carefully inspect and treat the wound. The wound on her head was clean, with the dry bone exposed, but there was much less necrotic tissue and only a few maggots. The ridge of healthy granulation tissue appeared on the edge of skin. Her eye was still swollen, but less so than 3 days earlier.

Samehe’s wound on March 19.

The wound was cleaned and de-debrid, flushed with multiple doses of clean water, weak iodine solution and ivermectin solution. It was finally sprayed with the tetracycline/gentian violet spray and packed with the iodine sponge which was kept in place by the single matterace suture. The area around the wound as well as all over the body was washed with a solution of fly-repellent.

Before we give Samehe a break we need to intervene again during this week, and then hopefully her state will allow us to let her rest. Please check for the follow up news – and keep fingers crossed for Samehe! She definitely is a fighter: on 16 March we gave her 5% chance of survival. Three days later I would say she had at least 20%!

March 23 Update: We trekked to find Samehe to administer antibiotics and try to close the wound from the flies and rain. Samehe was found in the same area, alone. She looked weaker than on 19th and she was avoiding people as before.

A dart was prepared with the standard dose and was darted into the ischial area. She fell asleep 7 minutes later.  Her wound, though free of signs of infection or maggots, seems unable to heal. Her feet and palms showed the wrinkling specific for hypothermia. Here general body condition – severe anemia, malnutrition, constant pain, now increased by the exposed mandibular joint – make it very unlikely that Samehe will survive.

Dr. Fred cleans Samehe’s wound.

The wound was cleaned and flushed with multiple doses of clean water and weak iodine solution. Front-line (2 large dog doses) was applied on the wound and surrounding skin. The bottom of wound was scraped till bleeding and covered with surgical glue. It was finally sprayed with the tetracycline/gentian violet spray and packed with the iodine sponge which was kept in place by the single matterace suture.

Trackers will follow her daily and report to the office.

The Gorilla Doctors dress in personal protective gear before performing the necropsy of Samehe.

March 27 Update: On March 26, Samehe was reported to have not moved the same spot for a day, although still she was still breathing. Sometime that night, Samehe lost her battle and passed away.

Early the next morning, Gorilla Doctors Fred and Noel, MGVP volunteer veterinarian Kathy Wheller, and a team of Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers found Samehe’s body. They performed a necropsy on her body to learn more about her death so that in the future, veterinarians might develop improved techniques for treating other gorillas. Sadly, they discovered that Samehe was several months pregnant with a well-formed fetus. The death of a child-bearing adult female gorilla is a great loss.

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