Ambassadors visit Rwanda Gorilla Doctors headquarters

L-R: Matt Steed, Mike Cranfield, US Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles, Prosper Uwingeli, Ursula Iszler, and Swedish Ambassador Jenny Ohlsson standing in front of a newly-installed water tanks

On Monday March 5th Gorilla Doctors hosted the American Ambassador to Rwanda, the Honorable Erica Barks-Ruggles, and Sweden’s Ambassador to Rwanda, the Honorable Jenny Ohlsson, at our regional headquarters in Ruhengeri Rwanda. Ambassador Barks-Ruggles was conducting a site visit to Gorilla Doctors to check in on our progress with an important project funded by a grant from the U.S. Embassy.

The goals of the US Embassy-funded project are several. First, Gorilla Doctors is undertaking a massive overhaul and improvement of our digital systems for recording, accessing and utilizing data on the health of gorillas. First, we are updating our daily gorilla syndromic health monitoring program, called IMPACT, which is used by the trackers and our Gorilla Doctors team to assess habituated gorilla groups, and is being improved to automatically prompt the parks and our veterinary teams on  health issues in real time, to that it serves as a rapid call to action for further veterinary assessment and possible intervention.

As well, we are linking this daily health monitoring system to a new clinical records-keeping system and also building a better database for tracking the thousands of biological specimens collected from gorillas over the years that are kept in safe and secure storage in Rwanda, Uganda, DRC and the US for clinical evaluations and research. This “biobank” is available to scientists anywhere in the world who have an interest in developing a focused research project in collaboration with Gorilla Doctors and with permission of the host country governments.

Finally, the US Embassy in Rwanda’s grant is also  enabling Gorilla Doctors to work closely with the Rwanda Development Board to investigate ways to mitigate the risk of disease transmission from park  personnel and tourists to the gorillas. Gorilla Doctors, in coordination with partners, has developed a video for educating also  tourists about responsible tracking. We have placed six water tanks at the tracker patrol posts to supply water during the dry season for hygiene and clothes washing. Gorilla Doctors is currently working  on placing hand-washing and hygiene education posters at the parking areas, and supplying backpacks for porters to carry water to the park boundary, that will facilitate hand and boot washing before people enter the park.

The Ambassadors were given an overview of our Gorilla Doctors program and how the various aspects of the grant fit into our overall mission. We then visited RDB’s park headquarters in Kinigi, where we met Chief Park Warden Prosper Uwingeli and his staff and watched the video for educating tourists. We then traveled to one of the patrol posts to see the newly installed water tank and finally on to a parking area to see the poster and have a demonstration of the hand and boot washing and the new IMPACT program on a tablet.

Demonstrating IMPACT system on tablet to visiting ambassadors in Rwanda

Gorilla Doctors Africa Director Dr. Mike Cranfield (center) demonstrates the new IMPACT system to (fromL-R): Gorilla Doctors project veterinarian Dr. Adrien, Ambassador Barks-Ruggles, Ambassador Ohlsson, Gorilla Doctors’ Dr. Noel, and Chief Park Warden Uwingeli.

We greatly appreciated the visit and the opportunity to show our work to such important guests. Gorilla Doctors greatly appreciates the support of the U.S. Embassy, with special thanks to Mike Lurie, Ursula Iszler and Matt Steed for helping Gorilla Doctors develop and implement the grant.