Still not quite believing that I was really headed to Rwanda to be a Gorilla Doctor, I boarded my first of several flights at 6am on a rainy Sunday morning in Indianapolis, Indiana.  It was my first day on the job with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and while I knew my life was about to change significantly, everything was surreal.  It was a long, long 24 hours of travel, but my mind was racing and I couldn’t sleep. My fellow travelers became more and more international as we headed east. Rome. Addis Ababa. Kigali.  I heard languages that were beautiful and strange to my ears.  I heard amazing stories about exotic destinations.

One evening I’m eating dinner with my husband on our back deck watching wren parents feed their babies in a birdhouse on the railing. Twenty-four hours later I’m eating dinner in Ruhengeri  looking at the Virunga Volcanos.  Amazing. 

This Hotel/Restaurant is up the street from our headquarters, and has been there for years.  Apparently frequented by Dian Fossey during her time here.

My name is Jan Ramer, and I’m the new Regional Field Veterinary Manager for MGVP.  I’ll share my journey with you through this blog as I settle into my new job and new home, as I meet the Mountain Gorillas and the other Gorilla Doctors, and as I learn about and become involved with the good works of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

 The Regional Headquarters for the MGVP is in Ruhengeri, about 2 hours north of Kigali, Rwanda.  My first 2 days here were filled with meetings, and I was introduced to an alphabet soup of acronyms!  The meeting was organized by ORTPN, the Rwandan equivalent of National Park Service.  Attending the meeting were several other governmental and non-governmental organizations like DFGFI, IGCP, GO, etc…  I heard names of people, places and gorillas like Isabukuru, Kinigi, Mudakiqua, Guhonda, Gihishamwotsi, Cyanika…  I was excited, but a little at sea.  In fact I felt like I did on the first day of anatomy class in vet school; our professor read a page from the middle of the anatomy text and NOTHING sounded even vaguely familiar.  But by the end of the semester we knew all the words, their meanings and locations.  That’s what I’m counting on – by the end of the first few months I’ll understand all the acronyms, all the names and places, and how they fit into Mountain Gorilla conservation.

The meeting itself was actually amazing.  I looked out at a dozens of serious, intelligent faces of people dedicated to Mountain Gorilla conservation.  Government officials, veterinarians, gorilla trackers, gorilla tour guides, researchers – all partners working toward the same goal – conservation of the magnificent and critically endangered mountain gorilla.  I learned about the history and challenges of this complicated project. MGVP was well represented.  Magdalena Braum, our Regional Field Veterinarian, spoke about some severe respiratory outbreaks in gorilla groups the past 2 summers.  MGVP is investigating the relationship between community health and gorilla health.  Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, the ORTPN veterinary technician who is our very close partner in gorilla health, spoke about the need to pay attention to and follow the rules when visiting the gorillas (like no contact, keep 7 meters between people and gorillas, don’t visit them if you are ill, etc).  I was so impressed with the dedication of everyone in the room.  I am very honored to be a part of this team! 

I’m in “quarantine” from the gorillas for my first 2 weeks because I arrived on an international flight – another precaution to protect gorilla health.  So it will be desk work and meetings for me for a while.  I can’t wait to see the Mountain Gorillas again.  It has been 24 years.

ORTPN meeting on Mountain Gorilla issues

Magda speaking about this summer’s respiratory outbreak.

Elisabeth speaking about the need to follow simple rules when visiting the gorillas, whether a tracker, guide or tourist, in order to prevent spread of disease.  Gorillas and humans share many diseases!

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