Dr. Dawn with a baby orangutan.Those of us on the staff of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project are happy to welcome our newest Gorilla Doctor, Dr. Dawn Zimmerman, who will serve as the regional veterinary manager at our headquarters in Musanze, Rwanda. Taking over the position from Dr. Jan, Dr. Dawn will manage our veterinary and one health programs in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda, including leading gorilla health monitoring and medical interventions, supervising the staff and interns, liaising with partners, and facilitating research.

“I still have a lot to learn about working with the different cultures, languages, and governments,” says Dr. Dawn. “However, MGVP’s extremely capable and friendly staff has been great in helping me settle into my new position and life in Africa.”

Dr. Dawn comes to us from the Memphis Zoo, where she worked for 8 years, most recently as the senior veterinarian. Originally from California, Dr. Dawn earned a BS at UC Davis and an MS in biology and ecology at San Diego State University before graduating with honors from the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2001.

Dr. Dawn with a black rhino in South Africa.While working at the Memphis Zoo, Dr. Dawn won numerous grants to perform field work with wild animals overseas. She helped reintroduce black and white ruffed lemurs and diademed sifaka in Madagascar, collected research samples from immobilized black rhinos in South Africa, performed a biomedical survey on brown hyenas in the Namib Desert, and assisted in an educational program as a lecturer and instructor for the conservation of Siberian tigers in Russia.

First hearing about MGVP at an American Association of Zoo Veterinarians meeting, Dr. Dawn kept in contact with MGVP Executive Director Dr. Mike, waiting for a potential job opening. “I went to veterinary school with a job like this in my mind as the ultimate goal,” says Dr. Dawn. “Working with animals in a zoo setting is amazing–they are ambassadors for their wild counterparts–but being able help a critically endangered species in the wild is, to me, the epitome of conservation medicine.”

“To work with mountain gorillas is particularly special,” says Dr. Dawn. “They are so intelligent and they allow us to enter into their realm and share their space. Their acceptance of our presence in their lives is probably one of the most important reasons why the species still exists.  Without it, tourism and health monitoring as it currently exists would not be possible.”