Gorilla Doctors

Gorilla Doctors

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Gorilla Doctors is dedicated to conserving wild mountain and eastern lowland (Grauer's) gorillas through life saving veterinary medicine and a One Health approach. Our international team of veterinarians is the only group providing these critically endangered animals with direct, hands-on care.

Saving a species, one gorilla at a time.

In the mid-1980’s Dian Fossey recognized that mountain gorillas were about to disappear, and that she needed the help of a wildlife veterinarian to save them. Fossey sought the help of wildlife enthusiast Ruth Morris Keesling (Keesling’s father was the founder of the Morris Animal Foundation). Fossey told Keesling “there are only 248 gorillas in the world, and they are all going to die.” With the help of the Morris Animal Foundation, Fossey hired Dr. James Foster—the first Gorilla Doctor. Today there are 880 gorillas in the world, and Gorilla Doctors employs more than a dozen wildlife veterinarians and health experts in all three countries where mountain gorillas live.

In 2009, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project teamed up with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center (WHC) to form Gorilla Doctors. Led by WHC veterinarians Dr. Kirsten Gilardi and Dr. Mike Cranfield, Gorilla Doctors works in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Gorilla Doctors regularly monitors the health of the world's remaining mountain and Grauer's gorillas. With only 880 mountain gorillas left, and a decreasing number of Grauer’s gorillas in the world, the life of every gorilla individual is important to the survival of the species.

Monitoring and Interventions

Gorilla Doctors is able to monitor and treat gorillas through routine health checks. Our veterinarians regularly perform routine health checks by visually observing habituated gorilla groups (groups that are used to the presence of humans due to tourism). When a gorilla comes into contact with a life-threatening illness or injury, Gorilla Doctors veterinarians intervene by providing medical care to gorillas in the wild. Gorilla Doctors veterinarians take careful notes on every aspect of health that they can surmise while observing the gorilla group. Our veterinarians note everything from appearance (body condition, skin and hair, signs of illness) to activity and behavior of each animal.

One Health

Gorilla Doctors approaches the health of our gorilla patients with a "one health" perspective-- a belief that the health of one species is inextricably linked to that of its entire ecosystem, including humans and other animal species.

Research studies reveal that gorillas are very susceptible becoming ill and even die as a result of coming into contact with germs from people and other animals. Our gorilla patients live in protected national parks (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Virunga Volcanoes Massif--which includes Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the DRC and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda). These parks are frequently visited by people and often have other animals coming through that can come into contact with the gorillas. All of these factors can create opportunities for disease exchange.

Conservation workers and tourists spend time with habituated gorillas on a regular basis. Gorillas can also venture outside of the parks, and come into further contact with people and other animals.

Through providing annual health screenings, follow up care, and health education for people who work in the national parks through our Gorilla Conservation Employee Health Program, we keep a close watch over people who come into contact with our gorillas.

The one health approach employed by the Gorilla Doctors is also the primary ideology behind the PREDICT project (a partnership between the UC Davis One Health Institute and USAID). Gorilla Doctors works in conjunction with PREDICT to survey live wildlife pathogens that could be dangerous for both people and gorillas.