Three days ago (for those of you with short-term memory loss) I noted that the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) wildlife veterinarians and staff have some of the most difficult jobs, and most rewarding jobs in the profession. Dr. Jan Ramer, MGVP ‘s Regional Veterinary Manager gives us a brief glimpse into how catching up with a Mountain Gorilla group is not as easy as a stroll in the park:
We got a call from trackers that Agahozo, a 5 year old male gorilla in Pablo group, was coughing and staying behind the group. This is the season when we begin to worry about respiratory disease in the gorillas – the end of the rainy season. It has been rainy and cool recently, and Pablo group is very high on the volcano so it is very cold where they live. We were concerned. Dr. Jean Felix went up to assess Agahozo last Thursday and while he was coughing a bit, and moving a bit slowly, he was not in a life threatening situation. We decided to wait it out, getting reports from the field daily. Unfortunately the next day news was not good – Agahozo had a wound on his neck that smelled bad and was he was far behind the group.
Pablo group has 47 individuals with 3 silverbacks including Cantsbe, one of the oldest and wisest silverbacks in the area. We needed to be very careful. Dr. Magda, Dr. Jean Felix, Dr. Fred and I headed up to the group early the next morning along with Joel from Karisoke and many very experienced trackers. Of course if we decided to do an intervention once we got to the group and re-assessed Agahozo, we would all be garbed in masks and gloves, to protect both ourselves and gorillas from any exchange of disease.
It was a long, difficult climb. We trudged up the slopes of Visoke for over 5 hours, through mud up to our knees and beyond, up and down steep, muddy ravines, over a raging river, finally finding the group above the tree line (above 10,000 feet), eating on either side of a deep ravine. I was exhausted – I had not been in the forest for almost a month, and had not yet re-acclimated to the altitude. Drs. Magda and Jean Felix were in the advance team (I was definitely in the rear guard…) and the reports were good – Agahozo was bright and alert, in the middle of the group, behaving normally and feeding well! No coughing at all. He was cleaning a wound on his neck that looked to be an abscess that had ruptured – no wonder he felt better! After a brief meeting with everyone involved we decided that there was not a good reason for any intervention. We were all relieved, and started the long walk back to the truck. That day I didn’t even see a gorilla.
So you are saying to yourself, the team climbed for 5 hours at an altitude of 10,000, at times through knee deep mud, and she did not even get to see a gorilla! And, yes, they then had to climb back down the same way they came. Visit the complete MGVP update here and scroll down to May 2010 which includes numerous photos and videos from the months event as well as the highs and lows of everyday life for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Team.
Mountain Gorilla Susa Group photo courtesy S. Kaufman