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Veterinarians Make House Calls to Save Gorillas

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Mountain gorillas live in the high altitudes of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in DRC, and Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

Gorillas only exist in the wild in Africa. Mountain gorillas, one of four subspecies, live in central Africa at high altitudes in the national parks encompassing Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are only about 900 mountain gorillas left in the wild.

A few decades ago, mountain gorillas were on the verge of extinction. Today, thanks to a group of dedicated veterinarians and scientists known as Gorilla Doctors, mountain gorillas are the only population of great apes growing in numbers, according to Mike Cranfield, co-director of Gorilla Doctors, an Aid for Africa member.

“They’re increasing at 4 percent a year, which is about the maximum that they could.  That’s as fast as the human population is growing on the face of the earth. And veterinarians are credited with 50 percent of that growth or 2 percent a year,” he said.

Gorilla Doctors’ wildlife veterinarians, who are almost all African, form teams to provide emergency care to gravely injured and ill gorillas in the world, according to Kristen Gilardi, co-director of the organization.  Staff also care for infant gorillas rescued from poachers.

Veterinarians with Gorilla Doctors trek into the wild to care for injured and sick mountain gorillas.

Veterinarians with Gorilla Doctors trek into the wild to care for injured and sick mountain gorillas.

Veterinarians trek into the wild to monitor and treat gorillas that are human-habituated—family groups that have grown accustomed to the presence of humans.  They travel hundreds of miles every year to monitor and care for more than 500 habituated mountain gorillas.

The national parks where gorillas live are surrounded by some of the most densely populated areas in Africa.  Human activity near and inside the parks, including poaching, habitat loss and disease, threaten the survival of gorillas.

Because gorillas share 98.5 percent of their genes with humans, scientists monitoring gorillas believe that the greatest health threat for gorillas may come from human-borne infectious diseases, particularly respiratory infections.

To protect gorillas from diseases carried by humans, Gorilla Doctors provides preventive health care to national park workers and their families. In 2015, some 2,200 people living and working in and near the parks received such care.

Veterinarians with Gorilla Doctors also monitor the health of eastern lowland or Grauer’s gorillas in DRC, where scientists believe their numbers remaining in the wild has dropped from tens of thousands in the mid-1990s to fewer than ten thousand today.

Gorilla Doctors is on a mission to save the species, one gorilla at a time.

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Gorilla Doctors is a partnership between the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center.

Learn more about Gorilla Doctors here.  See them in action on CBS 60 Minutes.