The fate of Virunga’s eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas continues to hang in the balance. In 2008, their population was a mere 22 individuals and today that number stands at six. The remaining six are comprised of a habituated group of four and a group of two - an adult female and a silverback. Virunga’s Chief Warden, Emmanuel de Merode, has been working closely with Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) in a concerted effort to prevent this population from going extinct. Other conservation groups have been lending support as well.
Dr. Eddy Syaluha prepares to dart blackback Mukokya
In March, a team of Virunga rangers and MGVP doctors trekked through the jungle of Mt. Tshiaberimu to check in on the habituated gorillas and conduct research aimed at improving their chances of survival. For veterinarians Mike Cranfield (co-founder of MGVP), Eddy Syaluha, Dawn Zimmerman, Martin Kabuyaya, the goal for the trip was to collect blood and tissue samples that will enable them to do a complete genome analysis as well as a clinical workup.
Taking aim at their unsuspecting target, Mukokya. The dart landed in his right thigh. The other members of the gorilla family showed no signs of alarm.
Mukokya comfortably asleep and in the capable hands of Dr. Mike Cranfield and the other Gorilla Doctors. In this image, Dr. Cranfield takes two skin samples from Mukokya’s arm as fellow veterinarian assures an unobstructed airway and monitors respiration. Mukokya tolerated the anesthesia without any problem, but as is always the case, the veterinarians were well-prepared and equipped to handle potential complications.
A family member watching the whole process from a comfortable distance.
The two sites where the small skin samples were taken from Mukokya’s arm. One sample was immediately frozen with liquid nitrogen and the other placed in a transport media.
Dr. Cranfield applies direct pressure to the incision sites to stop the small amount of bleeding. From the time Mukokya was darted to the time he woke up, only 15 minutes elapsed.
Back at the lab running tests…
The preliminary results from Mukokya’s blood work show him to be mildly anemic. The Gorilla Doctors will do follow-up to find out why. The results of his serological survey should show the diseases to which Mukokya has been exposed. It is hoped the full results will illuminate possible ways members of this highly threatened population of Grauer’s gorillas can be helped to survive — beyond the protection afforded them by Virunga’s rangers.
Thanks go out to Virunga’s rangers who played a key role in making the mission a success.