Gorilla Medicine : Wildlife veterinarians work with their African partners to protect the endangered animals. Only about 900 mountain gorillas—the animals protected by Dian Fossey of Gorillas in the Mist fame—remain in the wild. But the few will probably “be just fine,” largely because veterinary care is now a mainstayin their peaceable kingdom, says Chris Whittier, V97, who has treated gorillas in six national parks in Africa.
Fossey’s work paved the way for the creation of organizations like the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project so that veterinarians, including Whittier, director of the master’s program in conservation medicine at Cummings School, can continue to protect the endangered species.
Wildlife veterinarians, staff at four national parks, ecotourism operators and other nongovernmental partners work together to monitor the mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Mountains and Bwindi Forest in east central Africa. They treat gorillas’ health problems, ward off poachers, conduct behavioral research and work with the locals to safeguard the animals and their habitats.
“Because of the history of all those partners, you can actually distinguish the gorillas in that overall population that haven’t had veterinary care and quantify how much a difference veterinary care has made,” says Whittier, who worked with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project first as a Ph.D. student in population medicine at North Carolina State and then as a staff veterinarian from 2001 to 2006. (That program now operates as Gorilla Doctors, a partnership between the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.)