As gorillas are slowly making their way onto the endangered species list, UC Davis is launching a new program to help curb the decline.
In order to conserve the 740 mountain gorillas that exist today in the wild – primarily in the Virunga Mountains of central Africa – UC Davis‘ School of Veterinary Medicine’s Wildlife Health Center launched a “One Health” program on Apr. 23.
The Mountain Gorilla One Health Program cares for gorillas in central Africa, as well as the human neighbors and other animals that reside in the same environment.
“The health of the target species is really related to the health of the environment,” said Michael Cranfield, the director of the MGV Project. “In this case, the environment is surrounded by people and cattle … and if the people and cattle are ill, then certainly, the wildlife is going to be ill also.“
The One Health program is joining forces with the existing MGV Project that was established in 1986 by the Morris Animal Foundation to continue providing and improving gorilla health and survival by addressing human health, livestock health and agricultural issues, according to a UC press release.
“The concept of ‘One Health‘ – that human, animal and environmental health are inextricably linked and should be considered holistically – is a core principle of the UC Davis Wildlife Heath Center,” said Kristen Gilardi, who will lead the One Health Program.
The MGV Project began as a means to protect those animals that were being snared and killed for parts, said veterinarian Cranfield.
The project is involved in monitoring the health of the gorillas, treating those that are sick or injured, doing post-mortems for those that pass away and also taking great care in raising the orphans that are created due to poachers, Cranfield said.
To ensure success of the MGV Project, disease surveys are also conducted on domestic animals to try and discover what diseases might affect gorillas, he said.
“We are also very involved with reviewing the tourist rules for when [tourists] go to visit the gorillas … and with evaluating the trackers and guides on how well they’re enforcing the rules,” Cranfield said.
Rules include that visitors must be over the age of 15 to see the gorillas because children are prone to getting sick easily and transmitting diseases to the animals; having to stay seven meters away from the gorillas; limiting gorilla visitation to one hour; and refraining from eating and drinking within a 100 yards of the species, Cranfield said.
Gorilla health is greatly influenced by outside factors similar to how human health is. As a result, veterinarians worry about the exposure to humans living around the area that can make gorillas susceptible to diseases such as the common cold or measles, according to the press release.
In addition to the goal of protecting gorillas, the One Health Program will create more research opportunities for UC Davis veterinary, medical and graduate students both in Davis and in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the press release.
Veterinary staff and biologists will also be able to obtain advanced clinical and scientific training.
“We have one agricultural college in Rwanda and one veterinary school in Uganda,” Cranfield said, “where we’re teaching wildlife courses and also [courses on] domestic health – trying to improve things there.“
UC Davis has acquired $750,000 in funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for this program.
“UC Davis is well-suited to partner with [the MGV Project] because they have the Wildlife Health Center which already has a lot of expertise in disease monitoring and modeling in wildlife,” Cranfield said. “Plus, they have a medical school, agricultural school and they have a veterinary school … we’ll be able to get interested students and people to help bring up our capacity in Africa. That’s really what we’re about – so that Africans can take over the program with our financial support and some help with research.“
“I’m thrilled to death. I’ve been with [the MGV Project] for 11 years and I’m really happy to have UC Davis as the new co-homing partner because I really respect both the institution and I respect the people that I’ve been working with so far, so I think it’s really going to be great,” Cranfield said.
POOJA DEOPURA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.