Contingency Planning for Mountain Gorilla Disease Outbreak Response
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2013
Michael R. Cranfield1,2, DVM; Kirsten Gilardi1, DVM, DACZM; Antoine Mudakikwa3, DVM
1Gorilla Doctors, Wildlife Health Center, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA, USA; 2Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD, USA; 3Rwanda Development Board, Tourism and Conservation, Kigali, Rwanda


The 2010 census of the Virunga Massif mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) population counted 480 individuals, up from 250 gorillas in 1981.2 The unhabituated portion of the population is declining at 0.7%/yr while the habituated portion (73%) of the population is growing at 4.1% annually; 40% of the annual increase in the habituated portion of the population is due to veterinary interventions.4 Despite this conservation success, transmission of pathogens remains a threat to the sustainability of the mountain gorilla. The gorillas are susceptible to human pathogens,3 but naïve to many, such as measles. The Virungas are surrounded by the highest densities of humans and livestock in Africa, but lack adequate infrastructure for implementing many public health measures to mitigate a disease outbreak. In 2012, over 28,000 tourists visited mountain gorillas in Rwanda alone, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo side, M23 rebels occupied the park; and in Uganda, Marburg and Ebola outbreaks in humans occurred within 200 miles of the Massif. Considering the intensity of the human/gorilla interface and the potential for a disease outbreak of serious proportions, a regional contingency plan has been developed to minimize the negative impact of an outbreak for the gorillas. Development of the contingency plan involved all stakeholders and the government conservation authorities of the three range countries, with Gorilla Doctors taking the lead on drafting the plan. The contingency plan defines risk categories for outbreak categorization and prioritizes activities necessary for outbreak response, including garnering local, regional and international participation.1

Literature Cited

1.  Cranfield, M.R., and The Decision Tree Writing Group. 2006. Clinical response decision tree for the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei) as a model for great apes. Am J Primatol. 68;9:909–927.

2.  Gray, M., K. Fawcett, A. Basabose, M. Cranfield, L. Vigilant, J. Roy, P. Uwingeli, I. Mburanumwe, E. Kagoda and M. Robbins. Virunga Massif Mountain Gorilla Census—2010 Summary Report.

3.  Palacios, G., L.J. Lowenstine, M.R. Cranfield, K.V. Gilardi, L.H. Spelman, M. Lukasik-Braum J.F. Kinani, A. Mudakikwa, E. Nyirakaragire, A.V. Bussetti, N. Savji, S. Hutchison, M. Egholm, and W.I. Lipkin. 2011. Human metapneumovirus infection in wild mountain gorillas, Rwanda. Emerg Infect Dis. 17(4):711–3.

4.  Robbins, M.M., M. Gray, K.A. Fawcett, F. Nutter, P. Uwingeli, I. Mburanumwe, E. Kagoda, A. Basabose, T.S. Stoinski, M.R. Cranfield, J. Byamukama, L.H. Spelman, and A.M. Robbins. 2011. Extreme conservation leads to recovery of the Virunga mountain gorillas. PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e19788. Epub Jun 8.


Speaker Information
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Michael R. Cranfield, DVM
Gorilla Doctors, Wildlife Health Center
School of Veterinary Medicine
University of California-Davis
Davis, CA, USA

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