Utilizing a Biological Resource Center of Stored Mountain Gorilla Samples to Measure Changes in Gorilla Flora Biodiversity
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2002
Mike Cranfield, DVM
Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, c/o The Baltimore Zoo, Druid Hill Park, Baltimore, MD, USA


Conservation efforts to manage small populations must be responsive to both the population as a whole and individuals within that population. The same conditions that have placed these small populations in their perilous situation make them inherently delicate and susceptible to extinction and to new negative impacts, particularly if their species reproductive capacity is low. It is therefore important to make the collection and storage of biologic specimens a high priority, to gain knowledge for present as well as future use. These samples need to be collected, processed and stored in a proper and uniform fashion to ensure quality, and therefore accuracy and reliability, of the resulting tests and procedures.

There are approximately 640 mountain gorillas left in two island populations in the Virunga Mountains of Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest located in Uganda. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project has a Memorandum of Understanding with the three countries to provide health care to these animals. The largest potential health threat to the gorillas comes from their susceptibility to human diseases and close interaction with people from the densely populated community surrounding the parks, the ecotourists or the conservation personnel.

Since clinical interventions or postmortems occur only about ten times per year, the veterinarians have few opportunities for invasive sampling. During clinical interventions, blood, stools, urine, hair and other clinically appropriate samples are taken. The samples aid in the diagnosis of the present clinical problem by providing information about the health status of the group that the ill individual resides in, and are banked to see how the health status changes over time. Postmortems are conducted according to the elaborate protocol developed for great apes; however, the majority of samples that are collected from mountain gorillas are noninvasive, such as feces, urine and saliva. The samples from known individuals are coupled with brief standardized histories and GIS referenced to become powerful tools for health, genetic and nutritional monitoring.

Instead of a small sample taken for a specific study, the whole fecal deposit is taken and stored in a wide variety of conditions and media to allow for the broadest testing methodologies. These samples will allow accurate determination of changes over time in the biodiversity of pathogens and normal flora of the gorilla population by allowing testing of samples from the same known individuals, by the same researcher, using the same technology in the same lab.

As the study of conservation medicine and the interaction of humans, their agricultural practices and wildlife becomes even more critical and new technology is developed, it is the veterinarian’s responsibility to save materials from these populations that will aid in sustainability in the future by helping to monitor health, provide management information and maintain live genetic material.


Speaker Information
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Mike Cranfield, DVM
Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project
Baltimore Zoo
Baltimore, MD, USA

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