Caring for gentle giants


Working with mountain gorillas has been the seminal experience of my life.

Working with mountain gorillas has been the seminal experience of my life. As part of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (, I assist project director Dr. Mike Cranfield in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda for three to six weeks at a time to provide medical care and advocate on behalf of the endangered mountain gorillas. There are five in-country veterinarians and two ex-pats, Drs. Lucy Spelman and David Gardner-Roberts, who are dedicated to the project full time. I help them out whenever I can. We're trying to save a tiny piece of the world that's dying fast because of civil war, poverty, and famine.

Say cheese: Dr. Kim Hammond takes a breather with the Big Chief, a member of the Silverback-Susa group, one of the mountain gorilla families Dr. Hammond provides care for during his visits to Africa.

The gorillas face many dangers. Poachers kill the mothers and snatch their defenseless babies, who don't stand a chance of surviving in the poachers' care. Gorillas also suffer injuries from being trapped in snares that farmers use to catch game, as well as bad gashes from wounds and fights. They're susceptible to upper respiratory and skin diseases, parasites, mange, and the Ebola virus, among others. Sadly, gorillas are also killed for food. These animals are portrayed as violent and ferocious but they aren't. We humans are.

On a typical day, which is very atypical, we rise around 5 a.m. and head into the jungle. Our journey may take four to eight hours depending on how far a group of gorillas has migrated that day. If the gorillas are sick, we treat them, using blowdarts to subdue them. The next day they move farther out to avoid our return, so the job can be brutal and the elements challenging.

The area is very politically unstable. We pay close attention to the intelligence reports, but there are incidents. Over the past 10 years, 97 rangers have been murdered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And there are biologic safety concerns, some unknown, in the jungle. But we'll succeed and the gorillas will be preserved.

—Kim Hammond, DVM, MBA Falls Road Animal Hospital; Baltimore

To view more photos of Dr. Kim Hammond in Africa and learn more about the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, click Here .

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