Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project to become its own nonprofit

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Morris Animal Foundation and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore announced Aug. 10 that the foundation's Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project was moving to the zoo, effectively establishing the project as its own nonprofit organization.

The MGVP is the only project that provides health care and lifesaving medical procedures to wild mountain gorillas in their native habitats, according to the foundation and the zoo.

Headed by Dr. Michael Cranfield, the Maryland Zoo's director of animal health, research, and conservation, the project has grown from one veterinarian in Rwanda to eight in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Through its 19-year history of fieldwork and innovative programs, including a comprehensive health database for gorillas, the MGVP has become a model for conserving endangered species, according to the foundation and the zoo.

"The project has simply grown beyond our capacity, which is a good thing," explained Dr. Patricia Olson, Morris president and CEO, about the zoo's taking over administrative duties of the project. Morris will continue funding the MGVP as it becomes established as an organization.

The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project was begun at the urging of the late researcher Dian Fossey, famous for her passionate dedication to the plight of wild mountain gorillas. She recognized the need for veterinary intervention to treat animals she found ill or injured by poachers, and approached Morris for help. The veterinary project was established in 1986, shortly after Fossey's death.

When Fossey began her work in Uganda, only 248 mountain gorillas were known to exist in the Virunga Mountains. In the early 1990s, however, another gorilla population was discovered in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Today, the population of this highly endangered species includes about 380 gorillas in the Virunga Mountains and another 320 in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Mountain gorillas are currently the only species of great apes whose population is on the rise.

Last year, project veterinarians evaluated and monitored more than 50 cases of illness or injury among the gorillas, half of which required direct intervention. The MGVP team organized health examinations for more than 150 employees of various mountain gorilla organizations—necessary for guarding gorillas against human infectious diseases.

The team also reached out to technology partners so veterinarians can perform cutting-edge health monitoring in the gorillas' own habitat.