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An Outbreak of Mange Hits the Bwindi Gorillas

An Outbreak of Mange Hits the Bwindi Gorillas


In July 2000, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) received an urgent call that 3 juveniles of the Nkuringo group on the edge of the Bwindi National Park were losing hair and one was lethargic and not eating. The problem sounded like it was probably the skin parasite Sarcoptes, commonly called mange or scabies. There had been a previous outbreak in the park that had claimed the life of an infant. It was therefore imperative to treat the group quickly. The worst clinical case was identified and darted; the animal had skin scrapings and biopsies done.

Back in the new lab in Ruhengeri the vets found the actual mite in the skin scraping to confirm the diagnosis. Samples were then transported to the USA where further tests were run and the mite was keyed to the same morphology as the human mite. This is the first time the mite has been examined to this level and supports the theory that the mange is probably of human origin.

When the Nkuringo group was surveyed again in February 2001, 5 in the group of 18 individuals were observed to show mild signs of mange. Some of them were treated. Darting with two doses of Ivermectin approximately 2 weeks apart proved to be an effective treatment.

At the end of February, the MGVP was informed that a group of 3 unhabituated gorillas were showing signs of mange and that one was completely bare except for a patch of skin on the back. Reports and nest sightings indicate that wild gorillas do make incursions into community lands around the Nkuringo sector. ITFC (Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation) researchers identified 5 such groups. These groups seem to have home ranges that overlap with that of the infected Nkuringo group.

The mange is now under control and there has been no mortality. We are still monitoring the group. The condition of the gorillas who developed signs of illness is improving greatly.

Credits: Antoine Mudakikwa who has been working at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Centre in Rwanda since 1995.

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