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Scabies in Bwindi

Scabies in Bwindi


At the end of July, the Ugandan park authorities asked the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center to examine the gorillas in the Nkuringo group that is currently being habituated. The animals had lost hair and scratched themselves more than usual. Three young animals had an abnormal skin condition. One gorilla was anaesthetized, as it had lost about 60% of its hair and its skin was coming off in flakes. The MGVC took samples of the diseased skin and took biopsies. A microscopic examination indicated skin mites. The animal was drip-fed, as it showed signs of being dehydrated. Two other young animals were treated with an ectoparasitic ointment without being anaesthetized.

A week later, one of them was treated again. After another week, all three animals’ condition had markedly improved. However, at the end of August, in one case another follow-up treatment with the ectoparasitic medicine was necessary. In addition, a newly infected young gorilla had lost a lot of hair on the chest and also had to be treated. One young animal received its follow-up treatment from an Australian colleague from Uganda, as the silverback shielded it from the rest of the group while the veterinarians were there.

At the moment, all animals are in good condition. No additional individuals fell ill. The samples were sent to parasitologists in the USA in order to determine whether the mites were a species that normally infects humans or other mammals. To date, there is no final result. Scabies mites are considered very host specific. However, the mite in question does not seem to be an autochthonous gorilla parasite, as the young animals showed a strong reaction.

In early August, the IGCP called a meeting with the Ugandan park authorities, the ITFC (Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation) and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center. The local park authorities expressed their concern about the disease. Preventative measures are to be taken. The MGVC was asked to develop a questionnaire and give training that would enable rangers and possibly other people living close to the park to recognize early signs of gorilla diseases. This has since been done. Park authorities, IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme) and ITFC are planning additional measures.

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