The valiant effort to save Silverback Noël of the Rugendo Group

Silverback Noël was barely able to walk when the Gorilla Doctors first arrived…

Noel blackback gorilla from the Rugendo group

During a visit to the Rugendo family of mountain gorillas on November 14th, rangers noticed that silverback Noël had become alarmingly lethargic. For those of you who have never visited the Rugendo group, Noël is well-known for being exceptionally playful and sweet tempered. According to the gorilla trackers, Noël had fallen from a tree a few days prior, which led rangers to suspect he’d suffered a sprained ankle and torn ligaments. Erring on the side of caution, rangers summoned the Gorilla Doctors to assess the situation. The silverback couldn’t be located the following day, but on the 16th, Gorilla Doctors Mike Cranfield, Eddy Syaluha, Martin Kabuyaya and Senkwekwe Center’s Andre Bauma found him. Noël was clearly in pain and moving slowly.

As a first step, Noël was darted with ketoprofen to relieve his pain and reduce inflammation. When the Gorilla Doctors located Noël the next day, he was in a dramatic state of decline. Noël hadn’t even left his nest from the previous night. The silverback was virtually unable to move and close to death. Noël was immediately anesthetized and a full examination was performed. Just a few minutes into the exam, the Gorilla Doctors discovered signs of rampant infection in Noël’s leg. Fearing that bacteria from the infection was causing septicemia, the doctors administered intravenous antibiotics and pushed IV fluids to rehydrate Noël. Meanwhile, Senkwekwe Center gorilla caregiver, Babo Ntakarimaze, made his way up to the gorilla sector to provide around the clock care for the silverback.

For the better part of a week, Babo gathered forest food for Noël, squirted liter upon liter of water into his mouth, and fanned away flies. During the cold nights, he kept Noël covered with blankets, and during the many rainstorms, protected him from the rain. This period was punctuated with hope and despair. At times, it seemed as though Noël was gaining his strength back, but 6-8 hours later, he was back to looking moribund. This pattern continued for several days, during which time the Gorilla Doctors continued to treat Noël with antibiotics, IV fluids, pain medications, and drugs to treat his hyperkalemia (dangerously high potassium levels), caused by the infection.

On the 25th, Noël had a seizure and hope began to fade quickly. Noël’s blood work showed severely diminished kidney function and he began exhibiting signs of pneumonia. The 26th was marked by a continued decline in Noël’s health and he was barely conscious. Sadly, despite everyone’s best efforts, Noël passed away at 10:30 pm on Monday, November 27th.

Noël was a wonderful gorilla and he will be missed by all. Heartfelt thanks to everyone that did their best to save him.