mountain gorilla mother chewing plant with baby

Chew On This: Personalized Health Care for Mountain Gorillas

Scientists Rule Out Human Herpesvirus in Endangered Gorillas With Help From Chewed Plants

A mountain gorilla walks in the forest of East Africa’s Virunga Volcanoes conservation area. It stops at a piece of wild celery, sits down, and begins to chew. It strips the vegetable’s fibrous threads through its teeth, extracting the fleshy, juicy bits, then drops the chewed stalk on the ground and ambles away. 

Minutes later, wildlife veterinarians observing the scene write down the name of the gorilla and retrieve the saliva-drenched plant, which carries vital information about that gorilla’s health. 

This simple, noninvasive tool of a chewed plant is helping Gorilla Doctors — who know each gorilla by name — provide personalized health care to wild, endangered mountain gorillas living in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. 

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, used the technique to rule out the presence of human herpesviruses among the region’s mountain gorillas. Their findings are described in a study published in the American Journal of Primatology.

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