Uganda Travel News

It was time to move on and take more control over circumstances affecting our lives and those of the gorillas. Back at camp, nervous laughter took some of the edge off our adrenaline fuel state. Yet Lee was in terrible shape and we had to act fast. Dian was not at camp .In any event; we had learned with Mweza that Karisoke stocked no drugs of the kind needed. Earlier in the week we had alerted the doctors at the French hospital in Ruhengeri that we might appear at any time with an emergency patient. So Craig and Bill took turns carrying Lee down the mountain, and then used a Karisoke van to drive Lee the final fifteen miles to Ruhengeri.

Pierre Vimont was chef de mission of the French hospital in Ruhengeri thought it served the general population, this was a military hospital and Vermont had a military commission as well as a medical degree. He was a short solid man with a quick sense of humour and a passion for wildlife. We had come to know Pierre through common friends and had earlier discussed the need for emergency medical care for injured mountain gorillas. He told us to bring him any gorilla anytime at work or at his home and he would do all he could to help. Arriving with Lee during Vermont’s post lunch siesta at home we put his offer to the test. Pierre responded quickly assembling a team of assistants and operating first to remove the wire and then clean the massive infection that had spread around it. A full course of topical and internal antibiotics followed. Then we waited Vimont opened a guest room at his home where Craig and Bill took turns staying and sleeping with Lee. But to no avail, on the second day, Lee died of her systematic infections.

We remained at Karisoke for a few more weeks. We said our teary good byes to the living gorillas, but Lee’s death marked the true emotional end of our stay. Another gorilla was dead. An African poacher had set the trap. The world’s preeminent gorilla research station had absolutely no means or back up system to help an injured gorilla, leaving us to jury-rig a dangerous rescue of Lee, who could have been easily saved by willing French doctors even a few days earlier. It was time to move on and take more control over circumstances affecting our lives and those of the gorillas.

JEAN-PIERRE VON BECKE cut a dashing figure in his military uniform. He was not a spit and polish fanatic a few years of study at Berkeley in the late 1960s had taken the edge off most of his colonial tendencies. Jean Pierre was most comfortable in a loose sweater and blue jeans. Yet there he was in a neatly pressed uniform of uncertain origin, white hair and beard flowing as he paced back and forth exhorting his new charges.

The score of Rwandan park guards facing their new boss were a decidedly motley crew. No two uniforms were the same and few guards had even a matched set of shirt and pants. Barely half wore boots. None owned water proof rain gear to work in a park where it rained ten months of the year. The weapons on their shoulders looked like relics from World War 1 single shot heavy rifles that were scarcely better than flintlock muskets. Still as Jean Pierre barked commands, the guards struggled nobly against all odds to look like a reasonable facsimile of a professional corps.

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