Helping to Preserve Gorillas in Africa

Mar 11, 2024 | Our Stories

Raemonde Bezenar found her passion in life when she visited Africa in 2007.

“I did nine gorilla treks—four in Uganda and five in five in Rwanda—and when I returned to Canada, I knew that I wanted to do something for gorillas,” Raemonde says. “But I didn’t know what.”

With the help of Rotary, Raemonde found a way to make her dream a reality.

Raemonde, who is a parts technician for Liebherr Canada, joined the Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview in 2019 and currently serves as the club’s fundraising chair and president-elect.

Since that first visit to Africa, Raemonde has returned to the continent five times and participated in several more gorilla treks. Wild gorillas are increasingly threatened by the loss of habitat, deforestation, illegal hunting, war, poaching and by the transmission of disease caused by humans.

During one visit, Raemonde learned about the work of Gorilla Doctors, defined on its website as “the only organization in the world dedicated to saving the mountain and eastern lowland (Grauer’s) gorilla species one gorilla patient at a time, using veterinary medicine and science with a One Health approach. Our international veterinary team provides hands-on medical care to ill and injured mountain and Grauer’s gorillas living in the national parks of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With only 1,063 mountain gorillas, and an ever- decreasing number of Grauer’s gorillas left in the world today, the health and well-being of every individual gorilla is vital to the species’ survival.”

Raemonde says, “I had an opportunity to get to know the veterinarians working with the gorillas and see what they do,” and that motivated her to find a way for more veterinarians to receive training to care for gorillas.

Through Rotary, Raemonde was able to secure funding to enable two young veterinarians to qualify to work with gorillas and other wild animals by earning a masters degree in wildlife health and management.

Adrien Emile Ntwari qualified as a veterinarian in Rwanda and Theophile Kiluba in the DRC.

As often occurs with international projects, these scholarships became possible when the Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview partnered with other organizations. In addition to the club’s initial commitment of C$5,000, other funds came in the form of a grant of C$10,000 from Rotary District 5370 and a US$35,000 donation from Mountain Gorilla Conservation Society of Canada. The Mountain Gorilla Conservation Society of Canada is an Edmonton-based charity that Raemonde established in 2008 to raise funds to help secure the future the future of mountain and lowland gorillas.

With these funds in place, Riverview applied for a grant from The Rotary Foundation, a charity supported through donations from Rotarians in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. With the TRF grant, there was US$77,685 to enable Adrien and Theophile to pursue their studies at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

By coincidence, Makerere University is also the host insinuation for the newest of Rotary International’s peace centres which are located at seven universities in different countries around the world.

This project of the Rotary Club of Edmonton Riverview addresses two of Rotary International’s seven areas of focus: Protecting the environment and growing local economies.

“When you go to Uganda and Rwanda, you hear about the gorillas. Visits by tourists from around the world creates an influx of money into these countries from fees charged to visit the gorilla,” Raemonde says.

The fees charged tourists finance wildlife conservation and give local communities a tangible incentive to protect Africa’s ecosystems.

“For the community to benefit, the gorillas must be present and healthy,” Raemonde says. “In order for gorillas to keep attracting tourists, they have to be healthy.”

To ensure the health of gorillas, the Gorilla Doctors take an approach that recognizes that the health of endangered wildlife depends on the health of people, livestock and domestic animals that surround them.

“Tourists are required to wear masks because the gorillas are susceptible to airborne diseases from humans,” Raemonde says.

Gorilla Doctors’ focus extends beyond the care and conservation of gorillas, said Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, the organization’s executive director and chief veterinary officer, in response to an email inquiry for this article. She described the work of the organization’s Gorilla Conservation Employee Health Program that it introduced nearly 20 years ago.

“Gorilla Doctors has provided annual access to physicians for wellness examinations, laboratory diagnostics, vision tests and preventive medications and vaccines for many hundreds of park workers (trackers, guides, anti-poaching patrollers, porters),” she wrote. “It helped them with understanding their own health, and the impact of their health on them and on gorillas.”

“If gorillas were to become extinct, can you imagine how many people would not come to Africa?” Raemonde asks, “If something happens to the gorillas, that means villagers won’t get the schools they need.”

Her passion comes down to a simple message: “We have to protect the gorillas.”

With the support of Rotary, Raemonde is doing her part to make this happen.

Veterinarians Adrien Emile Ntwari and Theophile Kiluba at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

Dr. Adrien Emile Ntwari conducts a health check on gorillas.


Dr. Theophile and Raemonde with Bonane Silverback in PNKB.

Veterinarian Says Thank You to Rotarians

Dear Rotary Members,

We are thrilled to announce the successful completion of our Masters program in Wildlife Health and Management at Makerere University (Ugnada). This achievement would not have been possible without the invaluable contributions from each and every one of you, starting with approval One Health scholarship that covered the entire course process from inception to completion.

Your unwavering support and dedication have played a pivotal role in this success, reflecting our collective commitment to making a meaningful contribution to education, conservation, and overall well-being. This accomplishment is a testament to the power of collaboration and the positive impact we can create together.

We view this milestone as a significant step in our overarching goal to enhance well-being of people, animals, and the entire environment. Thank you for playing a big role in our journey, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to promote positive change in the realm of wildlife health and management and at the interface with human and environment.

Theophile Kiluba

Dr. Theophile Kiluba