Pathological lesions of the digestive tract in free-ranging mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei)

Denis Muhangi, Chris H. Gardiner, Lonzy Ojok, Michael R. Cranfield, Kirsten V.K. Gilardi, Antoine B. Mudakikwa, Linda J. Lowenstine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The finding of parasites and bacterial pathogens in mountain gorilla feces and oral lesions in gorilla skeletal remains has not been linked to pathological evidence of morbidity or mortality. In the current study, we conducted a retrospective study of digestive tracts including oral cavity, salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, intestines (gastrointestinal tract [GI]), liver, and pancreas of 60 free-ranging mountain gorillas from Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo that died between 1985 and 2007. We reviewed clinical histories and gross pathology reports and examined histological sections. On histology, enteritis (58.6%), gastritis (37.3%), and colitis (29.3%) were the commonest lesions in the tracts. Enteritis and colitis were generally mild, and judged likely to have been subclinical. Gastritis was often chronic and proliferative or ulcerative, and associated with nematodiasis. A gastro-duodenal malignancy (carcinoid) was present in one animal. A number of incidental lesions were identified throughout the tract and cestodes and nematodes were frequently observed grossly and/or histologically. Pigmentation of teeth and tongue were a common finding, but periodontitis and dental attrition were less common than reported from past studies of skeletal remains. Despite observing numerous GI lesions and parasites in this study of deceased free-living mountain gorillas, we confirmed mortality attributable to gastroenteritis in just 8% (5/60) cases, which is less than that described in captive gorillas. Other deaths attributed to digestive tract lesions included cleft palate in an infant, periodontal disease causing systemic infection in an older adult and gastric cancer. Of all the parasitic infections observed, only hepatic capillariasis and gastric nematodiasis were significantly associated with lesions (hepatitis and gastritis, respectively). Understanding GI lesions in this endangered species is key in the management of morbidity associated with GI ailments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • gastrointestinal lesions
  • great apes
  • nonhuman primates
  • parasitism
  • pathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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