Why is local veterinarian, entrepreneur, and bon vivant Kim Hammond spending so much time in East Africa?
Since joining the board in 2005, Hammond has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and equipment to MGVP, but Dr. Cranfield says the resources are not Hammond’s biggest contribution.
“He’s done several things,” he says. “Probably the most significant one was to bring African veterinarians over to his clinic.”
Beginning in 2005, Hammond paid to bring African vets to work in his Falls Road hospital to learn basic techniques. “In Africa, they see very few cases,” says Cranfield. “They needed to see dozens of cases a day. They needed to be comfortable around animals, they needed to draw blood. Their didactic skills got much better.”
When bringing individual veterinarians to Baltimore proved slow and costly, Hammond decided to bring the training to Africa, paying $100,000 out of his pocket to transport high-tech equipment into the mountains of Rwanda for young veterinarians to use on-site—a feat most thought was impossible.
“He’ll get an idea, and he’ll take it to the nth degree, and more often than for a lot of people, they work out, just because of his drive,” says Cranfield. “He’ll follow it until he hits an obstacle that is insurmountable—and he’ll pass four or five obstacles that everybody else would call insurmountable along the way.”
Beyond training young vets, Hammond has taken a particular interest in serving the communities that live around the gorillas. He funds a mentoring program with several orphanages in the Rwandan mountains, where local tour guides teach orphans skills to become part of the eco-tourism industry. The MGVP’s work provides a sustainable habitat for the gorillas so that tourists—about 56 per day—can pay $500 each to tour the mountains and see them. A large portion of those fees go to the people who live nearby.
“We take care of about two million people now and the main reason is that no one’s gonna save a gorilla if they’re hungry,” says Hammond, citing MGVP’s One Health philosophy, which states that, in order for the gorillas to be healthy, surrounding communities must be healthy as well. “If the people are sick, they’re gonna spread those diseases to the gorillas.”
More than anything, Cranfield says, Hammond greatest gift to MGVP is his boundless energy. “I go over there more than him, but every time I go over, everybody asks about Dr. Kim,” says Cranfield. “He gives away T-shirts and he always throws a party. Somehow, he just builds the morale in the town that we live in. He’s always up and always energetic. It’s amazing.”
Never one to rest on his accomplishments, Hammond has a full slate of projects he’s trying to pursue with the help of the Rwandan government, including reintroducing rhinos into Akagera national park, and creating a face recognition database for the gorillas, both to track them for medical reasons and also so that tourists can know the names and histories of the animals they’re seeing. There’s also a team of producers from HBO’s Big Love, who want to shoot a series on Cranfield, Hammond, and the other veterinarians of MGVP, called Gorilla Doctors.
“Five years from now, we’re going to be sitting here and all these things are going to be done,” he says, without a hint of irony or false modesty. “That’s how I operate.”
Dr. Hammond is in one of Falls Road Animal Hospital’s four operating suites, spaying a golden retriever named Kelly. It’s a procedure he’s performed thousands of times.
His hands move quickly, occasionally slowing to show visitors the dog’s ovaries or incision points, but his mouth never stops. The office reflects his energy, with vets, technicians, and animals quickly moving from room to room in a choreographed dance of veterinary efficiency.
“When he comes back from a trip to Africa, you can tell he’s excited to be back in the hospital, taking cases again,” says Keisha Adkins, a veterinarian on staff. She chose to work at Falls Road because of the fast pace and the range of cases. “You can build a career here.”
As he does the surgery, Dr. Hammond talks about some interesting cases he’s seen today, including a cat who was born allergic to its teeth (they all had to be removed), and a dog that severely fractured a hind leg in a car accident.
Suddenly, Dr. Hammond’s mouth and hands freeze. He’s misplaced the blade he’d been using during the surgery. He searches the operating table, then the floor, then, finally, inside Kelly. After a minutes-long search, he calls out to one of his technicians.
“We’re gonna need an x-ray!”
Dr. Hammond finishes the procedure and stitches up the dog’s wound as quickly and seamlessly as a Singer and carries Kelly into the x-ray room. Sure enough, the blade is in there. Back into the operating room, Hammond opens the stitches, removes the blade, and sews the dog up once again.
Clearly frustrated—perhaps doubly because a reporter is present—Dr. Hammond kicks a doorframe. “I’m not Superman,” he mutters.
It’s not clear if he’s speaking to himself or those around him, but it seems an apt reminder for a man who has achieved so much on the force of his confidence and will.
Cranfield says Hammond’s reputation as a tireless self-promoter is “somewhat warranted,” but “the business that he’s in, he has to be a self-promoter.” For MGVP, Hammond provides the kind of loud enthusiasm Cranfield and scientific colleagues struggle to muster.
A few minutes after the Kelly debacle (she recovered just fine, Hammond reports), the surgeon is back in his office, where he gets a call from one of the HBO producers. She brags about Big Love’s just-announced Golden Globe nominations before going over the schedule for shooting a pilot of Gorilla Doctors.
Hammond hangs up and smiles, clearly happy to prove the project is really happening. “I don’t think half the people will believe that my life is real.”