Juvenile gorillas in Africa observed disarming snare traps; it’s a first

Two days after a young mountain gorilla was killed in a poacher’s snare trap in Rwanda, two juvenile gorillas were observed deactivating two similar snares.

It is the first time since African gorilla field research began more than 50 years ago that juvenile gorillas have ever been witnessed destroying snare traps, which are indiscriminately injuring and killing mountain gorillas.

“We knew that gorillas do this, but all of the reported cases in the past were carried out by adult gorillas, mostly silverbacks,” Veronica Vecellio of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International wrote on the fund’s blog.

“Today, two juveniles and one blackback from Kuryama’s group worked together to deactivate two snares, and how they did it demonstrated an impressive cognitive skill.”

According to Vecellio, field data coordinator John Ndayambaje of the fund’s Karisoke Research Center spotted a snare in the path of some gorillas and moved to disarm it. But Silverback Yuba “pig-grunted” a warning to him, as if to say, “Stay away, we’ve got it covered.”

At the same time, juveniles Dukore and Rwema, along with blackback Tetero, “ran toward the snare and together pulled the branch used to hold the rope. They saw another snare nearby and as quickly as before, they destroyed the second branch and pulled the rope out of the ground,” Vecellio wrote.

Unfortunately, the gorillas and trackers don’t find all the snares. In her blog, Vecellio chronicles gorilla deaths and injuries, and how the medical intervention team tends to the wounds inflicted on the gorillas.

According to National Geographic Daily News, bush-meat hunters set thousands of these snare traps that are not even intended to catch gorillas. The targets are antelope and other species.

From the National Geographic Daily News:

Poachers build the snares by tying a noose to a branch or a bamboo stalk, Vecellio explained.

Using the rope, they pull the branch downward, bending it. They then use a bent stick or rock to hold the noose to the ground, keeping the branch tense. A sprinkling of vegetation camouflages the noose.

When an animal budges the stick or rock, the branch springs upward, closing the noose around the prey. If the creature is light enough, it will actually be hoisted into the air.

Two gorillas have been killed and many more injured this year by the snare traps.

“Our battle to detect and destroy snares from the park is far from over […] and the recent death of juvenile Ngwino, caused by snare injury, has given us all further motivation,” Vecellio wrote.

Undoubtedly, the late Dr. Dian Fossey would be proud of the work The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and Karisoke Research Center are doing.

The fund Fossey founded was established in 1978 as the “Digit Fund,” named after her favorite gorilla, and is designed to preserve and protect the world’s last mountain gorillas.

In 1967, Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. You might be familiar with her work; it inspired the 1988 movie “Gorillas in the Mist.”

As incredible and impressive as the efforts by the fund and research center are, it’s all the more remarkable to see the gorillas chipping in to help.

First photo: Young gorillas working together to destroy a snare trap.
Second photo: Young gorilla breaks a branch connected to a snare trap; note the snare rope at left
Third photo: Ngwino, left, died from injuries sustained in a snare trap; here with mother Shangaza in better times.

Photos are from The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Facebook page.