Conservationists were astonished to witness two four-year-old gorillas destroying traps in their Rwandan forest home after their friend died from one such trap. These traps are actually set up by meat hunters for antelope and other species, but sometimes young apes are unintentionally caught. Young apes aren’t strong enough to escape, and they usually die from the injuries sustained during their escape. Hunters in Karisoke rarely show interest in the captured gorillas and leave them to die in snares. The two gorillas’ friend, Ngwino, ended up in one of the traps and was found too late by workers from Karisoke. Ngwino had died from snare-related injuries: a dislocated shoulder and gangrene that soon set in after the ropes cut deep into her leg.
So gorillas Rwema and Dukore took matters into their own hands to protect their clan.
Young Gorillas Seen Dismantling Hunters’ Traps
Poachers build the snares by tying a noose to a branch or a bamboo stalk. 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. Foliage is used to camouflage the noose.
The slightest budge to the stick or rock would cause the branch to spring upward, closing the noose around the animal that moved it. If the creature is light enough, it will actually be hoisted into the air.
People are employed at the reserve as trackers to comb the forest and dismantle the traps to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. One of these trackers, John Ndayambaje, spotted a trap near a clan of gorillas and tried to approach it, but an older, dominant gorilla named Vubu from the clan warned him with a grunt to stay away. John stayed in his spot and found two young gorillas springing toward the trap themselves. Rwema, a male, jumped on the bent tree branch to break it, and Dukore followed him to free the noose. A teenager ape, Tetero, quickly found another trap, and the three young apes immediately dismantled it as well.
“This is absolutely the first time that we’ve seen juveniles doing that … I don’t know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares,” said Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund‘s Karisoke Research Center located in the reserve where the event took place.
The speed at which the young gorillas dismantled the traps indicated that this wasn’t the first time they did it. “They were very confident,” Vecellio said. “They saw what they had to do, they did it, and then they left.”
Adult gorillas have also occasionally been caught in the traps and young ones have been killed from them, so the other youngsters would have already learned that these traps are dangerous. Veterinarian Mike Cranfield, executive director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, speculated that the gorillas may have also learned how to identify and dismantle the traps by watching the employed trackers do it.
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