Rwema and Dukore, male and female 4-year-old gorillas, demolished the traps set by poachers. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda was the place these gorillas took action. The two gorillas were caught on camera finding the snares and dismantling them.
Some conservationists from the Karisoke center were the first to witness the incredible moment, as they were searching for traps.
One tracker named John Ndayambaje searched the area and found a snare near the Kuryama gorilla clan. As he tried to deactivate it, the grunts of Vubu- a silverback gorilla stopped him. At that moment, Rwema and Dukore went into action. They sprang towards the snare, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch, and Dukore released the tie.
Shortly after, they saw another snare and went over to destroy it. That is when a third gorilla joined them and together they dismantled it.
Their behavior was changed after an incident occurred
A week before the gorillas took action on destroying snares, one juvenile gorilla named Ngwino was caught in a hunter’s trap in the forest. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it out. As she fought for her freedom, she dislocated her shoulder and had rope cuts on her leg. The cuts caused gangrene (death of tissue) on her legs and when untreated cause death. Shortly after the gangrene occurred, she died. Workers from Karisoke discovered her, but it was too late, she was already gone.
As far as they know, the traps were set for antelopes, not gorillas. Therefore, other animals that were caught in their traps were left to die, the same as the juvenile gorilla.
It seems like it wasn’t their first time
Even though it was the first time gorillas were seen doing something of that nature, they’ve certainly done similar things in the past.
Veronica Vecellio, the Gorilla Program Coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center, said:
“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.”
She added: “We are the largest database and observer of wild gorillas… so I would be very surprised if somebody else has seen that.”
Hunters aim for adult gorillas, especially silverbacks as they were caught in snares frequently. Perhaps, the two juvenile gorillas were aware of the traps and their dangers, that’s why they demolished them.
They were very fast in dismantling the snares, which made Vecellio think that it wasn’t their first time doing it. She said:
“They were very confident. They saw what they had to do, they did it, and then they left.”
Many people, including Vecellio, weren’t surprised by those actions. She openly admitted she wasn’t surprised by their actions, but is “always amazed and very proud when we can confirm that they are smart.”
The Veterinarian and the Executive Director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Mike Cranfield, wasn’t shocked at all by their behavior. He thinks they watched the center’s trackers work and learned a way to destroy traps.
According to him, chimpanzees are not the only intelligent primates. He said:
“Chimpanzees are always quoted as being the tool users, but I think when the situation provides itself, gorillas are quite ingenious.”
And in case you are wondering why people aren’t making efforts in teaching gorillas how to free them from snares, Vecellio has the answer:
“No, we can’t teach them. We try as much as we can to not interfere with the gorillas. We don’t want to affect their natural behavior.”
Some poachers don’t roam the forest with high-powered rifles just to shoot and kill an animal. Of course, some of them will shoot on the spot, but there is a more convenient method- they built snares.
Snares are made to trap and keep animals and typically are made of a tie made from cable or wire. It is a long piece of wire with a loop made at the end of it. The hunters attach them to a log or a tree. The loop is hanged from a branch and its job is to catch an animal by its neck when it walks along the trail
When the animal is caught in the snare, it is hard to release itself, as when the animals are moving forward, the snare pulls tighter. These kinds of snares are among the most deadly tools for hunting, because animals are tied around their neck and it may kill them instantly. Their death is cruel and agonizing.
Why they choose snares?
- Hunter’s favorite traps are snares, as they are detested by conservationists for the same reasons.
- They are difficult to be found so conservationists cannot find and dismantle them easily
- It is easy to design them, which makes them a poacher’s favorite tool for hunting
- They can set up numerous snares at a time. As they are easy to be made, hunters make as much as possible. So conservationists have a hard time getting rid of them all. Furthermore, hunters aren’t able to keep track of all snares that are set, which will lead to the slow agonizing death of the caught animals.
- With this kind of snares, poachers can catch any type of animal.
How come gorillas destroy snares?
It is known that most times hunters set them for antelopes and other bushmeat. And gorillas are trapped by accident. The snares aren’t specially designed to “recognize” certain animals that hunters want to catch.
But, adult gorillas have strength in their hands and can break free. Gorilla’s wrists and hands are strong and stable. Adult gorilla, especially their upper body, is six times stronger than any adult human. That’s why they can break things and squeeze heavy objects.
Another feature is their big toes and thumbs as opposed to the other digits (fingers and toes). For this reason, they can manipulate objects not only with their hands but also with their feet.
Gorillas like many other animals are classified as endangered species. Critically endangered is the mountain gorilla. There are numerous threats to their extinction, including deforestation, human-induced habitat loss, hunting for their meat, poaching for private collections, their susceptibility to disease, sale of body parts, accidental poaching, pet trade, and lack of awareness.
Despite all the dangers following them, there is still hope left. They seem to be more aware and start fighting for them. In the future, we hope that gorillas will no more be on the endangered list.