Young gorillas have learnt to dismantle hunters’ traps

Gorillas have been a long-standing target for poachers in Africa. 

Activists and conservationists, such as Dian Fossey, have worked tirelessly to curb the ongoing slaughter and trade in gorillas and their body parts. Gorillas can also fall foul to traps which are set for other animals, ones that are subsequently used for ‘bush meat’, an unregulated form of assorted wild creatures used for barbecue.

Rwanda has been a particular hot spot for poaching, especially in and around the Volcanoes National Park. The country has been left ravaged by famine and conflict, leaving animal welfare pretty low down the list of national priorities. There has also been danger in trying to protect the animals. Fossey was murdered in 1985, with her story being told in the movie Gorillas In The Mist three years later.

Dian Fossey reads to a pair of young gorillas in the early 1980s.

It was in the same national park where researchers have been observing some very unique and surprising behaviour. In 2012 a young mountain gorilla was killed in a poacher’s trap. In the following days, something remarkable was spotted. The other youngsters from the group began locating and dismantling other, similar traps.

Veronica Vecellio from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Centre in Rwanda told National Geographic “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. We are the largest database and observer of wild gorillas … so I would be very surprised if somebody else has seen that.”

John Ndayambaje, a jungle tracker, was working with Vecellio as they made their way through the jungle, dismantling traps as part of their daily routine. “Suddenly two juveniles – Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old – ran toward the trap,” reported National Geographic, “As Ndayambaje and a few tourists watched, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.”

It was added that, whilst this behaviour is remarkable, the conservationists cannot attempt to teach the animals any of these techniques, as they need to be learned naturally and passed on to the rest of the group. Regardless, this is another example of how fiercely intelligent gorillas are. Sadly, the species remains critically endangered, but with these startling new revelations, it appears that some of them are taking their wellbeing into their own hands.

Colin J McCracken

Colin J McCracken is a content designer, editor and writer from Ireland. Giving form and function to the My Good Planet vision, it has been his role to design and develop the online platform, content and presence of the project.

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