26 September 2012

Mountain gorillas seen disarming poachers traps!

Everyday, animal trackers set out from the Karisoke Research Center into an isolated area of Rwandan rainforest aiming to find and disarm as many of the dangerous and illegal traps set by poachers as they can find. The trackers efforts are crucial in helping to protect the extremely rare mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) that inhabit the region, which are classified as being 'Critically Endangered' by the IUCN and are predicted to become extinct within 10 years if we fail to conserve them.

When tracker John Ndayambaje set out one morning he was fully expecting to see poachers traps. Sure enough, he located a clan of gorillas and spotted a snare trap nearby. Although many poachers don't set snare traps to catch gorillas, as adults of the species are easily strong enough to break free, they are capable of killing juveniles so he knew that he must disarm it.

When John moved to approach the trap however, a silverback called Vubu grunted at him, presumably warning him to stay away. As John watched, two younger gorillas named Rwema and Dukore made their way over to it and carefully broke it, working confidently and quickly, which suggests that they've had extensive experience with the traps in the past. Rwema and Dukore then searched the surrounding foliage, joined by a third member of the Kuryama Clan called Tetero, and disarmed several more traps that John hadn't yet seen.

Rwema and Dukore work together to disarm a snare trap set by poachers.

This remarkable ingenuity has undoubtedly arisen in response to the very real dangers that the traps pose and is a superb example of mountain gorilla intelligence and their ability to learn. Researchers at the Karisoke Research Center believe that the gorillas watched human trackers tackling the traps and copied how they disarmed them. Although fascinating to watch, Veronica Vecellio (the Centre's gorilla program coordinator) was not surprised by the events and said that she is "always amazed and very proud when we [the Centre's researchers] can confirm that they are smart".

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