Young gorillas dismantle a trap

Just a few days after one member of their group had been killed by a trap, two young gorillas were seen dismantling one trap, and later another. This observation by gorilla conservationists was a first.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is home to mountain gorillas, and also a frequent location for poachers’ traps. These snares are set to catch antelopes and other animals for bush-meat, but mountain gorillas also get caught in them. Older gorillas are often strong enough to escape, but younger ones often can’t get out. In mid-July, an entrapped young gorilla was found too late to be saved, and subsequently died of extensive and seriously infected wounds.

The traps are made of rope and of the branches, bamboo and stones available at the site. Every day, the workers at the gorilla research centre make rounds to look for and disarm these snares. When one of the trackers had found a trap and was about to remove it, a silverback (adult gorilla) warned him to stay away. Two young gorillas, approximately four years old, moved in and destroyed the trap. They then saw another one – that the tracker had missed – and destroyed that, too. The speed with which they accomplished these feats made the programme coordinator believe that this was not their first time. She thinks the young gorillas are well aware that the snares are dangerous, and that they may have learned to dismantle the traps by watching trackers do the same. Still, the researchers were not very surprised. Though chimpanzees are known to use tools, gorillas are also very smart. And yet these researchers do not want to teach the gorillas to find and dismantle the traps. The philosophy of the research centre is to study, not interfere with, the gorillas’ natural behaviour.