A few days after a poacher’s trap killed a young mountain gorilla in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park in 2012, researchers spotted something remarkable: two four-year-old gorillas working together to dismantle similar traps in the region.
Thought to be going extinct in the 1980s, these giants of the mountains of Rwanda have seen their population increase in the last 20 years. But there are still accidents. Their worst enemy: antelope and buffalo traps. But gorillas are smart and they learn fast, as evidenced by an incredible scene filmed a few years ago by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. A few days after the death of a young gorilla in a poaching trap, two mountain gorillas, just four years old, were spotted working together to destroy the poachers’ traps. The two brave young males, named Dukore and Rwema, ended up destroying the trap.
“Today, our field team observed several young gorillas from the Kuryama group destroying traps! Says Veronica Vecellio, coordinator of the gorilla program at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund at the Karisoke Research Center. “John Ndayambaje, our field data coordinator, said he saw a trap very close to the group. As the gorillas were moving towards the trap, he decided to disable it,” she reports. But Vuba, a silver-backed gorilla, grunted at him as a warning sign, and “at the same time young Dukore and Rwema, as well as Tetero with a black back, ran to the trap and destroyed together the branches used to hold the rope. They saw another trap nearby and, as quickly as before, they destroyed the second branch and pulled the rope to the ground. ”
Traps work by tying a slipknot to a bamboo stalk. The stem is bent towards the ground, held in place with a stone, and all is hidden with leaves and dry branches. When an animal arrives and unintentionally moves the stone, the branch springs and tightens the knot around the prey, holding it in place until the poachers return. “If the creature is light enough, it will actually be hoisted in the air,” writes Ker Than, for National Geographic. If adult gorillas are large enough and strong enough to get off the trap, young people are often not. They often die from their wounds, dislocations, gangrenous cuts in particular.
The gorillas concerned here form a subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla called Gorilla beringei beringei. These animals are still today under severe threat. Thus, the population simply can not bear the constant loss of young gorillas. The researchers suspect that the confidence and speed with which these two young gorillas destroyed the traps means that they learned, on the one hand, that they were dangerous, and on the other hand that they had learned to dismantle them before.