Gorillas Dismantle Poachers' Traps on First Leg of World Comeback Tour

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Hey, how about some slightly heartwarming news on this day of incomprehensible crap? After one of their companions was ensnared by a hunter's trap in Rwanda, it seems that young endangered gorillas are getting the last laugh. Or, uh, last terrifying jungle scream. Conservationists say a trio of juveniles in Rwanda has successfully learned how to find and dismantle other traps left by the poachers.


The endangered great apes live in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, where poachers occasionally set snare traps intended to capture antelope and other small game. According to National Geographic, the traps aren't powerful enough to harm adult gorillas, but baby gorillas are sometimes injured or killed. Last week, a female infant died after being caught in such a trap.

The traps are illegal, as they threatened the local mountain gorillas, which are already on the brink of extinction. And so, every day, human trackers comb the park for snares set by illegal poachers, dismantling them as they come across them. But earlier this week, a funny thing happened on the way to the snare.

On Tuesday tracker John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to deactivate the snare, but a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away, Vecellio said.

Suddenly two juveniles-Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old-ran toward the trap.

As Ndayambaje and a few tourists watched, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.

The pair then spied another snare nearby-one the tracker himself had missed-and raced for it. Joined by a third gorilla, a teenager named Tetero, Rwema and Dukore destroyed that trap as well.

In addition to being a terrifying harbinger of the future ape-ruled world we'll inhabit after someone does something stupid that results in a chain reaction that ends up destroying all of our computers and cars, researchers at a nearby preserve say they suspect this isn't the first time the young gorillas thwarted a poacher's plans. Other members of their clan have been caught in snares before, remarked one researcher, and so it's likely the juveniles know that the traps are dangerous to them. Another surmised that the gorillas must have learned how to dismantle them by watching human trackers at work.

It's probably a spike in my hormone levels combined with not having had a Fruit Roll up this morning combined with starting the day by reading account after account of horrible news, but this story made my eyes dangerously misty. Code Kleenex. The idea of gorillas learning how to dismantle traps in order to help each other is producing an emotional response in me similar to the one prompted by that scene in Finding Nemo when the net full of fish swims down together and is able to break free.

As of 2010, experts estimate that only 790 mountain gorillas exist in the wild, but thanks to conservation efforts, their population has been rising steadily since reaching a nadir in the early 1980's. Hopefully the next stop on their World Comeback Tour will involve learning how to turn off car alarms by smashing them.



Erin Gloria Ryan

I should add that if you click on the link, there's a photo of the gorillas dismantling a trap. Pretty neat.

And if you're interested in launching into the gorilla video binge I sadly don't have time to have, here's a good starting point.