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Snares averted but still dangerous

One of the important tasks carried out each day by Fossey Fund gorilla trackers and anti-poachers in Rwanda is the search for and de-activation of snares set in the forest. These snares are generally set for game animals, such as antelopes, but the gorillas can get caught as well, and the resulting injuries can be serious or fatal.

Luckily, in 2016, no gorilla in the groups that the Fossey Fund monitors (consisting of an average 117 gorillas) was caught in a snare. This was the first time in about a decade that there were no such incidents. Unfortunately, a gorilla in the tourist groups was ensnared in late December but luckily was released unharmed.

Our trackers generally find and deactivate up to about 1,000 snares a year. But recently there have been a disturbing number of snares found near the gorillas, evidence of gorillas having deactivated some snares, and the rescue of a small antelope in a snare.

Recent snare activity

On Dec. 28, one of our tracking teams located some snares very close to a gorilla group, and a small antelope – called a duiker – had already been ensnared. Our trackers were able to free the duiker, which was still unharmed, all while the gorillas were observing.

On Jan. 3, the day before historic silverback Cantsbee returned, his group encountered five snares, and our trackers found that three of those had already been deactivated, two of them clearly by the gorillas themselves. Various clues, including gorilla tooth marks on the bended branches of the snare, made this clear

Research assistant Eric Ndayishimiye said they believed it was silverback Gicurasi who deactivated one of the snares, because they found it on his trail right after he went by. Other gorillas were following him and looking at the deactivated snare, walking cautiously and seemingly aware of the danger. Gicurasi was distressed and grunted at the trackers when they got close to the snare. But later, two young gorillas were playing with the broken piece of rope from the snare.

Jean Bosco holding rope from the snare
Jean-Bosco Bizumuremyi holding rope from the snare

Over the years, our field staff has observed gorillas dismantling snares themselves, including silverbacks and even a few juveniles. But this is very dangerous and can result in injuries. Still, it shows us that at least some gorillas are “snare aware” and know that these traps are dangerous.

Indamutso staring at a snare

Planning ahead

Since the number of snares in 2016 was higher than the previous few years, plans are being made to enhance our anti-poaching approach, such as including more “shock” or surprise patrols. We also hope to work with the Rwandan park authorities to again hold a community anti-poaching campaign, since it resulted in a dramatic drop in snares sets for some time.

If you want to help the Fossey Fund increase its ant-poaching activities, protecting gorillas from snares, please click here.