Monday, May 30, 2011
How We Freed Infant Imfura from a Snare Rope
On Sunday, May 29, a team organized by the Karisoke™ Research Center finally succeeded in freeing infant Imfura from a snare rope that had been attached to his right leg since the previous Tuesday.
During our previous two attempts we had not been successful, the first time because the gorillas were still distressed by the snaring incident so they were aggressive toward humans, and the second time because there was rain and poor visibility. We decided to rest for a day and meet again on Sunday to hike to Pablo’s group for another attempt. Trackers monitoring the group reported aggressions directed towards Imfura and his mother Ishema because of the rope, which gorillas associate with live snares.
On Sunday the group was ranging in the sub-alpine zone. The dedicated team of Pablo’s group trackers reached them very early in the morning. They found Imfura and Ishema feeding at the periphery of the group, probably to avoid aggressions.
Later, when the intervention team reached the group, we discussed the role of each member and team before, during and after the intervention to insure success and avoid any problems during the process. As the infant is very young and dependent on his mother, it was decided that both of them should be anaesthetised.
As it has become customary during interventions in Pablo’s group — the largest gorilla group — we were a big team: a total of 19 people (10 from Karisoke, six from the Rwandan park authority and four from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project). For the intervention we formed three small teams: one team composed of two veterinarians accompanied by two trackers from Pablo’s group; a team made up of experienced trackers, for protection in case the gorillas became aggressive; and another team of trackers for extra protection and also to carry the equipment for the intervention.
After preparing the darts, the three veterinarians followed the head tracker, Francois Xavier Ndungutse, to where Imfura and Ishema were feeding. As visibility was not good, they decided to wait before darting the two gorillas. Silverback Gicurasi was also nearby, but he seemed to have calmed down after the aggression on tracker Jean Bosco Ntiragenya, who was bitten on the shoulder during the first intervention attempt. (Ntiragenya was treated at a hospital and is doing well.)
The right opportunity presented itself at 10:46 a.m. The veterinarians darted Imfura and his mother Ishema. Both gorillas screamed, followed by a loud scream from Gicurasi. However, they did not attack the veterinarians or trackers. Very few gorillas noticed this and only briefly stopped feeding. A few minutes later, as the anaesthetic was taking effect, the first team moved in and formed a protective belt around the two gorillas and the veterinarians.
Finally, the rope was removed from Imfura’s thigh and everybody let out a sigh of relief. The rope did not seem to have caused any major problems to the leg. The veterinarians took various samples for later analysis, to check the health status of the two gorillas. Ishema’s ear was bleeding from a fresh wound, which she appeared to have sustained in the morning protecting her infant.
When everything was done, the two gorillas were lifted to a flat area to avoid any accident when they woke up. Imfura was placed close to his mother so that he would not get left behind. The veterinarians administered the reversal drug and we waited for the two gorillas to recover, to see if they would move toward their group. A small group of gorillas, including Gicurasi, was resting at approximately 25-30 meters from the intervention site.
Imfura woke up before his mother and stayed close to her. At 11:50, both gorillas were awake but still under the effects of anaesthesia. A few minutes later, when Ishema was able to move, with Imfura close to him, we decided to leave the group and allow trackers to continue monitoring the two individuals. The trackers later reported that Ishema and Imfura had been joined by some individuals from the group and that they were seen feeding but showed some signs of weakness.
As we walked back, everybody was tired but satisfied with the great job they had accomplished.
Submitted by Felix Ngadijimana, Deputy Director, Karisoke™ Research Center