young gorillas spotted disabling a rope-and-branch trap
¬† ¬† I have good news to report about Africa’s fragile mountain gorilla populations. ¬†These highly endangered animals, who have came close to going extinct as a result of human activity, are fighting back!
¬† ¬† ¬†In one of the two African reserves where the world’s remaining mountain gorillas live, a small group of juveniles were seen on a tracker monitor disabling snares set by poachers! ¬†Bush-meat hunters make thousands of snares every year, mainly to trap antelope, not gorillas. ¬†But some mountain gorillas do get trapped in the camouflaged rope-and-branch snares, which consist of a noose tied to a tree branch that has been bent to the ground and held taut with a heavy stone. ¬†And while adult gorillas are usually strong enough to free themselves, younger gorillas are often not so lucky.
¬† ¬† ¬†Just days after an infant gorilla died from wounds she received struggling to free herself from a trap, several young gorillas were observed on camera working together to break a poacher’s snare. ¬†One of the young gorillas jumped on top of the tree branch to loosen the rope, while the other ‘team members’ untied the knot! ¬†Then, spotting a second trap, the little team disabled that one as well. ¬†All this was observed on camera.
¬† ¬† ¬†”This is absolutely the first time that we’ve seen juveniles doing that,” reported Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center. ¬†”I don’t know of any other reports of juvenile gorillas destroying snares.” ¬†Vecellio points out that these acts show “impressive cognitive skill.” ¬†
¬† ¬† ¬†I believe it is also impressive that these young animals organized themselves into an effective team to protect themselves and their fellows. ¬† I find it heartening that at least a few of these highly endangered animals have found a way to fight back against poaching, one of the major threats to their existence. ¬†
¬† Overall, the news about mountain gorillas is good. ¬†Their numbers are on the rise, increasing 10% between 2010 and 2012, from 786 animals to 880. ¬†”The increase,” explains Drew McVey, species program manager at the World Wildlife Fund-United Kingdom, “is due to conservation efforts that have engaged the local community. ¬†We don’t just work with the animals in the national parks,” he explains, “but also with the people.” ¬† For example, McVey’s organization helps the people, who are very poor, to find alternative sources of energy, so that they don’t gather firewood in the gorillas’ ¬†already very small secure area. ¬†And fortunately, the local people value the gorillas, at least partly because of the tourist income they generate.
¬† ¬† ¬†While the recent growth in mountain gorillas’ population is encouraging, the fight to save them is far from over, according to McVey. ¬†In addition to the threat of entanglement in traps, the gorillas’ habitat is threatened by agriculture and livestock grazing. ¬†Another threat from humans is disease. ¬†Since our DNA is so similar to theirs, humans can transmit everything from the common cold to the ebola virus, according to Jessica Aldred, writing in THE GUARDIAN. ¬†And now there is a new threat–the prospect of oil exploration by petroleum companies in one of the two reserves.
¬† ¬† ¬†If you wish to strengthen efforts to save and protect the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, a financial contribution to the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund would be helpful. ¬†This organization worked with Dian Fossey in the early 1980s and is continuing¬†to work to protect and expand the mountain gorilla population. ¬†¬†http://www.saveagorilla.org/