Another Wire Snare (1)


A mountain gorilla treated for snare removal in Uganda from 2004. 

When I first read Benard’s e-mail, I didn’t want to believe it.  A blackback in Nkuringo Group had a wire snare around his leg.  The gorilla had continued to eat, but he’d begun to fall behind the group.  One of us needed to cross the border to Uganda before closing time, stay in Kisoro for the evening, and leave for the forest early the next morning to deal with the snare.  The drive would take two hours, followed by another hour’s trekking.  I wondered why Bernard hadn’t called until I remembered the poor cellphone reception around the parks in Uganda.  He must have gotten the message from the park warden and decided the best way to relay it quickly was via the nearest Internet Café.  I wrote back asking him to call me as soon as possible to confirm the bad news.  This case sounded a lot like the last three snares in Uganda: no chance that it would resolve on its own.


First 2008 Uganda snare in February.

 From the bit of information I had, I suspected that this was not a new snare.  It takes a few days for lameness to occur, and that could explain why the gorilla was lagging behind his family.  Much depends on how tight the snare is and on whether it is indeed made of wire.  I think it’s been years since we had a case of a rope snare in Uganda.  What was going on? This would be the fourth wire snare in Uganda in six months, the sixth in the past 13 months.


The gorilla’s hand in snare case #1 2008 Uganda after removing the wire.

Various questions collided in my mind.  The most obvious and important one was: Where are the snares coming from?  As I’ve explained before, the snares are set to catch game for food, especially small antelope, or duiker.  Are more being set, or are the gorillas moving through snare-laden areas more often?  If there are more snares in the parks in Rwanda and Uganda—we have no idea what’s going on in DR Congo—is it because there are more hungry people these days? Whatever the answer, many illegal hunters are still getting into the park.  Is this because of the leaky and insecure border with Congo?  Maybe the poaching patrols have simply not been doing their jobs, or maybe they lack the equipment to do them effectively.

I’d raised these questions during a recent community conservation meeting held by the chief park warden of the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.  I asked them again after little Icyerecyezo’s snare injury.  A month earlier, I’d also spoken with the chief park warden in Uganda’s Bwindi and Mgahinga parks and directed Benard to check with the patrols there.  Each time the reply has been the same: the wardens have more rangers patrolling more of the parks than ever, and believe they’ve become more proficient at  finding snares.  That may be so, but given how many snared gorillas we’ve seen recently, there may also be an increased number of snares in the park.


Second 2008 Uganda snare in April.

Another possible explanation is that the gorillas have become lax at watching for snares and traces of human activity. The trackers say the gorillas know where the poachers set snares, along paths used by antelope.  What would send them into these potential minefields?  Maybe the gorillas’ preference for a particular food is leading them astray.  When I was checking on the Kwitonda Group gorillas for respiratory disease, they were intensely focused on Drombere tree flowers for the entire month.

There’s also the fact that many of the gorilla groups routinely leave the park to forage for crops in Uganda; in Rwanda, they leave to eat the bark of eucalyptus trees.  It could be that these trips out of the park and closer to the human population around the border is the source of the problem.  Or maybe they’re encountering snares because their movements are affected in some way by the war in DR Congo.


Third 2008 Uganda snare in August.

Alternatively, weather might have something to do with it.  There are supposed to be both a short and long rainy and dry season, weather patterns that confuse me no end.  As I understand it, the short rainy season was late this year, and even shorter than normal.  Now it’s almost time for the long wet season.

Unfortunately, if the snare is tight and made of wire, it can do irreparable damage even if we get it  off within 24 hours, as in Magayane’s case (Rwanda Aug 2007).


Unfortunately, if the snare is tight and made of wire, it can do irreparable damage even if we get the snare off within 24 hours as in Magayane’s case (Rwanda Aug 2007).

While I waited for Bernard’s reply that morning, I tabled plans to meet with Magda to go over administrative stuff.  Oh, well.  At least there was enough time for me to pack up and get to the border crossing before it closed.  Instead of tackling the pile of paperwork on my desk, I piled it back up into a neat-looking stack and closed down my e-mail.  Not only was it my turn to go to Uganda, but Magda had just returned to Africa from a holiday in Poland and was still in quarantine.


Magayane nursed her sore finger after we removed the snare, and she healed fine, minus the end of her middle finger (Rwanda Sep 2007.)

I texted Benard a second message repeating my request to call as soon as he had a signal and saying I’d be on my way once the case was confirmed.  It’s a long way to go only to find out the snare is off, something that’s happened before.  Usually, we prefer to document the presence of a snare by sending out a field vet to check it one day, then readying a team to remove it the next.  These reports are often a series of relayed messages, and they can change from one person to the next, as well as from one language to another.

Benard answered my text immediately: yes, the snare was confirmed.  The information came from the most experienced guide for the Nkuringo group.  A few minutes later I managed to reach him on the cell phone.  He was on the road from Kampala, the capitol city of Uganda.  Despite terrible reception, he was able to give me some additional information.  The snare must indeed be several days old, as the gorilla’s leg was reportedly swollen and he’d been dragging it.  We wouldn’t’ know how bad the damage was until we got there.  I started packing.

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  1. Theresa
    Posted October 1, 2008 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Poor thing! Thank God it wasn’t worse! Why the increase snares lately? Are they being missed on patrols? Or is it a combination of several factors? There must be something that can be done to reduce the risk of these gorillas being injured.

  2. Posted October 2, 2008 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    It is such a worry that the snaring of gorillas seems to be going up. Lucy brought a snare to the kids Gorilla summit in New York and it made quite an impact on the kids to see how such a simple rope could do such damage. I hope that something can be done to reduce the snaring and I I’m with Theresa on this one, what is the reason, what can be done?

  3. Posted October 2, 2008 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Paula and Theresa,
    From my perspective, what’s needed is to return to the basics: park rules need to be enforced. It sounds simple but the solutions are complex–the resources, coordination, and political will need to be there to enforce the rules given that three countries are involved. Of course helping people around the park to live healthier lives is what we need to do as well. But this is a long term solution. Stepping up enforcement of park boundaries and punishment of illegal behavior can be done in the short term, and I hope it happens.

  4. Annie
    Posted October 3, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Poor babies……..such trauma and pain for them to endure…I hope more notice can be taken here………this needs to stop happening….

  5. Samantha
    Posted October 4, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Well done Lucy & the team. Great job.

  6. Posted October 4, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Those photos just break my heart, but I believe people need to know what is going on. Thank you Dr. Lucy (& your incredible team!) for your honorable work and your ethical integrity.

  7. Rachel Ellen
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Think you should not interfer with the natural process of them getting out of snares or the consequent damage. You guys are fine people but the numbers you help are so so very small. What a nicer world it would be to help the local humans so much instead of a forest animal!

  8. Posted April 2, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Getting trapped in snares is not a natural process. We believe mountain gorillas deserve the right to life especially because they are so few in number and their reduced number is a direct result of negative human activity. The conservation community recognizes that in order to protect animals we need to also help the human population living near the national parks. MGVP helps people by facilitating health care for people who work in the national parks and their families. Other conservation NGOs sponsor health clinics, clean water projects, job training, education, and other initiatives for the local people. Gorilla tourism is also a great financial boon to the countries with mountain gorillas, and a large portion of the income generated is given directly to the communities living near the parks. Not to mention the many jobs created by the tourism industry. The economic benefit of gorilla tourism encourages the different Africa governments to protect the rain forest ecosystems where the gorillas live. These forests provide a vital watersheds, and without them, much rainfall to the surrounding area would sharply decrease and make farming much more challenging.

    The people who live near the parks have access to more services, more opportunities for employment, and better quality farmland because the mountain gorillas exist. People who live further away in areas already destroyed by deforestation do not receive these benefits.

    Everything in this world is connected and it would be very sad and detrimental to people to lose the mountain gorilla species.

  9. Rachel Ellen
    Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Dear Gorilla Doctors who responded to my earlier comment.
    Thank you for the beautiful comments you responded back with. This has helped me understand correctly the situation and change my outlook to a positive and supportive view of your work to save these gorillas. Please keep up what you are doing for these special friends of us humans. They deserve life and limb as we do. Thanks again

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