Over the last few days, the Gorilla Doctors have been following the complicated cases of two injured infant gorillas belonging to Inshuti group. One infant was caught in a snare and in the other the case the cause of the trauma was unclear. It has not been possible to intervene yet in either case due to high stress levels in Inshuti group and fighting between silverback Inshuti and his rival Giraneza.
Dr. Dawn reports:
On July 3, trackers from the Karisoke Research Center reported finding the infant gorilla Akaruso dangling upside down from a tree by a rope snare that had caught his left leg. Akaruso is the three-year-old infant of Taraja who transferred to Giraneza group, the new group that formed when silverback Giraneza took some members from Inshuti group in February. Akaruso remained with Inshuti group. The trackers were able to cut the snare from the tree, and the infant was reunited with Inshuti, although he appeared to be weak and limping with the rope still around his leg. As standard practice, we did not attempt an intervention that same day in order to allow the stressed group to regain some composure.
The next day, Karisoke reported that Inshuti made it very difficult to check on Akaruso. Inshuti charged multiple times and kept the infant out of view. It was not possible to perform an intervention.
Over the next few days, Inshuti continued to charge the trackers, and they could only catch glimpses of Akaruso. On July 8, trackers reported seeing the snare still on Akaruso’s left leg. However, later in the day, the Inshuti and Giraneza groups met and the silverbacks fought, making it impossible to intervene again.
Today, I went up to assess the situation for a possible intervention to remove Akaruso’s snare. Our team found Giraneza’s group first and, surprisingly, Akaruso was with Giraneza. No snare was observed on Akaruso’s leg, nor was he limping. However, he was not using his left arm very well. No wound or swelling could be appreciated, and he could. I observed his ability to fully extend his elbow, wrist, and fingers, even grasping at some vegetation on the ground. However, most of the time, he kept his left arm in to his chest, using only his right arm when moving. In addition, Akaruso was not observed eating during our two-hour observation period.
It became apparent that there might have been a misidentification between Akaruso and the two-year-old female Ngwino, who is also a member of Inshuti group. In retrospect, Ngwino may have been the infant cut from the tree on July 3.
Trackers believed that another infant was caught in a snare around the same time, as a piece of bitten off rope was found in the area. Perhaps this was Akaruso and the snare had been attached to his left arm, causing pain and mal-use of the arm. Another possibility for Akaruso could be trauma due to aggression from Giraneza. When an infant gorilla joins a group with an unrelated silverback, there is always the risk that the silverback could commit infanticide. We observed one episode of aggression by Giraneza towards Akaruso, but Giraneza subsequently groomed Akaruso and they rested together.
Soft tissue trauma to the arm is the most likely differential, although we are unable to rule-out a fracture and/or dislocation. Due to the movement of the elbow, wrist, and finger joints, I suspect he will improve without needing intervention. However, we cannot rule-out any internal abdominal trauma due to aggression from Giraneza that would explain the infant’s decreased appetite. Stress could be another factor as it has been only one day since the infant moved to a new group post-interaction.
Later in the day, we found Inshuti with the adult female Shangaza not far from Giraneza group’s location. Inshuti appeared uneasy. Ngwino was not with them. Tomorrow, a large tracker team will set out to try to find her.
Today trackers found Inshuti and Shangaza but no sign of Ngwino. The search will resume tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the tense situation between the silverback Giraneza and the male infant Akaruso, who left Inshuti group on July 8 to join his mother Taraja, has evolved. This morning trackers reported that Akaruso appeared to be trying to run away from Giraneza with his mother. Later Akaruso was observed by himself, running in the direction of Inshuti group. He was half way to Inshuti group when trackers left the forest at the end of the day.
We are very concerned for the safety of both Ngwino and Akaruso. Tomorrow our colleagues at the Karisoke Research Center and the Rwandan Development Board will attempt to track both infants.
Neither infant was located today. The search will continue tomorrow.
Karisoke Research Center trackers finally found Ngwino today with Inshuti group. She still has the rope snare around her leg and appeared very weak. We are planning to intervene with the Karisoke team first thing tomorrow morning. Sadly, the infant Akarusho is still missing.
To be continued …
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