The tracking team, each armed with a long stick, had gathered in a line on the hillside above us, ready to scare Ugenda and others away. Fundi, followed closely by our team—Magda, Jean Felix, Elisabeth, and I—would try to run Pasika away from her infant. We waited a few minutes for the dart to take effect. Inkumbuza fell soundly asleep next to his mother, but he’d rolled downhill a bit and we couldn’t see much of him. We waited another minute to see if Pasika would move, but she continued eating. Since we couldn’t see the little gorilla well enough to monitor his anesthesia, action was called for. Fundi approached Pasika quickly, waving a stick in front of him. I was right behind him.
Pasika whirled around, glared at Fundi, and tried to pick up her infant. Inkumbuza must have felt like a dead weight and when she found she couldn’t lift him, she dragged the sleeping infant a few feet and then let go. He rolled down the hill a little way. We followed quickly. She looked back at us again, then grabbed the long end of the rope attached to the infant’s left arm. She flicked her arm and threw him a few feet further down the trail. I’m not sure—everything happened so fast—but I think she tossed him forward in this way several times.
Magda said later that she heard Pasika scream repeatedly. I don’t remember hearing a thing. I was stunned by the scene in front of me, worried that the worst would happen. The mother would either carry off the anesthetized Inkumbuza, or the rest of the gorillas would catch up and prevent us from working on him. Even worse, he could already be hurt from what had just happened. But just as I was deciding we might have to back off and make sure Inkumbuza was OK, which would give Pasika and the other gorillas time to huddle around him, she hesitated, pausing with her hand on the rope. I was close enough to put my hand on Inkumbuza’s foot just as Fundi waved his stick one more time and the mother finally ran off. By then, I think there were just too many strange things happening for Pasika. The expression on her face wasn’t of fear. She looked annoyed and a little confused.
Like Pasika, I struggled to pick Inkumbuza up—he was heavier than we’d guessed. Fortunately, Elisabeth was right behind me, and together we carried him up the trail a short distance. Magda and Jean Felix met us there and we got to work. Concerned that we might soon be overtaken by Ugenda, Magda quickly removed the snare. It slid right off! Fortunately, there was no damage. Either Pasika had loosened it by pulling him after her, or the rope was never all that tight—just too tricky for a gorilla to figure out how to remove.
By this time the rain had become a deluge, and we were all a little discombobulated. I couldn’t hold onto anything with my cold hands, and my glasses were fogged and covered with rain drops. Our equipment was soaked, but Inkumbuza was sleeping soundly and his anesthetic parameters were stable, so we went ahead with getting a weight while Magda gathered supplies for sample collection. Jean Felix, Elisabeth, and I wrapped up Inkumbuza in our carrying tarp and hooked the handles together. Using the spring scale, Jean Felix lifted the gorilla and tarp off the ground. Together they weighed 23 kg. (Later we weighed the tarp—1 kg—so the gorilla weighed 22 kg.)
While Magda got to work taking samples, I asked the trackers to stretch a rain tarp over our heads, which helped a little. Unless forced by circumstance, we would never attempt a surgery or a diagnostic exam on a sick animal in such weather. But Inkumbuza was healthy, and we knew he’d need our help for only a few minutes. Magda did most of the work (she never gets cold!)—and finished the procedure in 35 minutes, just as the infant began to awaken. He was up and on his way down the trail a minute later. After another minute, we heard Pasika scream—a sign that the two had been reunited. Fundi and Magda ran ahead to see her reaction. Apparently the mother grabbed the infant, pulled him close to her, and immediately inspected his left arm. I wonder if she has any idea who took the snare off.