SnaresGorilla Health Threat: Snares

Rope and wire snares set by poachers in the national parks pose a great threat to the gorillas. In general, poachers set snares to catch antelope and other forest animals in order to feed their families. The land surrounding mountain gorilla habitat is some of the most densely populated in Africa, and most of the population is extremely poor. The pressure for food is enormous and some people turn to poaching to survive.

Unfortunately, gorillas, especially infants and juveniles, sometimes get caught in these snares. Gorillas may lose limbs or digits to snares, or die as a result of infection or strangulation.

When a gorilla is reported with a snare, the Gorilla Doctors make plans to intervene as soon as possible. An intervention team comprised of several veterinarians, national park staff members, and trackers and porters hike to find the ensnared gorilla and make an evaluation of the situation. In order for the team to safely approach the animal and treat its wound, the gorilla must be darted with an anesthetic drug. The Gorilla Doctors carefully prepare the amount of anesthesia needed to anesthetize the gorilla based on its estimated weight. The gorilla is darted with the drug using a compressed-CO2 dart projector. 

Chemically immobilizing an ensnared gorilla can be complicated. If the affected gorilla is young and being carried by its mother, the mother must also be darted because she won’t willingly give her up baby. The mother and baby must be darted simultaneously with two different dart guns, so it is challenging to find an opportunity to safely dart both. Whether darting one or two animals, it is necessary for the veterinarian doing the darting to hide behind two trackers so that the gorillas do not see the dart gun. The gorillas recognize guns and quickly flee if they spot one. 

Once an animal is successfully darted the veterinary team quickly moves in to remove the snare and treat the wounds. If the snare is tight around the gorilla’s limb the veterinarians may give the animal a steroid injection to prevent the toxins that have built up in the limb from making the gorilla sick when the snare is removed and circulation is restored. Wounds from the snare are cleaned and stitched if necessary, and the gorilla is given an antibiotic injection to help with the healing.

Watch a video of the Gorilla Doctors rescuing a baby gorilla from a snare: