by Dr. Eddy Kambale

On Tuesday, April 8, the Congolese Park Authority (ICCN) reported to Gorilla Doctors that a juvenile gorilla in Kahuzi Biega National Park’s Chimanuka group had become caught in a poacher’s snare. When the young gorilla became ensnared, dominant silverback Chimanuka ripped the snare from the tree, freeing the youngster, but causing the wire to tighten around her left forearm. Her fingers and hand were swollen and she was not using the hand properly to feed on vegetation.

Ensnared Grauer’s gorilla juvenile in Chimanuka group in Kahuzi Biega National Park, DRC.

Ensnared Grauer’s gorilla juvenile in Chimanuka group in Kahuzi Biega National Park, DRC.

When we received the call, Dr. Martin was traveling to Bukavu and then on to Lwiro Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre to help with the transfer of 2 adult chimpanzees, Suena and Sherife, to new enclosures. Gorilla Doctors co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield was at our regional headquarters in Musanze, Rwanda and immediately left for Goma to meet me and prepare for the intervention. Dr. Mike and I took the night boat across Lake Kivu to join the rest of the intervention team, comprised of Kahuzi Biega National Park rangers and Dr. Kizito, the park’s veterinarian. 

This intervention proved to be challenging because the ensnared juvenile was staying close by her mother and the dominant silverback, Chimanuka. Chimanuka is notoriously very protective of his babies and could prove to be dangerous if he perceived us as a threat. In such a situation, we normally dart the mother and the infant in order to safely conduct the intervention, and were prepared to dart Chimanuka if necessary.

Silverback Chimanuka, the leader of the habituated group of Grauer’s gorillas in Kahuzi Biega National Park.

Fortunately, after some observation, the ensnared juvenile moved away to play with other juveniles of the group, leaving her mother and silverback Chimanuka behind. I darted her with a combination of Ketamine and Dexmedetomidine to sedate her and luckily, she didn’t scream, but just settled down on the ground. 

The team of rangers formed a protective barrier between the veterinarians and the silverback. Chimanuka was unaware until some other juveniles wandered up and sniffed the dart, screaming in confusion. This alerted Chimanuka and he began to vocalize and charge the field team. The rangers held their ground (which is no small feat with a silverback the size of Chimanuka) as he displayed and charged. He eventually settled down and watched from the periphery. 

Drs. Martin, Mike and I removed the snare once the juvenile was fully sedated. We cleaned the wound and collected samples for further testing and future research.

The field team conducts the snare intervention in Kahuzi Biega National Park.

The snare cut into the flesh of the young gorilla’s arm.

During the physical exam, syndactyly of the fingers on the right hand was noted. Syndactyly is seen throughout the monitored mountain and Grauer’s gorilla populations in the Virunga Massif. 
Syndactyly of the digits on the right hand was noted during the physical exam.

The anesthesia reversal was administered once the intervention was complete and we moved away from the juvenile once she was awake to allow the other gorillas to approach. After some time, she moved over to join her mother and they disappeared into the dense vegetation.

The intervention field team, comprised of Gorilla Doctors veterinarians and Kahuzi Biega National Park trackers. This is the fourth snare intervention that Gorilla Doctors has conducted in 2014 in the 3 countries where we work. Even with the challenge of a charging silverback, the Gorilla Doctors intervention was a success with the help of the dedicated Kahuzi Biega park rangers.