Field Report: By Dr. Gaspard Nzayisenga

The last couple of weeks have been stressful for 2.5-year-old infant Ingabire of Isimbi group in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. On August 8 we received a report that Ingabire had been trapped in a wire snare. The trackers were able to successfully detach the wire from the bamboo stake, allowing Ingabire to remain with his gorilla family. Surprisingly, the gorillas kept playing with the wire still attached to his arm and managed to remove it on their own. Our intervention was not necessary – an outcome we always hope for!

Then, just four days later, Ingabire was again trapped in a snare, this time one made from rope. His gorilla group was protective and aggressive toward the trackers trying to cut the rope from the bamboo stake. But the trackers bravely persevered and freed Ingabire, although the rope remained tightly wrapped around his right ankle. This time his gorilla family was not able to remove the rope, so we mobilized for an emergency intervention.

Infant Ingabire with rope snare trailing from his ankle. © Gorilla Doctors

Sunday, August 13, 2023 – Snare Rescue

Our team and park trackers trekked into the forest early in the morning, arriving at the group at 10:03AM. We observed the group feeding calmly and just ending their rest period. Ingabire was resting close to silverback Muturengere and following the silverback’s every movement. A 1m.-long piece of rope was still attached to Ingabire’s ankle but he was able to walk on all legs with no visible difficulties. Using the telephoto lens on our cameras we were able to detect some superficial wounds around the area where the rope was wrapped around his skin.

Our Hospital is the Forest – We never remove an individual gorilla from its home environment for observation or treatment. We maintain a minimum distance of 7-10 meters and always wear masks to reduce the risk of any potential disease transmission. The telephoto lenses on our cameras are an invaluable tool for observing the gorillas ‘close up’ so we can check them for signs of illness or injury. Close up images are also used for discussing clinical cases with our colleagues, sharing diagnoses and reporting on outcomes. We currently use a Nikon D7500 DSLR with a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens.

Dr. Gaspard uses a Nikon DSLR to conduct a visual health assessment. Hirwa group, July 2022. Photo © Will Wilson for Gorilla Doctors

As the group started moving through the forest following their morning rest, we observed that Ingabire seemed exhausted but he was managing to keep up with the group. Due to silverback Muturengere’s protective nature, Dr. Adrien and I prepared two doses of anesthesia in the event we would also be required to immobilize the silverback to access and treat Ingabire.

Infant Ingabire stays close to silverback Muturengere pre-intervention. © Gorilla Doctors

As the morning progressed, it became impossible to separate Ingabire from the silverback who kept alternately charging at us while keeping the group moving and carrying Ingabire with one arm. It became imperative that we also immobilize Muturengere. It took nearly 40 minutes to find the opportune moment to administer the anesthesia via dart gun.

Dr. Gaspard administers anesthesia via dart to infant Ingabire. © Gorilla Doctors

Once Mutarengere and Ingabire were successfully immobilized we immediately removed the snare from Ingabire’s ankle. Given the fact that we also had the dominant silverback immobilized and Ingabire’s anesthesia was a light dose, we did not take the time to perform a general physical exam because we wanted to get both Ingabire and Muturengere awake and back with their group as quickly as possible. Both Ingabire and Muturengere recovered well from the anesthesia.

Ingabire’s wounds were not serious and should heal uneventfully. Nonetheless, we will closely monitor him for the next few weeks. In fact, on a follow up assessment by Dr. Adrien on August 16, just three days later, he observed that the wounds on the snare site appeared to be healing well.

The Ongoing Challenge of Snares

Despite consistent effort by park staff to deactivate and remove snares from the forest, Ingabire’s recent encounter with two snares in one week highlights the ongoing challenge that snares present to the health and safety of the mountain gorillas and other wildlife. Our park partners remain vigilant and dedicated to the removal of snares while also working on sensitization efforts with local communities to try to reduce the quantity of snares set illegally within park boundaries.