On August 17th at 3:20PM local time, park rangers in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park found an infant gorilla trapped in a poacher’s snare, hanging from a bamboo pole. The infant and mother were struggling to remove the snare while three silverbacks were chest-beating and charging, making it impossible for trackers to try and cut the infant free. What follows is the extraordinary, 10-hour effort by Uganda Wildlife Authority staff, trackers and Gorilla Doctor Ricky Okello to rescue infant mountain gorilla Tulambule.

Tulambule, a nearly 3-year old infant mountain gorilla in Nyakagezi group.

Intervention: Snare removal from infant Tulambule of Nyakagezi Group

Location: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda

Gorilla Doctors: Ricky Okello, Field Veterinarian, Uganda

Dates: August 17 – August 21, 2019

August 17th: Park rangers discovered Tulambule (female, almost 3-years old) caught in a snare. Both she and her mother, Cyizanye, were struggling to break her free, with Cyizanye, biting at the wire while three silverbacks were chest-beating and charging, unfortunately, making it impossible for rangers to cut the wire. After an hour of struggling, Tulambule bit off the wire and was free from the bamboo pole, but she still had a section of wire around her right arm.

Metal wire snare around Tulambule’s right forearm.

August 18th – 19th: Dr. Ricky conducted veterinary monitoring visits of Nyakagezi group each day, accompanied by park warden Moses and several rangers from the Ntebeko and Muhavura base camps. Tulambule was in the group, actively playing, climbing trees and breastfeeding. She still had the snare around her arm but it was loose and not impeding any of her activities.

By the second day of monitoring, the snare had been worked loose by her mother but it was still around her arm. Tulambule had no visible wounds and her activity was normal. Daily monitoring would continue with the hope that Tulambule or her mother would remove the snare on their own. As of the night of August 20th, the snare was still around Tulambule’s arm, so an intervention was planned for the following day.

Tulambule’s mother, Cyizanye, tries to remove the snare.

August 21st: Dr. Ricky and several UWA rangers returned to Nyakagezi group, arriving at 10:46AM to perform the snare removal.

11:45AM – Tulambule was successfully anesthetized via dart, but silverback Mark immediately grabbed the infant and then the entire Nyakagezi group ran away.

3:30PM – After several hours of searching, Tulambule was located – awake and moving but far away from the rest of the group. Given the distance, Dr. Ricky and team made the decision to intervene again.

Dr. Ricky treats Tulambule’s wounds and collects samples while she is anesthetized.

4:20PM – Tulambule is successfully anesthetized a second time via dart. Between the first and second darting, Tulambule managed to remove the snare but she had a deep cut on her arm and a wound on her lower eyelid that had been caused by the sharp end of the wire.

Once Dr. Ricky completed treatment and sample collection, he kept Tulambule under light anesthesia and he and the rangers carried her back to Nyakagezi group. By 8:10PM she was awake and with her mother, despite some serious chest-beating from the silverbacks.

UWA staff and rangers carry Tulambule through Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

A Note from our Executive Director, Dr. Kirsten Gilardi: As of the writing of this post, Tulambule is healing and fully active, but this intervention highlights the extremely challenging conditions under which we work. Because Gorilla Doctors’ makes “forest calls” – never removing an individual from its natural habitat and always while surrounded by its group – interventions with infants can be exceptionally difficult, especially when silverbacks are very protective, as was the case with Tulambule.

Despite all of our safety precautions, the dangers to our veterinarians and the park staff during interventions and veterinary monitoring visits are also very real – during this 10-hour intervention, the team was charged by a forest buffalo and one of the park staff was severely injured. He will be okay, but this is the reality of ‘extreme conservation’ and what it takes for Gorilla Doctors to save a species, one gorilla at a time.