By Molly Feltner, MGVP Communications Officer

On December 13, the Chief Park Warden of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, called Dr. Eddy to report that rangers had found a mountain gorilla caught in a poacher’s trap in the Jomba region of the park. The gorilla, Dunia, a four- or five-year-old female belonging to the Mapuwa family, had a rope snare around her right wrist and the wrist appeared swollen and possibly lacerated. Ranger Desire Sekibibi was able to cut the long end of the rope from the vegetation where it was tied. While Dunia was free to move with the rest of the group, the actual snare remained tight around her wrist. Ensnared gorillas can lose limbs and possibly die from infections in the snare wounds, so Dunia’s situation was an emergency.

Drs. Jan, Eddy, and Jean-Felix.Emmanuel asked the Gorilla Doctors for help, and an intervention team was quickly formed to travel to DR Congo. Dr. Jean-Felix joined Dr. Eddy at the MGVP headquarters in Rwanda and Dr. Jan, who thought she had finished her final day of work with MGVP last week, was called out of retirement for one last intervention. Because Jomba is on the far northern end of the Virunga Massif in Congo, it was fastest to travel through Uganda reach the group’s location. The Gorilla Doctors spent the night in Kisoro, Uganda, and planned an intervention for early the next morning. Silverbacks are usually extremely agitated and aggressive the day a member of their family is caught in a snare, so it is considered safer to give the group a night to calm down before intervening. 

Trekking to find the group.On the morning of the 14th, the Gorilla Doctors met a team of Virunga National Park rangers at the Congo border and drove to Jomba to begin the trek near the base of the Sabyinyo volcano. An advance team of trackers and rangers found the group eating wild banana trees inside a narrow crater on the side of the mountain.

Dunia hides behind Mapuwa.The Mapuwa family has 15 members, including two silverbacks, Mapuwa and Nvuyekure, and blackback Mambo. The team found most of the group feeding on banana trees with Nvuyekure. However, Mapuwa and Mambo were about 75 meters from the rest of the group guarding Dunia. At first it was difficult to see Dunia clearly, as Mapuwa and Mambo kept her hidden the dense vegetation.

Mambo.After a few minutes, Mambo sat down within 3 meters of the intervention team and blocked their access to the trail so that Mapuwa and Dunia could return to the rest of the group. 

Dunia walks by Mambo.The Gorilla Doctors were able to get a good look at Dunia as she passed by and the snare was gone! She was clearly limping in pain and had a small wound on her wrist, but with the snare off, so she was no longer in immediate danger.

No snare!The Gorilla Doctors and park rangers consulted with Emmanuel de Merode by phone to determine the best course action. Dr. Eddy recommended that Dunia be darted with antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce her pain and the possibility of infection rather than sedate her for a full examination. A full examination would allow the doctors to inspect the wounded wrist up close and determine if Dunia had other injuries, but using anesthesia always carries risks for the gorilla. Having one of its members sedated and inspected by humans also greatly disturbs gorilla groups. The silverbacks may become violent or the whole group might flee and leave the sedated animal behind. It is challenging to make such veterinary decisions when working with wild animals in an uncontrolled environment, so it was important to consider the options for Dunia carefully. Eventually, the group decided to follow Dr. Eddy’s recommendations.

Discussing the options.

Once Dunia had joined the rest of group, the silverbacks relaxed and Dr. Eddy and Ranger Desire were able to approach her. Hiding the dart gun behind Desire so that Dunia would not see it and flee, Dr. Eddy shot a dart into her thigh. Dunia quietly pulled the dart out and walked away.

After the darting.

Thanks to the snare coming off on its own and the easy darting, the day proved a great success. The Gorilla Doctors and rangers are still concerned for Dunia’s recovery, so rangers will monitor her closely over the next few days. If she continues to limp or shows signs of infection, the Gorilla Doctors will return to perform another intervention.

Here is a video of the intervention:

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