Silverback Bukima Protects Intervention Team as Field Vets Work to Free Ensnared BabyBy Gorilla Doctors Staff on Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 in Blog.
Drs. Eddy and Martin were notified by Innocent Mburanumwe, Virunga National Park’s Chief Warden, that a baby mountain gorilla named Mayani had become caught in a poacher’s snare on September 3rd. Trackers found Rugendo group members attempting to free Janja’s baby from the nylon snare, which was wrapped tightly around his left wrist. Mayani’s hand was beginning to swell and the baby was crying and clearly stressed. After the group members failed to free the youngster from the snare, trackers stepped in to cut the nylon rope from the bamboo pole and called on Gorilla Doctors to intervene to remove the snare remnants from the wrist.
Gorilla Doctors has conducted multiple interventions in Rugendo group to treat respiratory disease outbreaks in the past. However, this was Dr. Eddy’s first intervention in this group to remove a poacher’s snare. Rugendo group is well known as the group that endured a horrific attack in 2007 by criminals associated with the illegal charcoal trade. In this attack, five group members were shot and killed, including silverback Senkwekwe and adult female Safari. Ndeze, their infant, was taken by blackback Mukunda after the attack. But because Mukunda was a male and could not produce milk to feed Ndeze, Gorilla Doctors and Virunga National Park made the decision to bring Ndeze into captivity, where she resides at the Senkwekwe Center with three other mountain gorilla orphans. Read more about Ndeze here.
It was a cold and rainy morning when the field team trekked into Virunga National Park prepared to intervene to free Mayani. As the group hiked through the forest in search of Rugendo group, they found and destroyed two additional snares. Shortly after finding the snares, the intervention team found silverback hair on the forest floor, suggesting there had been an intra-group interaction.
The team reached the group at 1:20pm in the Buchuchu area of the park and found subadult female Buzara carrying baby Mayani on her back. She was sticking close to silverback Bukima, and finally settled down next to the group leader, placing Mayani between them. Dr. Martin began to prepare the anesthesia dart while Dr. Eddy organized the protection team. Once the team was ready, Dr. Martin darted Mayani with the sedative to begin the intervention, prompting the males of the group to full alert.
There are four silverbacks in Rugendo group, so Drs. Eddy and Martin were concerned about the safety of this intervention: silverbacks can become aggressive if they suspect that a group member is in danger. Typically, trackers will form a circle around our field veterinarians to protect them from the other group members while they administer medical treatment. But in this particular intervention, the trackers had some help: when the silverbacks of the group became agitated at the onset of the intervention, dominant silverback Bukima began pacing back and forth between the other silverbacks and the intervention team, vocalizing to calm his group members. He continued to block his group members from approaching the intervention team throughout the entire time Drs. Eddy and Martin worked – a remarkable observation that our field team has never experienced before.
With Bukima keeping the other gorillas at bay, Drs. Eddy and Martin quickly moved in to remove the snare from Mayani’s wrist and collect samples for future research. Fortunately, the snare had not lacerated the skin and Mayani should make a full recovery. While Mayani was waking up from the anesthesia, subadult female Buzara again tried to move in to grab the baby but Bukima stepped in and chased her away, allowing Mayani’s mother Janja to approach and pick up her baby. “This was like a dream and all of us were truly amazed by Bukima’s behavior” said Dr. Eddy.