This blog was written by Dr. Jan.

Gasore with the snare.Thursday October 20, Dr. Eddy and I were driving back from Senkwekwe Center, in Rumangabo, DR Congo where we had just finished Shamavu’s quarantine examination when I got a phone call from Volcanoes National Park’s Veterinary Warden Elisabeth Nyirakaragire.  There was a snare on an infant in Bwenge group in Rwanda.  That poor group – first Ntobo, then Ginseng, and now this.  Maggie’s infant Gasoro had a snare. 

All planned activities were cancelled and Dr. Jean Felix, Elisabeth, and I prepared for an intervention the next morning.  The good news was that the group was reported to be calm, and Gasore did not appear to be in pain.   As usual, we left the compound at 6am and this particular morning was a beautiful, sunny and clear.  We picked up Karisoke Research Center trackers along the way to the parking for Bwenge group, and Winnie Eckardt, a post doc at KRC joined us as well.  There was lots of chatter in the truck on the 30 minute drive, and we were all trying to anticipate how the intervention would play out.   Would Bwenge be aggressive and protective?  Maggie is a very dominant female – would she let us near Gasore? 

The view from the trek to Bwenge.As we climbed up the fields to the wall that surrounds the forest we had stunning views – all of the mountains were visible.  We  found Bwenge, Maggie, Gasore and the two orphaned sons of Ntobo and Ginseng, Ntaribi and Akaramata, outside the park eating berries!  Gasore was staying close to both Bwenge and Maggie, and the snare was around his left ankle, trailing a very long tail.  He didn’t seem too bothered by it though, and fortunately was using his left foot completely normally.  The group was calm.  It was very important to remove this snare, because the long trailing tail could easily get caught, causing the noose around his ankle to tighten dangerously.

Preparing the darts.Dr. Jean Felix, Elisabeth and I returned to the field bags to prepare our darts.  We were pretty sure we would have to dart both Maggie and Gasore so we prepared darts for both, and hoped we would get an opportunity for a shot when Bwenge wasn’t looking.  Winnie stayed with the group to collect behavioral data, useful information to learn about the gorilla reactions to the stressful event of the snare and intervention.    While we were preparing, Bwenge led the group back into the forest to dine on bamboo shoots.  We followed them, hiding our dart guns, and waited.  The foliage was thick, and Maggie got a little suspicious so we waited almost 2 hours for a good opportunity – finally the group settled down for a nap.  Maggie and Gasore moved into almost perfect position.  Dr. Jean Felix and I swung into action, hearts pounding, hiding behind trackers to take our shots.  Trackers were ready behind us to protect us if Bwenge charged, but it was over very  quickly – both darts hit their mark, and while Bwenge did charge, we reacted appropriately (moving back but not running) and the group moved away from us in a hurry. 

Gasore’s eyes are lubricated so they don’t dry up during the procedure.We found Maggie sleeping a short distance from the group, which was a perfect situation. Bwenge kept the rest of the group about 100 meters further into the forest.  Little Gasore was still not completely asleep so he got another injection, and then we went to work. The snare was removed easily – no damage at all to the foot!  

Collecting blood samples from Gasore and Maggie.When we have gorillas in hand we take many, many samples so that we can better understand their physiology and health issues – so blood was collected from both animals, as well as swabs of mouth, nose, rectum for bacterial and viral analysis.  Gasore had some swollen lymph nodes so we gave him antibiotics before administering the reversal injection.  Then it was time to sit back and wait for them to wake up and return to the group, which is always such a good feeling!   Maggie and Gasore were welcomed back into the group by 1:30. 

Our work was not yet finished though.  Once we returned to headquarters it was time to sort, label and analyze the samples we collected.  We found that Gasore had some elevated liver values – which may mean a liver infection, or toxin – difficult to know, but this made us a little worried.  I spoke to Veronica at Karisoke Research Center, who instructed trackers to keep a very close eye on him for the next week or so.  Fortunately reports from the past few days have been good.   He is back to normal behavior so we will hope that whatever is going on in his liver is resolving! 

Saturday was quiet…. Until 8:30am… when Elisabeth learned that there was another snare.  This time in Umubano group, on Komeza, the 3 year old son of Inyongera.  Trackers reported that the snare’s trailing end was short and that the group was relatively calm.  Another intervention.  I put the field bags back together and checked to be sure we had restocked all supplies, and early Sunday morning we headed once again to the forest with a truck full of trackers, porters and military.  This morning it looked like rain, and even started spitting drops on our way up to the forest.  Interventions in the rain are no fun for anyone – trackers, veterinarians or gorillas.  We found the group about 10 minutes inside the wall, and were very happy to find that Komeza had managed to remove the snare overnight!!!  We checked all individuals in the group, and everyone was happy and healthy so the mood of our team was high as we returned to the truck.  No intervention and healthy gorillas – yay!

Volcanoes National Park and Karisoke Research Center sent out patrols to look for snares in these two areas, but no additional snares were located.  The patrols will continue, and community sensitization/education will continue.  The work of the gorilla conservation community is ongoing and difficult, but we have a great team of partners who will never give up! 

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