On the morning of February 19, Dr. Lina hiked out from our Tshivanga field station at Kahuzi-Biega National Park, DR Congo. It was a little before 9:00AM, and she was planning a routine health check of Bonane group, a family of nine critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas led by silverback Bonane.

Silverback Bonane, lead silverback of the Bonane group of Grauer’s gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega. © Gorilla Doctors

Not far into the forest, Dr. Lina and the four park trackers heard the gorillas screaming before they saw them – and it was not a usual vocalization. Following the gorilla group’s tracks in the forest – broken branches, partially eaten vegetation, and fresh feces – they discovered adult female Mukono trapped in a snare with silverback Bonane right by her side.

When Bonane saw Dr. Lina and the trackers he remained calm. Everyone, including the rest of Mukono’s gorilla family, watched in tense anticipation as Mukono tried to free herself from the snare. And then, all of sudden, she broke the wire with her teeth!

Mukono ran off with a small piece of the snare still stuck to her arm, but thankfully later it fell off.

A close-up of Mukono’s snare free arm! Her missing hand stump (lost in a snare as a juvenile) is clearly visible. © Gorilla Doctors

Once Mukono was free, Bonane became quite agitated and “on guard,” according to Dr. Lina’s report. The other gorillas in the group surrounded Mukono and kept a close eye on her.

Silverback Bonane “on guard” with Mukono in the background. © Gorilla Doctors

Eventually the group calmed down and began feeding and playing. Bonane moved up into the trees and Dr. Lina observed Mukono playing with her infant. It is such a thrill for us when the gorillas are able to ‘rescue’ themselves and do not require the Gorilla Doctors to intervene – it is the BEST possible outcome!

After Mukono freed herself from the snare she was later observed playing with her infant. © Gorilla Doctors

Mukono’s Long History with Snares

Mukono has an incredible story. As a juvenile, she was caught in a snare, but unfortunately, was not able to free herself. The snare caused severe wounds and Mukono lost her right hand and right eye.

Mukono is missing an eye from a past snare injury when she was a juvenile. © Gorilla Doctors

Her wounds healed well and today Mukono is a thriving adult with multiple surviving offspring. Her youngest infant, Youssoupha, is named after the famous French-Congolese rapper who serves as an ambassador and champion of Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

Grauer’s gorilla Youssoupha turns one year on March 22nd. He is the positive downstream effect of Mukono’s snare survival when she was still a juvenile.

Mukono’s nearly one-year-old infant, Youssoupha. © Gorilla Doctors

Gorillas are long-lived and slow to reproduce, so every single life we save has a tangible impact with population-level consequences. This is essential for a critically endangered species like Grauer’s gorillas, whose numbers have declined more than 70% over the last few decades. And Mukono’s most recent snare entanglement (even with her positive outcome) is a salient reminder that snares continue to be a significant threat to gorillas.