For the first time in nature, scientists have seen young gorillas dismantle poacher traps.
The traps are created by tying a noose to a branch of bamboo that is bent and held in position by a rock and hidden from view by brush and leaves. If the trap is disturbed it will snap back and snag any animal unfortunate enough to have part of its body in the noose. "If the creature is light enough, it will actually be hoisted into the air," says Ker Than of National Geographic.
The traps are laid by poachers, hunting antelope and other small animals in the area of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park. They are not meant for primates, but occasionally gorillas have been known to get caught. Adult gorillas can usually rip the trap apart, but young ones have been known to suffer greatly. Just days prior to the discovery one young gorilla was caught and died trying to escape.
Conservationist, Veronica Vecellio from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund's Karisoke Research Centre, was one of the first to see young gorillas destroying traps and believe they have been doing it for a while. She and her team found the traps close to the Kuryama gorilla clan, the same clan that had lost one of their young just days before. Tracker, John Ndayambaje, went to dismantle the snare but was warded off by one of the adult gorillas.
Then, they saw the amazing. Two younger gorillas from the clan approached the trap and destroyed it. One jumped on the bamboo and snapped it while the other dismantled the noose. Later, they witnessed the gorillas finding another trap and, with the help of a third gorilla, dismantling that one too.
"This is absolutely the first time that we've seen juveniles doing that ... I don't know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares," said Vecellio.
Because of the confidence and speed the gorillas had when dismantling the snare, researchers believe they have been doing it for a while.
It would seem to make sense to teach these animals how to disable the traps en masse, but there is a code of conduct amongst researchers that prevents them from doing that. "We can't teach them," said Vecellio. "We try as much as we can to not interfere with the gorillas. We don't want to affect their natural behaviour."
The following video is a report of earlier, clever gorillas dismantling traps as well from SourceFed: