"They saw what they had to do"
July 20, 2012 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Two days after a juvenile mountain gorilla was killed in a poacher's trap within Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park gorilla preserve, two other juvenile gorillas dismantled several traps. Bushmeat hunters set traps within the preserve for antelope and other game, but sometimes capture apes. Veronica Vesellio, the director of the Karisoke Research Center (a unit of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund), says "I don't know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares."

Pictures of mountain gorillas from a 1995 National Geographic article, photographed by Michael Nichols.

The original National Geographic article by Dian Fossey about her work with mountain gorillas, from 1970.
posted by catlet (41 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

Okay, this is just fucking cool.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:56 AM on July 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

I for one welcome, etc.
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:59 AM on July 20, 2012 [12 favorites]

I wonder how much it would cost to air-drop sets of bolt-cutters, hacksaws, and angle-grinders over Volcanoes National Park.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:02 AM on July 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

Raman, not varelse.
posted by entropone at 8:06 AM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Good on the gorillas, of course.

Why are local people reduced to subsisting on bushmeat?
posted by notyou at 8:08 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Praise you all to heaven, you damn dirty apes!
posted by stevis23 at 8:09 AM on July 20, 2012

This is awesome.

If gorillas ever team up with ravens & crows, we're pretty much screwed. :)
posted by pointystick at 8:12 AM on July 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm so glad theses gorillas are figuring out how to protect themselves, since humans are doing such a very terrible job of it...
posted by supermedusa at 8:13 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mountain gorillas are humongously endangered. I got an e-mail from the field station at Karisoke a few days ago about a recent incursion into the park as part of the ongoing war in Eastern Congo (previously) that led to the evacuation of all the rangers' families. Here's some more information on that. (on preview - you've got NO IDEA what sort of sacrifices park rangers in Rwanda and Eastern Congo make.)

Our behavior, and primate behavior, is so incredibly plastic. The monkeys that I study, for example, are hunted pretty heavily, by chimpanzees but especially humans in the Ivory Coast. They behave totally differently in and out of situations where poaching is prevalent. Where there is a lot of poaching, they're very quiet, don't move around as much, and tend to shield themselves behind large clusters of leaves higher up in the canopy, whereas in less disturbed habitats they're SUPER noisy, very conspicuous, and even hang out on the ground some of the time (Citation here - article is behind a paywall but I can probably get people copies if they're interested.)

It doesn't surprise me that the ones who dismantled the snares were young - most primate innovation seems to start out with juveniles and young females, and then spread through the group. For primatologists, this is evidence of the very basic beginnings of culture, like in this group of Japanese macaques, or more broadly in chimpanzees. This has also been well-studied in terms of tool use, broadly in chimpanzees, and also in capuchin monkeys. This is my favorite picture ever - a baby capuchin monkey observes an adult using stones to crack nuts, mimicking right down to the body posture!.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:17 AM on July 20, 2012 [43 favorites]

Ah...and in a weeks time there would be reports of poachers being caught in modified snares ...
posted by asra at 8:17 AM on July 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

pointystick, you left out raccoons...
posted by djrock3k at 8:18 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

and octopuses!
posted by ChuraChura at 8:20 AM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Veronica Vesellio, the director of the Karisoke Research Center ... says "I don't know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares."

Veronica has apparently never seen any teenage drummer get down to business.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:21 AM on July 20, 2012 [18 favorites]

I for one also welcome our new raccoon/octopus/gorilla/corvidae overlords.
posted by pointystick at 8:28 AM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Good on them! It breaks my heart that there are people who will happily hunt them into extinction for short-term personal gain. Hey, what if we set up a program where Rwanda and DRC could, if they so chose, to deport poachers to Wall Street? They could learn how to scale their destruction-for-profit!
posted by smirkette at 8:52 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't wait to see a gorilla in full armor riding into battle on an octopus.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:53 AM on July 20, 2012 [21 favorites]

I'm worried that the poachers will retaliate against the gorillas. Is this likely?
posted by Wordwoman at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is really touching and life-affirming for reasons I cannot completely articulate.

I've got to say, though, this doesn't make a lot of sense to me:
"If we could get more of them doing it, it would be great," he joked.

Karisoke's Vecellio, though, said actively instructing the apes would be against the center's ethos.

"No we can't teach them," she said. "We try as much as we can to not interfere with the gorillas. We don't want to affect their natural behavior."

I mean, isn't their natural behavior to protect themselves? Wouldn't teaching them be an assistance to this natural instinct? Isn't their "natural behavior" already affected by encountering these snares? These aren't faberge eggs, they're living creatures and I don't see why we shouldn't interact with them at all. If they want to be left alone, it seems as though they're perfectly capable of making that clear..."a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away".
posted by nTeleKy at 9:46 AM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hah! nTeleKy, I was just about to post about that.

I'm all for the coming of The Planet of The Apes here. If these creatures are so endangered due to human meddling, than one would think that a little more human meddling can't screw them over THAT badly. The gorillas are already pretty much doomed otherwise anyway, right?

There's not much difference between wanting to distantly study the natural development of the gorillas as a species and sociological study AND wanting them to survive so that the next few generations can learn more awesome stuff about these animals. Teach 'em new skills, damn it.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:52 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is pretty cool.

I hope the bushmeat hunters are clever enough to set their traps somewhere else.
posted by mule98J at 10:19 AM on July 20, 2012

Teach them already, dammit!!
posted by BlueHorse at 10:50 AM on July 20, 2012

asra: "Ah...and in a weeks time there would be reports of poachers being caught in modified snares ..."

One could hope!
posted by symbioid at 11:04 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

TheRedArmy: "I can't wait to see a gorilla in full armor riding into battle on an octopus."

Where's Shitty_Watercolor when you need him?
posted by symbioid at 11:05 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Or is it Sure_I'll_Draw_That?)
posted by symbioid at 11:05 AM on July 20, 2012

I was just in Bwindi in Uganda two weeks ago and saw the mountain gorillas there. Supposedly, the way it works in Uganda is that the locals are given a percentage of the fees received to trek mountain gorillas as a payment to discourage local poaching and general use of the protected areas. I have no idea on the ground how well this works. Is there a similar system in Rwanda?
posted by Falconetti at 11:11 AM on July 20, 2012

Falconetti, it does have a similar setup. Check out the International Gorilla Conservation Programme - they have more specific details about gorilla conservation programs in the region. However, as far as I know, all park guides are local guys. Most researchers working there hire local field assistants as trackers, and I believe Karisoke employs lots of locals to manage and run the camp. The first Rwandan director of the field station was appointed recently.

This sort of ecotourism model is one of the dominant models for primate conservation because you can (theoretically) get direct economic benefits from maintaining habitats and protecting wildlife. It works relatively well, depending on the stability of the location you're depending upon. The Virungas have been getting less and less stable with the East Congo-Rwanda-Uganda situation getting tenser and tenser, and apparently they've shut down tours from the Congo side of the park at least through the end of July, maybe through August. The other issue is how well set up infrastructure for wealthy tourists is, and how interesting the animals you're offering people the chance to see are.

For example, in the forest I work in, the Tai Chimpanzee Project is working on habituating a group of chimpanzees for ecotourists (I'm not associated with the Tai Chimp project, I study monkeys at a different site in the same forest). This is great, because the Tai chimps are very cool. I know TCP hires local field assistants; so do we, and there are Ivorian researchers and administrators in charge of a lot of the site. However, Cote d'Ivoire is not the best place to be planning for tourists in the immediate future because of the continuing instability, and I worry that depending on tourist dollars as part of our justification for conservation is not going to work as well as it does with the mountain gorillas currently, in the long run.

Similarly, some groups are banking on tourists going to places that there just isn't demand for, to watch animals that people are probably not going to pay an awful lot to see. In Northwestern Kenya, just south of Somalia, locals have set aside a sanctuary for Hirola, a very endangered antelope. I think it looks like a really cool project, and there are all sorts of other animals there including warthog, reticulated giraffe, some monkeys, etc. But people who come to Kenya for safari are not often going to want to go see more antelope and giraffe in a relatively dangerous part of the world when they could just go to Amboseli or Masaai Mara, which has established, safe infrastructure and lots of tour operations. I really hope it works, because it looks like a really fantastic project (and I want to go see their monkeys!), but I am afraid that, if tourists don't show, this project will be unsustainable in the long run.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:39 AM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Indeed they do, Falconetti.

The practice is common throughout Africa.

The article above doesn't make clear exactly where in the National Park the activity was observed, but it's certainly possible that the poachers are from the DRC side of the border, where the ongoing civil war has transformed a desperate situation into a dire one, for animals and people alike.
posted by notyou at 11:40 AM on July 20, 2012

Don't forget the gerenuk, ChuraChura!
posted by notyou at 11:49 AM on July 20, 2012

This is my favorite picture ever - a baby capuchin monkey observes an adult using stones to crack nuts, mimicking right down to the body posture!

A chapter in the premiere episode of the BBC series Life follows a group of capuchins as the adults crack nuts and the kids learn to do it for themselves. It is mindblowingly awesome eye candy (as is the series in general).
posted by gompa at 12:49 PM on July 20, 2012

Good work, gorillas.
posted by Scientist at 12:55 PM on July 20, 2012

These are the days of miracle and wonder, lasers in the jungle somewhere...
posted by KokuRyu at 1:50 PM on July 20, 2012

Speaking off the record, one of the young apes said: "Caesar is home".
posted by nicwolff at 3:38 PM on July 20, 2012

…thinks about smuggling arms to the gorillas, subsequent surprise of poachers when the tables are turned...
posted by davidpriest.ca at 5:33 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

...Aren't *we* our new ape overlords?
posted by maryr at 6:25 PM on July 20, 2012

OK googling only resulted in this http://www.earthweek.com/online/ew070119/ew070119g.html (sorry, apparantly I do not know how to work this tablet well enough to make proper links] but I am remembering a news story from several years ago where some elephants [in Africa somewhere I think] where some of them blocked the road and while the humans were trying to deal with that, the other elephants came around from behind and stole a bunch of stuff off the truck. I don't think this is the same story. I think this is a thing they have figured out how to do.
posted by mkim at 6:35 PM on July 20, 2012

Jesus. Can not really blame my tablet for that.
posted by mkim at 6:38 PM on July 20, 2012

Exhibit A:

I can't wait to see a gorilla in full armor riding into battle on an octopus.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:53 AM on July 20 [18 favorites +] [!]

Exhibit B:

So this means there is a chance that giant squid fly as well? I must catch one and ride it into battle.
posted by TheRedArmy at 3:00 PM on February 23 [9 favorites +] [!]

I have found the formula.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:48 PM on July 20, 2012

Way too cool, and in fact just got back from Rwanda yesterday. Was just a few km away from this spot on Thursday. Now to RTFA
posted by infini at 4:33 AM on July 21, 2012

I've been to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda a couple years back (photos here). While it was a fascinating experience, it also exposed me a bit more personally to their pretty dire plight. I've strongly encouraged friends and family since then to visit themselves, despite the price tag, and to promote sustainable eco-tourism that can help protect the gorillas and their environment.

Like a lot of problems in Africa, it feels like sticking your thumb in the latest hole in the dyke, but it is still important for each and every one of us to do what we can. It truly speaks to a corporate failure on the part of humanity that these beautiful creatures have to resort to protecting themselves from our cruel traps to prolong their existence, because we can't sufficiently protect them from ourselves.

I spent some more time last week with the rapidly declining lion population of Kenya (barely 2,800 ten years ago, now estimated at under 2,000). Its maddening that my own kids might not get to see animals like this in their lifetimes.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:54 AM on July 23, 2012

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