No...this is NOT another diary beating the dead and decomposed body of the Ted Rall cartoon. It is mere coincidence that I read about this amazing story a mere week or so after Rall dropped his sinking pile of feces on this site then flounced off in a self-righteous huff because we didn't eat it up like pumpkin pie.
I am talking REAL gorillas like the ones in the mountains that are right smack in the middle of a war zone on the borders of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda: specifically the Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei).
I have been watching the up and down swings of the populations of the mountain gorillas for some time now. They have been dangerously close to extinction for quite some time, though through the amazing, and often dangerous efforts of groups like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, they have made some progress over the last decade. Having their quiet habitat right in the path of many rebel groups traipsing across the borders of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda doesn't help. But neither does poaching. Poaching is done both for the upscale international audience, which just loves rare pieces of endangered animals for trophies or ingredients for supposed aphrodisiacs, and for the simple need of locals for meat for survival. All too many gorillas fall victim to the poacher's snare. Park rangers and anti-poacher patrols do their best to find and dismantle these snares, but it is difficult and dangerous work. In 2012 Esdras Nsengiyma, a member of an anti-poaching patrol working with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, was killed when their camp was attacked by FDLR rebels.
But also in 2012 something amazing was witnessed by other Gorilla Fund members. The gorillas themselves have figured out what the snares are and how to dismantle them. More below.
From the Fall 2013 issue of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Journal:
Snares set by poachers are among the worst threats to the safety of the last remaining mountain gorillas, so Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund trackers and anti-poachers remain on the ground every day protecting them from such dangers, removing hundreds of snares each year. Remarkably, some adult gorillas--notably some adult silverbacks and at least one adult female--have been observed over the years destroying snares themselves. But one day in July 2012, our staff witnessed for the first time something even more incredible: several juvenile gorillas working together to destroy snares!
John Ndayambaje, Fossey Fund field data coordinator, reported that morning that he saw a snare very close to the gorilla group he was tracking. Since the gorillas were moving in that direction, he decided to deactivate it. But before he could reach it, silverback Vuba grunted at him with a warning vocalization, and at the same time juveniles Dukore and Rwema, along with blackback Tetero, ran toward the snare and together pulled the branch used to hold the rope, breaking the snare. The gorillas then saw another snare nearby and ran over to destroy it as well...
It is already clear that our fellow apes (yes, we are all biologically apes) share almost all the characteristics that once were thought to be uniquely "human." Humans are unique in no single way, but more the degree to which we display certain "advanced" behaviors that are typical of most apes. Tool making was something that most people thought only came about after the split between the human evolutionary lineage (e.g. Homo habilis..."Handy Man" named for the tools that start appearing in abundance) and the other apes. But long ago anthropologists showed other apes, particularly chimpanzees, are perfectly capable of making simple tools. The way gorillas are learning to deal with snares in my mind requires the same kind of understanding that tool making does: it is, in essence, figuring out a tool made by another, recognizing that it is a threat and how it works as a threat, and acting deliberately to prevent it from carrying out the threat. Pretty damned smart.
Hell, recently, in another ape species, the bonobo, scientists have observed one individual actively comforting another.
Currently mountain gorillas are one of the most endangered apes on earth with probably only about 900 left in the wild. The only more endangered ape is the cross river gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), with only about 300 left after a decline of almost 60% between 1995 and 2010.
For more on the mountain gorilla gorilla and how you can help, visit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
For more on the cross river gorilla and how you can help, visit crossrivergorilla.org.
For more on poaching and the bush meat industry in general, please visit the Bushmeat Project.