Special sits low in a tree, favoring her injured wrist (photo: Andrew Bernard).
Though chimpanzees are not usually targeted by poachers in Uganda, they sometimes get caught in snares meant to catch game such as duiker and bushpigs. On the morning of July 28th, KCP researchers and field assistants observed a wire snare wrapped around the right wrist of Special, a sub-adult female in the study community. The injury was estimated to be about one week old and is the first one that has been observed at Kanyawara in 7 months. Special was followed closely for the rest of the day, and a veterinarian working with the Jane Goodall Institute-Uganda (JGI-U) was called to attempt to remove the wire.
The next day, researchers found Special in a large group of chimpanzees feeding in the northern part of their home range. The party spent the morning travelling, and Special’s injured wrist was obviously a severe physical and social impediment. She couldn’t use her right hand to walk, climb, or support any weight (see video here), and although she was travelling with the large party, she was often secluded, grooming herself and gnawing at the wire on her wrist. Her behavior was notably lethargic and unmotivated, likely due to the pain and her decreased feeding.
At about 12:30pm, JGI-U veterinarian David Hyeroba arrived. Special was resting on a low branch of a tree, lying with her back towards the vet – an ideal position for darting. Because the anesthetic takes about five minutes to take effect, and darted chimpanzees usually flee right away, losing Special before she fell asleep was a risk. That is exactly what happened! After Special was darted, she rushed down the tree so quickly that nobody could tell in which direction she went! The team unsuccessfully searched for her for 30 minutes, then luckily located Lanjo, a young adult male, who led them directly to Special, who was now fast asleep.
Vet David Hyeroba and KCP Field Manager Emily Otali work on Special (photo: Joel Bray).
Special’s wound was very deep, with the wire cutting down to the bone almost around her entire wrist. David thought she might still regain use of her hand, however. So instead of amputation, he opted for a thorough cleaning and stitching of the wound. Special was under anesthesia for about two hours, and after another hour and a half of recovery, she began walking at a seemingly normal pace. She travelled a bit and rested for an hour before climbing into an old low-lying nest in the early evening.
The seriousness of Special’s injury is obvious after the snare is cut off and the wound cleaned (photo: Andrew Bernard).
Special is still moving quite gingerly. She climbs trees, albeit with an exaggerated effort, and still avoids using her right hand. She has bitten out her stitches, as David expected would happen. Unfortunately, Special was also beaten quite badly on August 8th by several adult males, which opened her wound even further. The wound bled, which is encouraging because it suggests that her hand is still vascularized. Special’s long-term prognosis is uncertain, but it seems likely she will never regain full use of her hand. This sad incident emphasizes how important it is for KCP to continue its snare removal efforts so that injuries such as Special’s can be prevented in the future.
-entry by Andrew Bernard