By Drew Enigk, Kristin Sabbi, and Erik Scully
In early June, Lanjo – a young adult male – disappeared suddenly, and was not seen in the study community for more than two weeks. This was surprising to Kanyawara researchers, because the recent death of the community’s alpha male had left a power vacuum, and Lanjo was an obvious contender for the top-ranking position. Why vanish during a potentially pivotal political period?
Researchers noted that Lia, an adult female, was also absent, and hypothesized that the pair might be together on consortship (when a male chimpanzee escorts a cycling female to the edge of the territory, to avoid mating competition from other males). This hypothesis was substantiated by the simultaneous return of the pair to the community, and the wire snare wound tightly around Lanjo’s foot. An inherent danger of travel in the community margins is the increased prevalence of such snares, set by local hunters to trap duiker and bushpig. In response to Lanjo’s injury, KCP personnel monitored him continuously until the arrival of veterinarian David Hyeroba (Jane Goodall Institute, Uganda) the next morning.
Lanjo was believed to have been snared a few days prior to his reappearance, since the wire was taut around his swollen right foot. He traveled with a pronounced limp, and collapsed after short distances to inspect and tend his wound. He descended from trees very slowly to avoid placing weight on the injured foot, and his dominance displays were hampered by an inability to forcefully kick at tree buttresses.
Fortunately, in collaboration with KCP staff, Dr. Hyeroba successfully darted Lanjo and removed the wire snare without incident. Lanjo’s subsequent recovery has been rapid, befitting his status as a potential alpha. His chance encounter with a snare was unlucky, considering the recent successes of the Kibale Snare Removal Project (KSRP). However, the incident once again highlights the importance of ongoing collaboration between the Uganda Wildlife Authority, KSRP staff and KCP field assistants to identify and remove these “landmines of the forest,” safeguarding the health of the resident chimpanzees.