By: Ed Donnellan and Claudia Wilke
Human-laid snares are an unfortunate feature of the Kibale forest. Though their intended targets are smaller, they are often happened upon by chimpanzees. Recently, Rwanda, an adult female, had become caught in such a snare. Though Rwanda was able to pull free from the pole, the strong wire loop remained constricted around her arm. It had begun to cut into her, causing a wound, and potentially causing problems in the future, such as loss of the use of her arm, loss of the arm itself, serious infection, and potentially death. As this injury was inflicted by human encroachment, the difficult decision was taken by KCP directors, in consultation with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and veterinarian Dr. David Hyeroba, to intervene to remove the snare. Though researchers and field assistants regularly follow the chimpanzees, there are normally no attempts by humans to intervene in the daily lives of the chimps. This was deemed an exceptional circumstance.
Rwanda was tranquilized by dart on 30th September. Fortunately, she is an immigrant female to the community who spends much time foraging alone. This means that the opportunity to dart her when other community members were not present was available as soon as she was located. This is important so as not to cause distress to any other individuals.
Whilst Rwanda was unconscious on the forest floor, Dr. Hyeroba successfully removed the snare from her arm, and treated the wound. Opportunities to get this close to a wild chimpanzee are rare and not to be missed, so the KCP team also quickly took measurements of the female and collected valuable samples for analysis, such as blood and photos of her teeth. Previous analysis of Rwanda’s urine (collected by the field assistants on an opportunistic basis) suggested that she is pregnant. On closer inspection, this was confirmed, and the vet was able to check on the status of the pregnancy. Rwanda was judged to be about five months pregnant.
On reversal of the anaesthetic, Rwanda immediately climbed a tree. She was followed by field assistants for the next two days, and was observed eating and using her arm normally. Hopefully this means that there will be no lasting effects of the snare injury for Rwanda. It is also hoped that the tireless efforts of the Kibale Snare Removal Team and local education programs that emphasize conservation will decrease the frequency of such incidents.
Special thanks to Panta Kasoma and Peter Apell at JGI-Uganda for providing funding for this veterinary intervention.