An anti-poaching patrol in the Virunga Massif made a gruesome discovery on February 1, 2012- a young mountain gorilla was dead, caught in a poacher’s snare.
The male mountain gorilla, estimated to be approximately three years old, was determined to have been dead for a few days before it was found. A post mortem exam conducted by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and veterinarians with the Rwanda Development Board revealed that the mountain gorilla was dehydrated and its stomach empty, pointing to the likelihood that the gorilla struggled with the snare for several days before dying. The rope snare was set to trap a small antelope for wild meat.
“It is a heart-breaking thing to see a mountain gorilla dead after struggling due to an act by a human being,” said Eugène Rutagarama, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP); a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. There are only an estimated 780 mountain gorillas in the world, and the species is designated as critically endangered.
Habituated gorillas, accustomed to the regular presence of people for tourism or research, are monitored on a daily basis and given on-site veterinary treatment in the case of a life-threatening injury or illness. Unhabituated gorillas, on the other hand, do not receive these direct protection benefits, but are protected through law enforcement, like anti-poaching patrols within the parks, as well as incentivizing conservation in communities living around the park, two important efforts supported by IGCP.
The mountain gorilla found dead on Feb 1 was from an unhabituated group of mountain gorillas, which comprise only 27% of the total population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif, according to the last complete census conducted in 2010.
“This unfortunate incident does not imply that all mountain gorillas should be habituated so that they can be guarded on a daily basis,” cautions Rutagarama. “This incident does, however, stimulate us to take immediate action to strengthen law enforcement in this area and to collectively strengthen our work to encourage people and communities in the Virunga landscape to reject and condemn poaching.”
According to Volcanoes National Park, one poacher has been arrested and three more are being pursued in collaboration with Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the last few months, an unusually high number of snares have been found in the area between Visoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes, an area shared by the two parks.
The Virunga Massif is a transboundary protected area incorporating the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. As a transboundary protected area, mountain gorillas move between the three countries. As a transboundary protected area, collaboration among the three parks is crucial for the long-term survival of mountain gorillas.