A Tale of Two Snares

November 28, 2013

This Thanksgiving (for our American & Canadian readers!), BCFS is very thankful for two of our recent snare survivors. Since the start of the project in 1990, there have been 48 snare injuries in Sonso, some of which are permanent injuries, including missing entire limbs; others have luckily lost their snares before serious damage was inflicted. From the start of the Waibira project in 2010, there have been 26 documented snare injuries. BCFS employs a team of snare removers, who patrol both Sonso and Waibira territories for snares. Since the advent of this program, funded by the Oakland Zoo, the snare team has removed hundreds of snares that have been set in the forest to catch game such as bushbuck or duiker.  BCFS also works with the surrounding villages through our “ex-hunters” program, funded by the Arcus Foundation, which aims to reduce local populations’ reliance on the forest for meat by organizing a goat farming scheme. Sadly, our chimpanzees sometimes travel to the greater outskirts of their territory, areas which still run a high risk for snares.

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Photo by Catherine Hobaiter

Meet James. He’s 7 years old, the only child of Janie (though he soon will have a baby brother or sister!), and the son of the dominant male Zefa. James is an active little one, often wrestling with his friend Klauce (age 6), or acting like a big, dominant male by drumming on tree trunks. In July of 2013, James got a wire snare on his right hand that restricted his four fingers. He had the snare for several months, but unfortunately lost all fingers, leaving him with a mitten-like hand.

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Photo by Catherine Hobaiter

Since losing his fingers, James has slowly been regaining his confidence. He now plays with the other juveniles again, although he struggles to keep up with the group because he must walk while cradling his right hand. We are very happy that James avoided serious infection of his wound. Though he is missing his fingers, the wound has healed, and he will luckily survive.

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Photo by Corinne Ackermann

Our other recent survivor, Kutu, was luckier than James. She is 35 years old, with 4 children: Kato (male, age 20), Kana (female, 15), Kasigwa (male, 10), and Karibu (female, 6). Kato, Kana, and Kasigwa have all had snares. Kana is permanently disfigured on her right hand and left foot, and has recently gotten a third snare on her already snared hand. Given her family’s history of snares, we were very disappointed when Kutu was seen on the far outskirts of Sonso territory in October 2013 with a wire snare around her left wrist. This was particularly worrisome as she has two young children, and is pregnant with a third infant. How would she manage with an injury on her hand? Kutu is one of our most well habituated females, and is very comfortable around human observers. However, on the day she first got her snare, she was extremely nervous to approach us and we were only able to view her snare using the zoom setting on our cameras! The snare seemed to pain her a lot, for she held it close to her chest without putting weight on the hand. From that day we did not see Kutu for several weeks, which was quite worrying as we could not monitor her snare. Luckily when she returned, she was snare-free, and the snare does not appear to have made any permanent damage.

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Video still by Brittany Fallon

For human observers, snare injuries can be very hard to watch. The chimpanzees are often in obvious pain, and attempt to remove the snare while only making it worse. Intervention by humans is rare, as the chimpanzees must be alone in order to be darted, which is nearly impossible for a young chimpanzee like James, or a mother like Kutu.  We at BCFS remain thankful for the ever-impressive resilience of ‘our’ chimpanzees.

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Robert Seyfarth on Language Evolution

Professor Robert Seyfarth, based at the University of Pennsylvania, is renowned for his research (with colleague Dorothy Cheney) on behaviour in non-human primates. Drs. Cheney and Seyfarth are particularly known for their exemplary use of playback experiments in the wild as a means of testing the parameters of vocal communication.

Dr. Seyfarth recently spoke about language evolution at the University of Neuchâtel. Please enjoy this podcast of his talk.

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