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Video still by Brittany Fallon.

While off-grid, on the outskirts of their territory, the Sonso community was startled by the sudden distress calls of a blue duiker. The chimpanzees hastened down the tree at a run and found the duiker, ensnared by its neck in a wire tied between two trees. Although we thought the chimps might strongly react to the duiker – after all, many of the chimpanzees themselves have snare injuries – they all stared at the duiker silently, with their fur pilo-erect, before travelling away.

Field assistants Adue Sam and Gideon Monday remained behind and removed the duiker from the snare after the chimpanzees left. It had sustained minor lacerations and bleeding around the neck, but took off running when released. Thanks to Sam & Monday for preserving one life from illegal poaching! The following week, the BCFS snare patrol team canvassed the area and removed several more snares. 

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Video still by Brittany Fallon.

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.

Research Spotlight: Harmony Yersin

BCFS welcomes another Master’s student to the Waibira and Sonso communities: Harmony Yersin, from the University of Neuchâtel. Here is a description of her research:

“The effect of snare injuries on infant care and parasite infection in wild female chimpanzees”

In recent years, human population near habitats where wild chimpanzees live have been increasing. One consequence is the illegal setting of snares hidden in the forests to catch animals. The chimpanzees are not targeted by poachers, but they are sometimes accidentally caught in the snares. Most survive, but they will suffer lifelong consequences. It is estimated that one third of chimpanzees in Budongo Forest, Uganda, suffer from health problems due to snare injuries.

Various studies have already been conducted on the problem of snaring in Budongo Forest. In this study, I will focus on the relation between snare injuries and female reproductive success by focussing on three aspects that have received comparably little attention so far: (a) behavioural differences in infant care of snared and healthy mothers, (b) differences in intestinal parasite load of snared and healthy mothers and (c) predisposition of contracting human diseases.

We had an amazing start to our new habituation project, with the team making great progress and the chimps becoming more used to and more tolerant of the odd people following them through the trees (and swamps) each day. But it’s been a tough few weeks recently, even the well habituated Sonso community have been in stealth mode, flitting elusively through the forest searching for feeding trees. It should be the Cordia season, with the ripe sticky yellow fruits a chimp favourite, but it seems as though after last years bumper crop the trees left little energy for the next season and the fruits have been pretty sparse. At Sonso the chimps can always turn to their perennial favourite Brusinettia (the Paper Mulberry), planted all around our camp during the sawmill days, but the Waibira South group don’t have that luxury and have been leading our team far and wide chasing after calls that disappear quickly off into the distance. There are other challenges cropping up too, as we start to regularly cover more and more of the new grid the sheer scale of the snare and pit-sawing problems in the areas outside of our main research zone become more and more apparent. Diiro and Biruhanni our hardworking trail cutters and snare removers have been taking up to 60 wires out a day, many of them new, and we regularly encounter new illegal pit-sawing sites – almost all of them Cordia trees which are prized for boat building and taken over to the lake-side villages. It may be no coincidence that the Waibira chimps are struggling to find food in Cordia season.

The human pressure on the forest increases with each year and it’s only through keeping an open and honest dialog with local communities that we can try to instigate programs that will ensure the long-term sustainment of the forest both as a conservation area and a valuable part of the local ecosystem which benefits everyone. Our education team is spreading the word in the villages about the expansion of the research zone and the reasons for why we’re removing the snares we come across, and next week a huge mop up operation is planned with both the entire Sonso snare removal team and many of the members of the ex-hunters group to try and make serious impact on the trap numbers in the forest. We’re hopeful that in the long term, as we’ve seen at Sonso, the number of snare injuries will start to drop in the Waibira community. To end on a positive note we thought we’d introduce a few of the boys to you: the size and scale of the new community still astounds us with new large adult males seen on a regular basis we’re now up to at least 15 independent boys in just a few months! To put it in perspective Sonso has at the most 10, many of which are young adult males just starting to establish themselves. We’ve opted for a Scottish-Ugandan theme with most of the boys being given Scottish names and the girls and their children Ugandan ones, so to start us off here are a few new faces:

Douglas: always easy to spot with his impressive set of whiskers

Tallisker: A huge dominant but calm male - our bet for the alpha

Fiddich - a young male who hangs out with the big boys, possibly orphaned but doing just fine - he's nicknamed Chubby for his sizable belly

At Sonso we are all too aware of the devastating problem caused by the snares and traps hunters leave in the forest, and the long term disabilities and pain they inflict on individuals ‘lucky’ enough to survive the experience of being snared.

One in three of our adult chimpanzees has a permanent disability caused by snare wires, and for many years now we have run an intensive program of education in the local schools and employed ex-hunters to take snares back out of the forest (see our team page here). This seems to be working and we are seeing fewer and fewer injuries in our community – but we are only one family in one tiny area of forest and there are so many more areas which suffer ever increasing pressure.

The Jane Goodall Institute has launched a new campaign to raise awareness and funding to address the problem of bush-meat hunting in Africa. It’s called ‘Count me in for Conservation‘ and you can read all about it and donate to this great cause at their website here.

Kwezi being groomed by his family, his right hand now fully recovered

In fact if you scroll down to the bottom of their web page you’ll see a familiar Sonso face: Kwezi! One of the first chimpanzees ever to have a snare removed in the wild; it’s thanks to the efforts of the vets from JGI that Kwezi is now a happy and healthy 16 year old male working his way up the ranks of the chimpanzee hierarchy.

So Count us in for Conservation!

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