Infant Susuruka Freed from Rope Snare in Volcanoes National Park

Late on Saturday afternoon, September 7, Gorilla Doctors “received a report that 2.5-year-old infant Susuruka, of Bwenge group, was caught in a snare. The [Fossey Fund] Bwenge group trackers managed to cut the rope from the bamboo, but the snare remnant remained on the gorilla’s limb, with a large part of rope trailing behind” said Gorilla Doctors Rwanda Field Vet Dr. Noel. An intervention was planned, amongst staff of Gorilla Doctors, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and the Rwanda Development Board, for the following morning.

Here is Dr. Noel’s report:

Early Sunday morning, Dr. Dawn and I, along with Volcanoes National Park Veterinary Warden Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, and several Fossey Fund trackers trekked to Bwenge group, prepared for veterinary intervention. It took a while to locate the group as the trail was confused with Kuriyama and Titus groups’ trails. We finally found the Bwenge group at 11:15 am. Susuruka was with the group, close to her mother Faida. The snare was wrapped around her left wrist and approximately 1 meter of rope was trailing behind her. She was crying frequently as she traveled behind her mother. Fortunately, the infant was bright, alert, and responsive and appeared to be in good health.

Susuruka holds the trailing rope in her mouth before the intervention.

Once darted, the Fossey Fund trackers (who regularly monitor the Bwenge group) seemed to think that the infant would run either to her mother, Faida or to dominant silverback Bwenge. Dr. Dawn and I prepared to anesthetize both Faida and/or Bwenge if they prevented access to the infant.

Drs. Noel and Dawn prepare the anesthesia darts.RDB Vet Warden Elisabeth and Drs. Noel and Dawn, prepping for the intervention.

Susuruka was successfully darted at 1:06pm, and as expected, she ran directly to her mother screaming. Mother Faida promptly grabbed her infant and took off running down a steep slope. I quickly followed her and was able to successfully dart Faida with 280 mg of Ketamine and Medatomidine 7 minutes later.

Once mother and infant were under anesthesia, a full physical examination was conducted by Gorilla Doctors on both individuals. The rope snare had not created a wound on Susuruka’s left wrist and simply needed to be cut off. Blood, oropharyngeal, and nasal swabs were collected for testing and future research, and no abnormalities were found during the physical exams.

Susuruka had a small cut on her finger, but no injury to the wrist from the snare. In Susuruka’s blood work, Gorilla Doctors found evidence of a slight lymphocytosis and elevated bilirubin. The high bilirubin is likely attributed to the hemolysis since her other blood values and physical examination didn’t reveal any abnormality. Bilirubin is excreted in bile and urine and elevated levels may indicate certain diseases, such as liver disease. It is responsible for the yellow color of bruises and urine, the brown color of feces, and the yellow discoloration of jaundice. Gorilla Doctors will continue to monitor Susuruka, looking for any signs of jaundice in the near future.

Samples were also collected from Faida during her exam and she appeared to be in good health. Faida was only lightly sedated during the exams and began to wake up on her own after 14 minutes.

Drs. Noel and Dawn collect samples and examine Faida while she is under anesthesia.

After Faida awoke from the anesthesia, she sat by a tree as Dr. Dawn, Elisabeth, and I examined and collected samples from Susuruka. She watched us work on Susuruka and was slightly anxious. Wobbly from the anesthesia, she tried to approach her infant twice, but the trackers were able to contain her. We administered the anesthetic reversal to Susuruka to alleviate her mother’s stress but didn’t relinquish the baby until she was fully awake. Susuruka began to move towards her mother, but Faida had moved further towards the group. The infant began crying and silverback Bwenge and her mother both returned to retrieve her and rejoin their group members. This marks the fifth snare intervention conducted by Gorilla Doctors since the beginning of 2013 in the three countries where we work: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dr. Dawn trekked to mountain gorilla group Ntambara in Volcanoes National Park for two purposes: to conduct a “routine health check” of the group and assess the new infant born to first-time mother Kunga.

The group was found in the Myase area of Volcanoes National Park, at an elevation of 2993 meters. It was a cold and rainy morning in the park and many of the group members remained obscured by the dense vegetation, making Dr. Dawn’s observation difficult.

Dr. Dawn reported that “Eleven of the sixteen gorillas were observed and appeared in good visual health, including Kunga’s 4-day old newborn infant from the little we could see. The infant was active though not observed nursing during an approximate 25-minute observation. Kunga held the baby close to her breast so it was impossible to assess her mammary development.”

About the Author: Moses is a tour consultant in Gorilla Expeditions Ltd, No. 1 Uganda gorilla safari company, with head offices in Kampala, and a sales office in Kigali (Rwanda), you can book a memorable gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda or Uganda through this company.