Uganda Travel News

The story of mountain gorillas never stop. One day in May David returned to camp early and angry. As he had approached Nunkies group on fresh trail from that morning, he found Lee sitting beside the trail. Petula was nearby, but something didn’t look right. As David moved closer, Lee stood up and the problem was clear. She was caught in a trap, with the wire noose cinched tightly around her ankle. David looked to see if he could remove the wire, but was stopped by a scream and bluff charge from Nunkie. Back at camp, David discussed the problem with Dian. She told one of the trackers to approach the group, and then shoot a gun so that the noise would scare away the other gorillas. In theory this would give David a few moments o remove the trap. When they actually fired the gun however the noise so frightened Lee that she ripped the snare from its spring mechanism and fled with the rest of her family.

For the next several days Craig watched helplessly as Lee limped along dragging the wire behind her. He could see where the force of ripping free had tightened the metal noose so that it cut deeply revulsion toward suffering. Six years earlier during the massive flooding from Hurricane Andrew in his native Susquehanna valley, he had spent several days rescuing wildlife and domestic animals trapped by the rising waters. He had originally hoped to be a veterinarian. Yet Karisoke had no plan or method to deal with the recurrent problem of injured gorillas, despite the increasing availability of veterinary darts and drugs to immobilize animals at a growing number of field stations. Without the means or authority to act, all we could do was waiting and plan a rescue if Lee were ever left alone.

Bill joined Craig on what seemed like a slow motion death watch as lee steadily declined. During the day she would sit for hours, her head tipped forward on her chest. When she stood, she would wobble unsteadily for a few steps, and then sit again. Petula would carry hear at times, bust mostly she just stayed by her side or close by. The rest of the group would move away to feed but then return to rest near their weakest member. Occasionally the young gorilla would make a muffled moan, a plaintive cry of pain. Anger mixed with frustration at her plight. Finally, Petula began to spend more time away from Lee. Bill and Craig concocted a plan for which Peter Viet was also recruited .At the first opportunity, Craig would grab Lee and run at full speed back to camp. Bill and Peter would earn as a rear guard in case Petula or Nunkie came after him. Peter asked how a silverback would respond to a cough grunt we said we’d never tried it before.

Arriving at the group that morning, it appeared we were too late. Lee lay still in the night nest she had shared with her mother, yet Petula was nowhere in sight. We moved closer and stared for signs of life. Craig said he saw Lee’s chest heave and we sprang into action. Heart pounding, Bill ran past Lee to take up his post, with Peter a few steps away. Craig yelled “Got her!” and fled just as Nunkie broke through the surrounding vegetation. In a brief terrifying moment Nunkie lunged forward, stopped just short of the arm waving, shouting white apes then whirled 180 degrees in retreat. Bill and Peter knew this was no time to linger. Stepping backward, staring intently at the spot where Nunkie disappeared, we quickly joined Craig in high speed flight.

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