Tuesday, August 06, 2019

What It's Like When Poachers Kill Chimps

From Atlantic magazine comes this excellent, if sad, piece from Ed Yong about the death of a chimpanzee :

It started as a good day. As usual, Kevin Langergraber got up at dawn to follow and observe the chimpanzees of Ngogo, in Uganda’s Kibale National Park. An anthropologist from Arizona State University, he has been studying the group for 19 summers. This year, food has been scarce, and so have the chimps. But yesterday Langergraber found a group of 30 adults playing and relaxing, with infants crawling all over them. “It was just me and 30 chimps,” he says. “I was so happy. And it just turned so quickly.”

Later in the day, the chimps were on the move, traversing a familiar route between two stretches of forest. Shortly after they reentered the trees, Langergraber, who was right behind them, heard one of them scream. He thought they had stumbled onto a buffalo or an elephant, but when he ran up to them, he was shocked to see two people. Poachers.

Langergraber ran at them, shouting. One angry scientist is hardly a threat, but he could have had more people, or armed rangers, behind him. The poachers fled. Their dogs didn’t.

The poachers had brought a few dozen hunting dogs. Half of them were mauling a female chimp named Kidman and her 25-day-old infant. Another small pack was tearing at Jumbo, Kidman’s six-year-old son. Langergraber ran up and started kicking the dogs, to no avail. Then he realized that a spear was sticking out of Kidman’s back. He pulled it out and started spearing the dogs attacking Jumbo. The dogs and chimp tumbled down a hill, and Langergraber ran after them. Eventually he had killed or wounded enough of the dogs for Jumbo to flee.

Langergraber climbed back up the hill to find Kidman on the ground, bleeding out, still being mauled. Her adult son Elton and his close friend Hicks were trying to chase the dogs away, and Langergraber joined in. Hicks fled with Kidman’s wounded infant. “In the end, it was just me and Elton fighting off dogs,” Langergraber says. They eventually succeeded, but it was too late for Kidman, who died a few minutes later, either from the two spear wounds in her back or from the injuries inflicted by the dogs. Elton went up to her, sniffed her one last time, and fled.

It had been 10 minutes since Langergraber heard the scream, and he was standing there surrounded by seven dead dogs, several wounded ones, a spear covered in both chimp and dog blood, and the body of a chimp he had known for 19 years. “It was just horrible,” Langergraber says. “You know chimps die, but when it happens right before your eyes, it’s so real. And it was hard having to spear all these dogs. I’m a dog lover. But it had to be done.” He stayed with Kidman’s body for four hours.

A few hours later, Langergraber’s colleagues found Hicks still with Kidman’s infant, carrying it on his stomach as mothers usually do, and as adult males very much don’t. Today the team learned that the infant is dead. Even if it hadn’t been mauled, it likely wouldn’t have survived without its mother.

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