Strange Chimp Behavior Alerts Researchers to Poachers

Aaron Sandel and Rachna Reddy after the chase with the bags that the poachers dropped (Photo by Kevin Langergraber)

Gunshots pierced the silence of the forest. The shooters were not far away. Could they be poachers? But poachers don’t carry guns, I reminded myself. Not unless they are elephant poachers, which have become an increasing threat in Kibale National Park, Uganda.

It was 5 p.m. and I was walking back to the Ngogo Research Camp with Rachna Reddy, another Ph.D. student studying chimpanzees here. As soon as we heard the staccato cracks of the guns, we stopped along the trail. Then we noticed two people weaving their way through the trees about thirty feet away. I walked closer to get a better view. They crossed the trail and took off at a run. Poachers. We ran after them, heading south along the trail. They dropped two bags, which we stopped to collect. Poaching dogs trotted absentmindedly around in circles. I was able to get service on my cell phone, and called the staff at camp.

Aaron Sandel and Rachna Reddy stand after the chase with the bags that the poachers dropped. (Photo by Kevin Langergraber)

The Poachers’ Cache

It turned out the gunshots were from the Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers. They had been trying to scare the poachers. Led by “Big James” Tibisimwa, the head of the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project’s Snare Removal Team, a group of rangers and researchers were tracking a poaching party. When the shots were fired, the poachers dropped their meat and supplies and scattered, with two of them passing near us.

Rachna and I met up with the researchers and rangers and found a stockpile of other items the poachers dropped: 20 hunting nets, 17 spears, and over 14 dead red duiker, a type of forest antelope. It must have been a huge hunting party, approximately twenty poachers, who illegally entered Kibale National Park with dogs and drove the —> Read More