We already know that humans and gorillas are very alike, but we’ve always believed we could outsmart our distant simian cousins. Poachers, in particular, have tried taking advantage of our cognitive supremacy to trick gorillas, luring them into noose-like traps. But it seems like the gorillas can still outsmart them, thanks to the power of teamwork.
Young gorillas living in the Rwanda National Park have reportedly learned how to foil hunters and poachers, working together to dismantle the traps set for them. While older gorillas are usually powerful enough to free themselves, younger ones aren’t so fortunate. Traps usually work by tying a noose to a branch of bamboo stalk, and bending it to the ground, with another stick or rock holding it in place. When triggered, the noose tightens around the animal, even hoisting it into the air if the animal is light enough.
Gorillas, however, are taking a proactive approach to these traps. A research team in Rwanda recently found groups of young gorillas actively seeking out and dismantling traps, to prevent their brethren from falling victim. The research team observed one gorilla bending and breaking the tree, while another disabled the noose, repeating the process for multiple traps. The team believes that gorillas have witnessed a correlation between these devices and the deaths of their peers, prompting their desire to neutralize them.
Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist at the Sanger Institute in the UK, said that “most of our genes are very similar, or even identical to, the gorilla version of the same gene.” This might help explain how gorillas are able to understand the mechanics of hunter traps, identify them in the wild, and coordinate their efforts to dismantle them.