(UR) Rwanda — How often we discount the intelligence of Mother Nature’s creatures, only to later be ‘schooled’ by their ingenuity and resourcefulness. In an almost unfathomable act, a couple of young gorillas were caught recently, seeking out and dismantling poachers’ traps set in their jungle abode.
Pain is a brutal yet effective teacher, but most of us, except perhaps Jane Goodall, likely wouldn’t imagine that a species of mountain gorilla would figure out how to destroy the traps that killed their infant. Conservationists say it’s the first time anyone has seen that kind of planning, cooperation, and ingenuity by gorillas.
Rangers already patrol Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park routinely looking for the snares, but apparently the gorilla family is vigilant about seeking out the traps, and then dismantling them.
Poachers are usually looking for smaller prey than the gorillas, but smaller gorillas — like a one-year-old that was caught in a trap a few months ago — can get entangled in them and, sadly, perish from the encounter.
Recently a tracker found a new trap that they intended to dismantle themselves, but the gorilla clan’s leader warned him away with grunts. This is when a small, young gorilla family — one male and two females — sprung to action.
One mountain gorilla jumped on a tree branch until it broke, to break the noose of the trap, and another worked to dismantle the snare on the ground. This time around, the third gorilla joined in the effort.
Dr. Mike Cranfield of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, isn’t surprised by the gorillas’ ingenuity, and perhaps neither should we.
The fact that a third gorilla is now joining in to dismantle the traps is part of phenomenon oddly named the 100th monkey effect. It was described by Dr. Lyall Watson, who had a Ph.D. in ethology and worked for the London Zoo. This odd occurrence is described as the sudden, spontaneous, and mysterious leap of consciousness achieved when an alleged “critical mass” point is reached.
Watson explains that this happened when one monkey taught another to wash sweet potatoes — who taught another, who taught another — and soon all the monkeys on the island where these monkeys lived were washing potatoes, where no monkey had ever done so before. Watson used the story as an anecdote to explain what he observed Macaque monkeys doing, but it never reached the ‘critical mass’ he describes in his hypothesis.
This doesn’t mean, however, that it hasn’t happened since he proposed the idea in the 1880s. An article called “The Quantum Monkey,” printed in Science Digest, also champions the idea. Rwanda’s mountain monkeys certainly have motivation to learn new skills, since their habitat is ever shrinking, and the threat of poachers looms larger every year. And we can learn from them, even if their 100th monkey phenomenon is just in its infancy.
Those among us who are most receptive to new ideas can imitate new behaviors which support life-sustaining and planet-saving actions, demonstrating to the impressionable younger ones how to get free from the snares of life. Thus, new generations can begin their own path towards an eventual hundredth monkey effect, and we will no longer be threatened by the poachers of this planet.
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