Gorillas Outsmart Poachers: Are the Apes Rising?

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Andrew Rich

We’ve been so fixated on the zombie apocalypse that we didn’t even realize the apes were quietly rising. Or, at least, exhibiting signs of intelligence that ought to put their human poachers on edge.

They may not be smart as Caesar, the genetically modified chimp who outsmarts his captors and frees hundreds of research animals in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but gorillas in Rwanda are outwitting potential captors and saving their peers from deadly traps.

According to field staff from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, several young gorillas have been spotted destroying snares that are set to maim and kill wild apes. “Today, two juveniles and one blackback worked together to deactivate two snares and how they did it demonstrated an impressive cognitive skill,” a staff person from the Karisoke Research Center told the Huffington Post. Just two days before, one such snare had severely injured a young ape named Ngwino, who dislocated her shoulder in a desperate attempt to escape. What’s worse, she contracted gangrene from cuts to her leg.

John Ndayambaje, the Fossey Fund field data coordinator, said he saw a group of gorillas nearing a snare, when a silverback called Vuba made a sound of warning. Two juveniles and a blackback responded by running toward the snare and destroying it with their bare hand. They did the same to another snare nearby.

This is only the latest demonstration of ape intelligence documented by researchers. Last year, scientists in Senegal observed chimpanzees using sharpened spears to kill smaller mammals before eating them. In the 1990s, Stanford researchers saw chimps hunting colobus monkeys with their bare hands. And decades of research shows that apes have better memories than college students, learn language through exposure (as human young do), and can be both socially violent and deeply empathic.

Even poop-throwing — that age-old indicator of ape idiocy — is actually a sign of high intelligence; scientists have found that chimps who throw their feces often and accurately tend to be the smartest and best communicators in their group.

So will gorillas soon start trapping their poachers, in a strange reversal of roles? Apparently, they didn’t need all that ALZ-112 after all.