Snares, Steel-Jaw Traps and Chimpanzees














Hunters in Uganda set traps for bush pigs, antelope and other prey. But these devices, which are illegal in protected areas, have killed many chimpanzees and maimed approximately 25 percent of the habituated chimp population in the country.

It’s incredibly difficult to free and treat a chimpanzee caught in a snare or steel-jaw trap. Rescuers must anaesthetize the chimp so that they can treat it. However, once tranquilized, the chimp often climbs immediately into the trees and then falls a great distance to the ground when the anesthesia takes effect.

Previously, chimpanzees caught in traps and snares were left to die in the forest because intervention was considered too risky. Today, with the perfection of intervention techniques by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) veterinary team, chimpanzees caught in traps have a second chance at life. Equally important, every individual chimp saved represents the beginning of a future population.

JGI is the only organization in the world that has successfully anaesthetized chimpanzees in the wild. This expertise has been critical in freeing and treating chimpanzees caught in steel-jaw traps and snares without causing further harm.

JGI Rescues a Chimp in Trouble

This young juvenile chimpanzee, Mugu Moja, is getting a fresh start in Uganda’s forest after JGI rescued her from a steel-jaw trap.  Over the past five years, JGI-Uganda has successfully freed and provided medical attention to 18 chimpanzees injured by steel-jaw traps and snares—a 100 percent success rate for each chimpanzee intervention conducted since 2007!

Mugu Moja’s Injury and Rescue

While walking in the forest one day, Mugu Moja stepped into the jaws of a massive steel-jaw trap, which caught and severely damaged her leg.  She dragged the 33-pound trap (three quarters her weight) for two days through the thick forest before she was spotted by local community members who knew to alert JGI. 

JGI-Uganda Veterinarian & Programs Manager Dr. Peter Apell and his team immediately rushed to the rescue.  Once Mugu Moja was anesthetized, it took seven men to open the incredibly strong trap.  The team cleaned the chimp’s wound and, due to the severity of her injuries, took her to the closest veterinary center for intensive medical attention.

The trap damaged the chimpanzee’s leg so badly that it had to be amputated.  It was then that the chimpanzee was named Mugu Moja, which means “one leg” in Swahili.

Mugu Moja Returns to Her Forest Home

After Mugu Moja’s surgery, JGI provided her with intensive care and monitored her around the clock.  Since captivity can be stressful for a wild chimpanzee, JGI minimized Mugu Moja’s time in the clinic.  After about a month and a half of care, she was ready to be returned to her forest home.

At the release site, Mugu Moja woke up from anesthesia and almost instantly climbed the nearest tree.  JGI’s team of veterinarians and field staff could already see that she would have no trouble adapting to life in the forest with one leg.

Mugu Moja has rejoined her chimpanzee family and continues to be monitored by JGI.  It’s likely that she will have between two and four baby chimpanzees in her lifetime.  As one of only three females among a group of 14 chimpanzees, Mugu Moja will help expand her group’s limited gene pool, greatly increasing their chances of survival in the long term. 

Mugu Moja’s Impact

Mugu Moja’s experience has had a powerful effect on the local community.  After helping in Mugu Moja’s rescue and rehabilitation, the community feels a close personal connection to the chimp and takes pride in her.  In addition, seeing Mugu Moja’s ordeal firsthand has raised awareness in the local community about the dangers of forest traps.  A community member or child could just as easily have stepped into the trap.  Today, the local people provide regular updates on Mugu Moja sightings and tell JGI when they find snares and traps in the forest.

Mugu Moja is the first chimpanzee on record in Uganda to be rescued from a severe injury, treated in captivity and released back into the wild.  Her successful intervention gives us all hope.

Learn more about JGI’s snare removal program.


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This is the story of Mugu Moja, a young juvenile chimpanzee.