Poaching is a considerable risk to wildlife and livestock. Global media often focuses on the barbaric organised poaching, images of which we are now all too familiar with seeing, as rhino and elephant trade holds the limelight. Beyond this though is another very real issue killing many other species in great numbers, especially as we move towards Christmas – snaring.
Snaring and the bush-meat trade affects all kinds of animals, even domestic dogs and cats can get caught up as poachers place huge amounts of wire snares all over the place. These wire snares are readily available with many being formed from the copper wire, cut from power lines. These wire traps can count into the millions, with potentially hundreds per just one property. They are very hard to see and even with regular snare sweeps, losses remain unerringly common.
A snare itself is a long piece of wire with a loop at the end and is attached to an object such as a tree or log that will provide an anchor for when an animal gets trapped in the snare, assisting in tightening the wires grip as the animal struggles. The loop of the wire is then normally suspended down from the branch to catch an animal around the neck. These snares are often strategically placed – following set game trails or near watering holes where the poacher knows an animal will be likely to move through regularly. We have even found examples of man made trapping bomas or bush walls near watering holes, where the poachers have built a natural barrier around a watering hole with thick bush branches, leaving gaps in it for the animal to move through to the watering hole, but with each gap set with a snare, forcing animals that need to drink to walk directly into the trap.
Snares are often set for specific animals, but of course often others are caught instead. Smaller and thinner wires, often just single stranded are set lower to the ground aiming to catch smaller antelope such as duiker or impala, while thicker often double or triple stranded wires are set higher for bigger animals such as kudu, eland or even buffalo. When an animal gets caught they will likely panic and if they are trapped round their neck will often struggle until the wire is too tight and they suffocate. They can also die from exhaustion from struggling so much if they are trapped by another body part. The bigger animals are obviously stronger and can break the smaller wires. This frees the animal, but can remain a serious issue especially if it is around their neck or if it is a younger animal and they still have growing to do. Some of you may have seen posts about a leopard at Lajuma that the PPP have known for years, Tokoloshe, was snared and had been moving around for months still trapped inside the wire (thankfully, somehow, now free from the wire). Constant constriction on the body part will often cause swelling, and can develop infection and obviously pain, which may restrict movement – hindering hunting for a carnivore or escape for prey; all of which potentially resulting in death.
Tackling this issue is difficult and complex. The socio-economic benefits for those poaching are obvious and countering the need to fill such gaps through other means would be the best starting point in combating this. Effective law enforcement is another area that has caused debate across Africa on this too. Often cases are deemed ‘lesser’ and only light sentences, if any, are handed out, whether the crime has taken place on private commercial land or on reserves. On-the-ground countering of this issue is dangerous too and as such appropriate training and full support should be awarded to those putting themselves at risk to protect these animals.
We are snare sweeping on a largely weekly basis in our area now, and have seen first hand the sheer volume of snares, various complex designs of setup and unfortunately some losses too. Hopefully regular sweeps resulting in less benefit to the poacher will help discourage further snaring, and raising awareness of this less-discussed poaching problem will help give some more attention to ways that this could possibly be reduced at source, as opposed to fire fighting the ongoing wave of snares with very high use of man power.