When ‘wildlife poaching’ comes to mind, many people think of a group of poachers tracking animals with high-powered rifles in hand. While high-powered rifles and high-calibre rounds are just one of the approaches to poaching, it’s not the only side of the story. Although there is a large focus by the media on the ivory trade, particularly through the poaching of elephants and rhinos, there is another silent, more pervasive killer – snares.
Snares are trapping devices, usually consisting of a noose (made from wire), used for capturing birds and small mammals. Snares have been used for thousands of years by hunters to trap and kill animals for food and hides. The design and size of snares (traps) vary significantly. Some of them may be intricately designed, while the most basic of them is usually a simple piece of wire (tied in a slip knot fashion) anchored to the ground or around a tree, in the path of high animal activity.
Snaring is a favoured method used by poachers for a number of reasons. The damage and loss to wildlife that comes with their use is a great cause for concern though. Some of the challenges conservationists face with snares:
- Difficult to find – Poachers who set-up snares are usually experienced at concealing them, making it difficult for game rangers and anti-poaching units to find the snares.
- Simple design – Perhaps the biggest problem with snares is their simple design. All you need is a bit of wire and wire cutters. Simple, cheap, lightweight and easy to set up.
- Numbers game – Through their simplicity comes the perk of being able to make and set-up so many. If you’re a bushmeat trader, you will make more money if you sell more meat, so it makes sense to set up as many snares as you can.
- They don’t discriminate – As a poacher, if you have your sights set on snaring a particular animal, it’s more than likely you won’t get what you’re hoping for. Wildlife caught in snares are often not the intended targets (referred to as ‘by-catch’ by poachers).
- They aren’t re-visited and are wasteful – After setting up a dozen snares during the day, remembering where you placed the first one becomes just as difficult as remembering where you placed the last one. Poachers often don’t revisit all of the snares they placed, meaning if an animal is caught in a snare, it often dies and rots well before it’s found. It’s estimated that almost 90% of all animals caught in snares are not collected by poachers, but left to rot.
- They are inhumane – Lastly, snares are inhumane. Once an animal is caught in a snare, its natural reaction is to try to free itself. In trying to do this, the noose gets tighter and tighter. An animal may struggle for hours, even at the expense of injuring itself, in the hope it will finally break free. In the event that the animal does break free, its wounds may be so severe, that infection sets in leading to a slow and painful death.
The Bushmeat Trade in Africa
Snares in Africa are predominantly used to capture animals for the bushmeat trade. The bushmeat trade is particularly severe in the forests of West and Central Africa. The current trade in bushmeat is unsustainable and is resulting in widespread wildlife population declines. Some of the key drivers for the bushmeat trade are:
- Increasing demand for bushmeat in rural/urban areas – Rapid population growth is leading to an increase in demand for bushmeat.
- Human encroachment into wildlife areas – In many areas, human populations are increasing rapidly on the boundaries of protected areas and wildlife reserves. Local people become dependent on the use of natural resources within these areas.
- Inadequate penal systems and lack of enforcement – Penalties for illegal hunting are often inadequate or poorly enforced (in some cases police and the judiciaries see poaching and wildlife crimes as a low priority). Lack of funding and resources for anti-poaching units also makes enforcement more challenging.
- Lack of alternative livelihoods – Many areas that have a high density of wildlife usually have a lack of economic, or employment, opportunities. Bushmeat provides an opportunity for quick cash.
- Lack of alternative food sources – Bushmeat is used as an alternative where food insecurity exists.
- Lack of clear rights over wildlife or land – If government hasn’t established rights over land and wildlife then communities can receive little benefits from it. The only means by which communities can benefit from wildlife is hunting it illegally.
- Political instability, corruption and poor governance – During periods of political instability, there appears to be an increase in illegal hunting.
- Demand for wildlife body parts for traditional medicine and ceremonies – Supplying animals for traditional medicine is becoming profitable for many people in impoverished communities.
Notable Species Impacts
Some studies have indicated that predators are more susceptible to snares. This is likely due to the attraction of carcasses in snares and partly due to predators having wide-ranges. In Niassa Reserve in Mozambique, 52% of lion moralities are as a result of snaring. In South Luangwa National Park, 20% of adult male lions have been killed or injured in snares. Wild dogs seem to have particularly high rates of mortality due to snares. Apart from the direct effect of snaring on predators, predators are also being indirectly effected due to the loss of their prey-base from snares.
While there is no denying the plight elephants and rhinos are facing, through the illegal ivory trade, snaring is the forgotten side of wildlife poaching in Africa that often doesn’t make the news headlines. Snaring is a silent and rampant killer across Africa’s grasslands, rainforests and savannahs. Addressing this problem is a lot more complicated than simply increasing the number of anti-poaching units across the continent. Failure to address the underlying drivers of poaching will have dire consequences for Africa’s wildlife.
From December 1st 2017, Wild Frontiers will donate 1 USD per bed night at all our camps in the Serengeti. Guests will not be charged for this. We don’t cut corners when it comes to our guests, but we certainly don’t compromise on protecting the environments in which we operate. By choosing to stay with us, you will be contributing significantly to the Serengeti’s de-snaring programme (click here for more information).
Balme, et al., 2016. Illegal hunting and the bush-meat trade in savanna Africa: drivers, impacts and solutions to address the problem. Panthera/Zoological Society of London/Wildlife Conservation Society report.
Chadwick, P., 2015. Snares, the silent killer of Africa’s wildlife – Peter Chadwick, African Conservation Photographer.
Kat, P., 2014. Ten things you didn’t know about the bushmeat trade – Lion Aid.
Serata, R., J., 2012. Primitive and ruthless, snares threaten Africa’s endangered Wild Dogs – African Wildlife Conservation Fund.
Tucker, N., 2016. The horror of snares – Africa Geographic.