Poaching war threatens all wildlife in Kruger

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News of every poached rhino leaves people devastated, but few realise there is a second war raging in the Kruger National Park (KNP) – a war against snaring.

While news of rhino poaching is well distributed, when yet another animal has to be rescued from a snare in KNP, not many hear about it. Every day, smaller animals like impala, but also larger ones such as hyena, wild dog and even lion and elephant, suffer from the painful trauma of a wire snare around its legs, head, or – as often happens with elephants – their trunks.

Johan de Beer with snares

Often the animals succumb, either through suffocation or as a result of infected wounds. Snaring is just as serious a threat to animals in the park as poaching.  During a media visit to the K9 unit near Phabeni Gate, manager Johan de Beer explained that the unit alone, with the help of honorary rangers, removed about 1 600 snares from the KNP’s western boundaries during 2018. A similar number was removed by the Pretoriuskop rangers section.

De Beer said snares are mostly set to catch smaller animals like impala for bushmeat, but sometimes animals are also targeted for muti (medicine).

Larger animals such as elephants are not normally targeted, but accidentally walk into snares set in their paths. Due to their size, they easily break loose from the trees the snares are tied to, but then suffer from the traps around their feet or even their trunks.

Lack of mobility often results in these wounded animals falling prey to predators. Or they starve to death because the snares around their necks prevent them from grazing normally. Wild dogs and hyenas are especially prone to the latter.

Larger animals may break loose from snares and avoid capture by these poachers, but they suffer as badly as the smaller animals. De Beer recalled an incident where a buffalo carcass resulting from a lion catch was discovered. The devastating consequences of a snare around its head were clearly visible.

Most cases involve wire snares. They are cunningly set up in walkways leading towards water sources in areas frequented by the animals targeted. The snare is secured to a branch next to the walkway and set up in a way that it closes in around the animal’s head when it walks through. Poachers check on the area daily, usually early in the morning before rangers discover their loot during regular patrols.

Even fish and birds are targeted. Tunnel-like traps are used to catch birds or smaller animals, and throw-nets are used to catch fish.

Honorary rangers and teams of helpers are actively involved in the war against snaring on the western borders of KNP, but with about two million people living adjacent to this border, 40–60% of whom are unemployed, snaring remains a real threat to the animals of the park – both small and large.

Written by Mariana Balt

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