Bushmeat snaring

Bushmeat snaring is a widespread hunting method in Sub-Saharan Africa. Public landscapes in this part of the world are often devoid of larger wild animals due to bushmeat hunting. Which is so bad in some places, that mammals – even down to the size of cane rats – are nearly extinct in the wild. Therefore, the local population has to go for arthropods, like insects, caterpillars, scorpions a.s.o., or for birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Cane rats, as mentioned before, are in West Africa for example nowadays so scarce that most of them sold for food were reared on farms.

The author with a bundle of snares just removed from the surrounding area

Snaring and poaching in National Parks

Bigger mammals can nearly exclusively be found on Private properties and in National Parks. Game in National Parks is generally well protected, although the degree of protection depends heavily on the specific security situation and degree of corruption. Often ‘Local Liberation armies’ set up camp in forested areas – which are often National Parks – and the governments will try to fight them. This leads to indiscriminate poaching in order to supply these ‘Liberation armies’ themselves with food. And the second problem – corruption – is fueled by low wages of Wildlife Rangers and the existence of well-organized bushmeat mafias in many countries.

Snaring and poaching on private properties

Bushmeat snaring on Private properties can vary to a wide degree. In this article, ‘Tribal concession areas’ are also considered as private properties. And in these areas, snaring generally is most common. Although the areas belong to certain tribes, the poaching activities heavily depend on the leadership of these concessions. There are very positive examples e.g., from Botswana, but also very negative ones from other countries.

Other forms of private properties are various types of farms, which are generally well protected, but experience lots of snaring inroads from the neighboring population. And if such farms are bought by governmental authorities and handed over or sold to others, it is very common, that within a short period of time these farms are shot- and snared out completely.

Warning sign for poachers on a private game farm at Limpopo province, South Africa

Best protection against bushmeat snaring hold private game farms with electro fences, K9 (Canine) units and ‘Shoot-on-sight’ policies. But even they can’t completely avoid snaring raids by their neighbors.

Snaring tactics

Snares are the preferred poaching tool, as the material is easily available and normally does not cost anything, is highly effective, and very difficult to detect at desnaring operations. And if an animal is getting caught, it can normally be observed from a safe distance. In case the poacher gets apprehended by wildlife protection personnel when he is observing the area, the crime can’t be directly blamed on him.

All-in-all, snares are easy to set-up and difficult – and labor-intensive – to find. See also this source, describing the problem at a place in Kenya.

Before the snares are set-up, the poachers will determine which kind of game species they want to catch. And there are only two groups of animals targeted. Small- to medium sized antelopes and mid- to large sized ones.

Remains of a giraffe, which was snared at one leg and the wire cut through half of the foot bones

The target group of small- to mid-sized animals are herbivores from Steenbuck to Impala. And the target group of mid- to large sized animals are antelopes from the sizes of Wildebeest to Eland. All other animals caught are by-catch, which will be discarded. We found such by-catches of giraffes, which were caught at their legs. And we even found a baby elephant who was left rotting, as his meat was not considered valuable.

Often, when a species with less-valuable meat gets caught, like Zebra, the poachers poison the carcass in order to kill as many vultures and hyenas as possible. Because these scavengers will alert the wildlife protection personnel that a carcass is lying in the area. And poachers want to avoid that in future.

Typical set-up of a bushmeat poaching snare for small- and medium sized antelopes

Snaring Hot spots

Normally, snares are getting set-up in clustered patterns. These clustered patterns were studied in Zimbabwe depending on the seasons and published at this source. Attraction points for target animals are water- and food sources and the trails connecting them to their resting zones. And depending on the season, the water- and food sources will be located differently.

At interconnections of such trails, the poachers block all entry- and exit points with snares. At such an ‘Hot-spot’ around 10 – 20 snares can be expected to have been set up.

The snare itself for bushmeat snaring

Snares mainly consist of spliced cable wire and to a lesser degree on either barbed wire or just plain thick wire. Spliced cables are preferred over wires, as they are more flexible to form the running eye. But wires have got the advantage that there is a limitless supply from old fences. And – when pulled by the caught animal – it retains a kink on the wire behind the eye, which strangulates the animal faster. However, about 90% of snares we found were made from spliced cables.

Barbed wire for a bushmeat snare at Limpopo province, South Africa

The running eyes on snares we found was always approximately 8-10cm / 3 ¼ – 4’’ wide. Knots, forming the eye, were fastened depending on the snare material. And every poachers has got his own handwriting in tying the knot.

Running eyes in spliced wires

For spliced wires, either single or double knots, according to below pictures, are used.

Running eyes in barbed and plain wires

Eyes in barbed wires are normally wrapped multiple times around the main wire. Whereas plain wire was always just bent once around the main wire. The difference in fastening the running eye in barbed- and plain wires is because of the varied wire thicknesses.

Setting up the snares

Best time for setting up snares is in the morning, after which smells will have the chance to dissipate during the day and then the snares are ready to catch in the evening.

But before setting snares, the poachers often rub their hands with sand or soil from the ground somewhere away from the snaring site. They avoid using strong smelling forbs or soil from animal territory demarcation sites. And they wear rubber boots and will not knee on the soil of the snaring location. Because the human body smell will be transmitted through skin and fabric, but not through gum boots.

Often, snares are set on animal trails, which antelopes cannot sidestep or elude, when they want to move into a certain direction. But sometimes these constricted spots are too obvious for wildlife protection officers, and poachers therefore build a web of snares around such ideal snaring locations.

Snares are kept open with thin stripes of inner bark from adjacent trees and bushes
Some more snare details

Diameter of the open loop is about one meter, and the loop is kept open with one or two fresh stripes of inner bark of nearby trees. By the dryness of these bark stripes, the time of setting that snare can be estimated.

The distance from the ground to the lowest point of the set loop is for small/medium sized antelopes about 60 cm / 2 ft, and for medium/large sized ones about 1 m / 3.3 ft.

The opposite end of the wire is always simply fastened to a sturdy lower part of a bush and the length of the snare wire from the closed loop position to the fixation point is kept as short as possible. No swivels or other flexible elements are used. And we never found a catch circle, where the animal was rotating around the fixation point until expiration. These bushmeat poaching snares depend on their sturdy wires and relentless escaping efforts of the game, which will be strangulating themselves.

Lessons learned from bushmeat snaring:

  • Bushmeat snares come mostly in clustered patterns, called Hot spots.
  • Preferably spliced wires are used as snare material.
  • The whole snare design is very simple, but sturdy.
  • Snares are set up in the morning and will be ready to catch in the evening.