By Dr. Peter Lindsey, Director of the Lion Recovery Fund
WARNING: Please note that this blog contains graphic images of animals who have been killed or maimed in poaching snares and traps.
The bushmeat trade, which is the poaching and trade of wildlife for meat, is one of the greatest threats affecting lions and other species in Africa. While hunting of meat for subsistence has been done for millennia in Africa and elsewhere, the challenge for conservation on the continent is that human populations are much larger than they have ever been before, the techniques used to hunt animals are devastatingly effective, the trade in bushmeat is increasingly commercialized in nature, and the wildlife populations that are hunted are diminishing in size. This means that the proportional pressure on remaining populations hunted for bushmeat is greater than ever, and such hunting is rarely sustainable. Bushmeat poaching affects lions in two ways—by causing loss of the prey species on which they depend, and also through the unintentional capture of lions in the snares and traps set for other species (usually hoofed animals).
The drivers for the bushmeat trade are varied but include poverty, food insecurity, and the lucrative income that can be made from hunting wildlife and selling meat. Key interventions include working with local communities to address these underlying causes and to gain buy-in to conservation efforts. However, the involvement of law enforcement through anti-poaching and anti-trafficking is invariably required. An additional key need that cannot be overlooked is for veterinary care to save and treat the animals that are caught and severely wounded in snares.
Some bushmeat hunting is done with firearms, both old and modern rifles, or homemade muzzle-loaders or shotguns. The recent availability of cheap LED-torches poses an additional threat, as poachers often enter wildlife areas at night and dazzle wildlife before killing them with firearms or machetes. Traps and snares are also a primary poaching method. In parts of Africa, such as Mozambique and Angola, ‘gin traps’ (or bear traps) are used, usually made from old leaf springs from vehicles. These traps have vicious steel teeth which close with incredible force around the animal's leg when it steps on and sets off the mechanism. More commonly, wire snares are used—typically simple nooses that are tied to trees and left to hang across wildlife paths. Animals then walk down the trail, sticks their heads or limbs through the trap, and keep moving, which causes the wire to pull tight. They then become stuck and either die slowly of dehydration or exhaustion, or are later killed by the poacher.
Sometimes these animals break the wire and are then seen walking around with a snare gripping tightly around their flesh. In other cases, animals are found bound to the trees by the snare, and eventually die. The wounds caused by snares and traps can be incredibly severe. The extent of animal suffering associated with poaching is something that is not widely acknowledged enough. This is why we urge people with real interest in animal welfare to get behind initiatives like the LRF to help tackle this issue.
The LRF supports a number of projects that have veterinary capacity to treat wounded animals, and to date, no fewer than 30 lions have been rescued from snares and released alive, in addition to 713 individuals from other species, with support from the LRF. Examples of anti-snaring projects supported by the LRF include the work of the Frankfurt Zoological Society in the Serengeti, the Zambia Carnivore Programme in South Luangwa, Zambia, and the Mozambique Wildlife Alliance (all working in partnership with the relevant government authorities). This kind of work is critical to prevent the unnecessary suffering and death of lions and other wildlife, and the LRF will continue to prioritize such projects.