“Wildlife landmines” claim unintended victims


The loss of natural heritage, mainly due to poaching, has long been a thorn in the side of national and provincial conservation agencies and the spotlight is firmly on rhino and elephant because of massive increases in animal losses over recent years.

But what of other species which are also at risk including antelope and, high on the endangered scale, pangolin and wild dogs?

An answer, in part, comes from the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) which points out that a snare, in a person’s hand, doesn’t look like much.

“It’s just a piece of wire with a loop here and there. Place this wire in the hands of wildlife poachers and it becomes one of Africa’s most deadly weapons.

“Snares and traps kill millions of animals across the world each year. In Africa snares are mostly used to capture antelope for bush meat. In some instances, the goal is to target key high value species for trafficking body parts.

“Snares do not discriminate, catching anything,” the Stellenbosch-headquartered NGO said.

“A recent find in Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park was again evidence of this sad fact. Strategically concealed in a high density antelope movement area, a snare line claimed a waterbuck and three endangered African wild dogs,” a PPF spokesman said.

“It was clear from analysis of the scene the dogs were not targets of this trap. The carcasses were intact with no body parts removed. Most likely responding to the distress calls of the trapped waterbuck the dogs ended up caught in the snare line.”

Wild dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores in the world with only a few thousand still found in mostly southern and eastern Africa. African wild dogs are particularly susceptible to becoming by-catch in snares as, if a dog is caught, the rest of the pack are most likely to look for the missing individual and become ensnared.

“This is a setback to Limpopo National Park’s concerted efforts to protect wild dogs and other keystone species roaming the million hectare park.

“Often dubbed the ‘forgotten side of poaching’, the relevance of snares as a critical danger to wildlife populations has long been acknowledged by Mozambique’s conservation authority, the National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC). Working in collaboration with PPF, ANAC intensified efforts to rid protected areas of what it calls ‘wildlife landmines’.

“It is not easy removing snares. They are well-hidden, anchored either to the ground or around a tree, in the path of high animal activity. Combine that with the size of conservation space rangers have to cover and it is a daunting task,” the spokesman said.

A number of operational activities in Limpopo National Park address challenges including that of snares. Along the park’s western border, a boundary shared with Kruger National Park, an intensive protection zone (IPZ) was established to enable focused tactical application of 80% of anti-poaching resources. The IPZ safeguards the section of the park with the largest concentration of game and most potential for tourism development.

A central command centre equipped with the latest technology has been established with the help and support of the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) and 29 additional rangers employed. The rangers are trained at the Southern African Wildlife College and many are experienced trackers with an eye for finding snares and traps. Over the past two years the number of monthly patrols executed also more than doubled.

Additionally, a partnership with Panthera, a specialised anti-poaching team was launched in the park last year. It is a unit dedicated to assisting the park and the Greater Limpopo Carnivore Programme with wild cat and canine conservation. Part of the park’s over-arching anti-poaching strategy, the unit patrols carnivore range areas, removing snares and responding to other risks threatening the lives and well-being of all carnivores, especially the park’s lions and wild dogs.

The compounded impact of these interventions has made an impact. Over the past five years more than 5 000 snares were removed from Limpopo National Park. The collaboration between ANAC and PPF has seen more than 12 000 snares removed from Zinave and Banhine national parks over the past three years. With Limpopo National Park, Zinave and Banhine form the core Mozambican components of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.

“It’s not just about snares as boosted anti-poaching efforts improve response to poaching on all levels in the park and as part of cross-border collaboration with Kruger. Augmented by joint wildlife crime strategies and integration of systems protocols between South Africa and Mozambique, strengthened law enforcement approach in Limpopo National Park has directly contributed to an almost 70% decrease in poacher incursions from the park into Kruger over the past six months. A helicopter PPF, GEOS Foundation and DAG recently acquired for Limpopo National Park is addressing a shortage of aerial support and compliments similar aerial response across the border in Kruger.

“The impact of a more effectively secured park on wildlife populations is evident. A steady recovery of game numbers across Limpopo National Park is noticeable, which in turn are able to sustain higher predator numbers. The region’s wild dogs, known for the large range areas they roam are not only returning to the park, but choosing to den in the IPZ,” the spokesman said.