Illegal Snares May be Killing More Carnivores than We Think

Illegal snares set up in southern Africa for bushmeat are likely causing the death of a large number of carnivores, threatening their conservation, a new study suggests.

Bushmeat poaching is a significant threat to biodiversity conservation, and it can also jeopardise human health by fostering the spread of zoonotic diseases. This type of poaching occurs for several reasons, including for rural subsidence livelihood and the selling of goods on the market.

The illegal snares, made using highly tensile steel, telecommunications cables, or fencing wires, are generally set up to kill herbivores. However, a new study1 published this month in Biological Conservation highlights that numerous lions and hyenas may be dying as a bycatch of these traps.

The study, led by Dr Andrew Loveridge based at the WildCru of the University of Oxford, involved analysing cameratrap footage from across Zimbabwe recorded between 2013-2018, looking for carnivores that showed signs of having escaped a snare, such as body wounds. They found such signs on 92 out of 2874 photographed carnivores, comprising 85 hyenas and 7 lions.

Knowing that roughly only one out of four lions caught in snares survives, the authors suggest that having photographed 7 lions with snare-related injuries means that another 22 have likely died during their research period. Through similar calculations, they also suggest that between 55 and 255 hyenas have likely died because of snares in the study area, during the 2013-2018 period alone.

“Whilst African big cats are classified as either Vulnerable or Endangered by the IUCN and receive significant conservation attention, spotted hyaenas are considered as a species of Least Concern. Our results suggest that, given their vulnerability to bush-meat snaring, more attention should be given to the conservation status of hyaena populations”, recommends the study.

Cameratrap photo of a hyena showing evidence of having been caught in a snare. Figure credits: 1

The authors also worry that the lack of smaller carnivores showing signs of having escaped snares means that a greater number of these animals is dying because of them. “No records of smaller bodied leopards, wild-dog or cheetah were recorded. One possible reason for the high incidence of the larger bodied species in our records is that they may be more able to break out of snares to which smaller animals succumb”, the authors explain.

Most of the carnivores affected by snares were photographed near trophy hunting sites, which the authors think is surprising as “it is generally accepted that hunting revenues and law-enforcement activities, undertaken by or supported by trophy hunters, are beneficial in reducing poaching in hunting areas”. 

Dr Loveridge and his collaborators suggest three explanations. First, the revenue generated through trophy hunting activities may not be sufficient to protect the extensive habitat area required for the conservation of large carnivores. For example, while trophy hunting produces 400$ per squared km, conserving key lion habitat would require 1,000-2,000$ per squared km. 

Second, trophy hunting revenues do not always reach the local communities, due to a number of reasons including corruption. This may impoverish rural people and make them feel marginalised, disempowered and alienated by the elites who dominate the hunting industry, pushing them into poaching.

Lastly, tenure leases for hunting areas are often short-term (3–5 years), which may put off concession owners from investing significantly in habitat protection.

The human population in Africa is growing rapidly and is expected to exceed 2 billion by 2050, which will likely result in increaisng pressure on wildlife and ecosystems unless more effective and inclusive management approaches are developed.   

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  1. Loveridge, A.J., Sousa, L.L., Seymour-Smith, J., Hunt, J., Coals, P., O’Donnell, H., Lindsey, P.A., Mandisodza-Chikerema, R. and Macdonald, D.W., 2020. Evaluating the spatial intensity and demographic impacts of wire-snare bush-meat poaching on large carnivores. Biological Conservation244, p.108504.

Cover image credits: Loveridge et al., 2020

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