Kruger Park battling latest scourge: Snares and growth in bushmeat trade

A buffalo with a snare that had been embedded in its skull and jaw for almost a year was eventually so weak that it easily succumbed to two lionesses. 

The Kruger National Park has been battling its latest scourge: an endless sea of snares that not only pose a danger to its larger animals but feeds the bushmeat trade that seems to have increased. 

According to South African National Parks (SANParks) spokesperson Isaac Phaahla, the problem with snares has not been given its due attention since 2008, as the park has been channelling its efforts into rhino poaching. 

"But recently there has been an increase, especially on the western boundary, next to the villages," Phaahla told News24. 

"There is an increased demand there for bushmeat. Before, snares were used merely for sustenance [by individuals], but just this past weekend, on a single day, we removed about 200 snares in a small area. Immediately after that, we went back again and they had been replaced.

"So it looks like we have a well organised crime syndicate operating in the area. If you put [up] 200 snares, it means you're running a business." 

In the past year, as many as 3 000 snares have been removed. Snares are made mostly from wire, reinforced steel wire and piano wire, Phaahla says.

Kruger National Park

Johan de Beer, commander of the Kruger National Park K9 unit, showing a snare embedded in the skull of a buffalo. (Supplied: SANParks) 

Huge risk to animals

According to Phaahla, snares pose a "huge risk" to animals in the park. Speaking of the buffalo that had a snare in its skull, Phaahla said that "one can just imagine the pain that animal was living in". 

"If you look on social media pages, you will see an animal with a snare every day: there was a hyena with a snare on its neck, there was a lion with a snare on its back, there was an elephant walking around with a snare. It's causing a lot of damage. These people are just causing cruelty to these animals and it's a criminal offence." 

Phaahla said several people have already been arrested for setting up snares along the western boundary of the park. "They are facing charges as we speak." 

He said it was difficult to say what specific animals were being targeted. "Once you put up a snare, anything can be caught. Snares are indiscriminate. Any animal that gets caught is either killed or maimed."

The park is using a three-tiered approach to combat the scourge of snares: regular removal, educating nearby communities about the dangers of snares, and forming partnerships with law-enforcement agencies. 

"We need to conscientise our communities that the Kruger National Park can only work within the boundaries of the park. Outside of the park we need to form partnerships, we need to educate, we need to report criminal activity, especially against our national heritage," Phaahla said.

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