What are we to think about snares—the simple traps used to capture many millions of wild animals every day? Are they a legitimate hunting tool, or a crude method that consigns wildlife to slow death or maiming?
Once constructed with natural materials such as vines, snares today are often made with artificial materials such as wire, nylon, or cable.
There’s no question that snares have increased dramatically in number and extent. Growing human numbers and a huge proliferation of forest roads are helping snare-setters to penetrate into many of the last wild places on Earth.
A serious problem with snares is that they’re non-selective: they catch anything that strays into them. One study found that nearly four out of five animals captured in snares were non-target species.
The victims of snares are known to include many types of threatened and endangered wildlife.
For example, see this shocking video of an endangered Sumatran Tiger caught in a hunter’s snare set for wild boars in Indonesia. And this biologist nervously trying to free a tiger cub from a poacher’s snare.
Another worry is that snares often don’t kill their victim, but leave it to suffer—dying slowly or hanging by a bloodied limb until the hunter arrives days later.
Some animals manage to escape scares but many are maimed in the process—losing a paw, or bearing deep scars around their necks, legs, and trunks.
For instance, about one-third of the individuals from a large Chimpanzee group in Kibale National Park in Uganda were seen to suffer from serious snare injuries.
Wildlife biologists are becoming intensely alarmed. Commercial poachers are on the increase—stripping forests for bushmeat for urban markets, or invading protected areas and wildlife reserves to hunt illegally.
And with this, the toll on native species is growing. Exhausted forests, depleted of their fauna, are becoming silent.
There’s even a name for it: Empty Forest Syndrome.
Across much of the world, empty forests are becoming the norm rather than the exception—and that’s a frightening reality.
People need to eat. But in a world being rapidly chopped up by roads and human land-uses, some places must be kept free of snares and poaching—or there won’t be much wild nature left to conserve.
To do something about it, just search “wildlife poaching”. There's a number of good organizations fighting this onslaught, one snare at a time.
Lead image of chimpanzee (c) Ronan Donovan