Poaching prevention – the ongoing fight

Anti-Poaching. What do you feel when you hear that word? Discouraged? Angry? Hopeful? Sometimes even we get tired of speaking about it, as it feels like a never-ending struggle that looms over the industry of wildlife conservation.
It’s in times when you feel despondent about poaching that it’s important to remember and take note of all the work that goes into anti-poaching, and the number of lives that are saved every day through these valiant efforts. Anti-poaching is a marathon, not a sprint.
Being situated within a wildlife reserve, our sanctuary is always at risk of incursions, which we were starkly reminded of last year. One morning a trespasser was spotted on the camera traps from the night before. On further investigation, four sets of footprints were found in the reserve, along with the old empty cheetah enclosure being broken into.
(where the old cheetah enclosure had been broken into)
Fortunately, no harm was done and no items were taken. The individuals had left the way they had come in and were confused about their intentions. They were lucky not to have entered via a lion enclosure! Unlike our sanctuary, the Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve faces daily attempts of poaching. They have an anti-poaching squad as well as voluntary rangers that work hard to protect the animals that reside there. They frequently run snare removal trips within the reserve. Caroline, one of our directors, joined one of the voluntary rangers’ snare removal trips to assist with this vital work. This is how one of the most recent trips went: The head of the APU explained that each group of 4-5 volunteers would be accompanied by 2 or 3 armed rangers.
Everyone involved was told to keep a look out for any signs of anything unusual that shouldn’t be in the bush; discarded cigarette ends, signs of a fire, foot prints etc. The threat posed by snaring and bushmeat poaching is devastating to wildlife reserves. Snares are cheap to make and easy to set. They are also indiscriminate, catching everything that wanders into their loop of death. Many animals are killed or seriously injured by snares. Most of the snares on the reserve are set by local poachers who hunt to feed themselves and their families, and who may sell any excess meat.
The carcass or body parts are then retrieved by the poacher at a later stage, often under the cover of darkness. Because the likelihood of the poacher returning to where he set snares is high, it is very important to remember that you are always to be alert while conducting snare patrols. Snares are usually set on well-used game paths, especially in areas where natural funnelling occurs, although poachers will also create artificial funnels with branches, in the shade, or near water sources. One of the areas visited turned out to be “snare alley”. It was relatively close to an outer perimeter fence and it had many shady thickets. It was soon realised that the poacher had been following a well-worn path made by the animals. When you find a snare it is important to collect evidence before it is disassembled. The time, date and GPS location are noted and any details like the condition of the snare; is it old or fresh, is the wire brand new or rusty. Then photos are taken with particular reference to the knot that forms the slipknot of the noose. Each poacher has his own way of tying a knot. All of these things would be vital evidence if anyone is prosecuted. Along the path and the adjacent area, snare after snare was found – 9 in total. Over the course of the morning, the volunteers found 13 traps overall, making it a successful and productive trip.
These are 13 lives of animals that were saved through a morning’s work. Anti-poaching efforts are not a quick-fix solution to a systemic issue, but supporting these activities go a long way in protecting our wildlife.