Hidden threat in the undergrowth

Wire snare traps

Due to unforeseen circumstances we missed out on a talk from the Cape Leopard Trust at our Forum meeting, but Anita Meyer from the The Cape Leopard Trust Boland Project provided us with the following story to share with our members:

Over the past five years we’ve learned a lot about the leopards and other animals in our Boland study area – roughly 2000km2 of Mountain Fynbos habitat that includes both the Cape Winelands and Kogelberg Biosphere Reserves. We’ve also learned about a worrying emerging anthropogenic threat to the biodiversity in this area – wire snare traps are commonly used to (illegally) hunt small game in the Boland.

Snare traps are anchored cable or wire nooses set to catch wild animals, mostly for bushmeat or the illegal trade in animal parts or skins. Wire snares are specified as a prohibited hunting method, and setting such snares is a criminal offense under the Western Cape Nature Conservation Ordinance (Ordinance 19 of 1974).

Negative impacts of illegal hunting with snare traps are well documented for the forest habitats of West and Central Africa, as well as the Savanna Biome. Apart from anecdotal reports by land-owners and sparse records in the State of Biodiversity (SOB) database, very little is known about the extent and impact of this practice in the Boland area – but preliminary evidence suggest that snaring is a wide-spread and serious problem in this region.

Illegal hunting with snares poses a threat to the persistence of leopards – a top predator in the Mountain Fynbos ecosystem. Firstly, it depletes the leopards’ prey base (by removing species like grysbok, duiker and porcupine from the habitat) and secondly the predators themselves can be caught and killed in these snares.

The leopard populations in the Fynbos Biome are vulnerable to threats due their low densities, large home ranges and fragmented habitat. Although core mountain reserves remain preserved, edges (or fringe habitat) are heavily impacted by habitat alteration, resulting in the Boland mountain complex being an island of leopard habitat within a sea of degraded land. It is at these edges/fringes where the leopards and their prey are most vulnerable.

Illegal hunting with wire snares is particularly undesirable from a conservation perspective. It is a highly effective method that involves a low cost and effort from the hunter. Hunting with snare traps is also highly unselective (in terms of species type, age and sex of animals caught), it is often wasteful (snares are often not checked regularly, resulting in capture animals rotting) and also an animal welfare concern (animals are often severely injured and maimed). This hunting method is difficult to control because snares are not easily detected and it often takes place on private property.

The Cape Leopard Trust, in collaboration with our conservation partners, is undertaking to investigate the extent, impact and drivers of this illegal hunting method with the ultimate aim of designing intervention and mitigation methods and to advocate for the implementation thereof.

Please report any information concerning illegal wire snares to Jeannie Hayward
and Anita Meyer at boland@capeleopard.org.za.

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  Vol 2, Issue 3 - September 2015
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