By: Jessica Hartel, Drew Enigk, David Mills, and Peter Kjærgaard (Photo by Sebastian Kennerknecht: Godi Nyegisa, KSRP ranger, recording data before removing wire neck snare.)
Hunting in Kibale National Park is illegal, but poachers are often undeterred and still enter the park to set snares for small ungulates. Snares are commonly used because they are inexpensive, easily made and set, low maintenance, and difficult for animals to detect. Unfortunately, poachers frequently go days or even weeks without checking their snares, leaving captured animals to die from dehydration, starvation, suffocation, and physical exhaustion. The Kibale Snare Removal Program (KSRP), in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, aims to improve safety for all forest dwelling animals by patrolling and removing snares before they become entangled.
This January when KSRP Director, Dr. Jessica Hartel, and Dr. Peter Kjaergaard from Aarhus University visited Kanyawara, they embarked on a 12-hour patrol of the forest south of Kanyawara with KSRP Rangers, John Okwilo and Godi Nyesiga. The rangers’ expertise was clearly evident as they detected poacher trails from diminutive disturbances in vegetation. Within minutes of starting the patrol, Godi whistled, indicating that he had found something. Buried in the undergrowth of thick-knotted vines was a red duiker with a wire noose around its neck. The duiker had been dead for several days, but its final
struggle against the unrelenting grip of the snare was evident through the disturbances to the vegetation around its body. Now rotting and covered in thousands of ants, there was nothing we could do for this particular individual. The snare was still so tight around the vertebrae that we had to chop off the duiker’s head with a panga (machete) to remove the wire. We continued searching for more snares in the area, removing 11 more that day. Thankfully, all were empty. After discovering a relatively fresh poacher’s camp, the rangers decided to return to the same area on subsequent days to search for more snares and illegal activities.
A short five days later, Drew Enigk, a PhD student studying the Kanyawara chimpanzees, and David Mills, a PhD student studying golden cats, were faced with an unexpected rescue mission. Drew and David were near a party of chimpanzees when they heard a loud thrashing noise in the vegetation toward the bottom of the hill. David inspected the source of the noise, and it turned out to be a red duiker struggling to free itself from a wire neck snare. They carefully approached the duiker to see if they could release it from the tightening wire with Drew’s knife. The duiker was pinned against a log, so they were able to work without any risk of harm from the struggling animal. The snare was too strong to cut with the knife, but David noticed that it was starting to fray between the stick and the portion wrapped around the duiker’s neck, so he used the knife to methodically pop each strand of the snare until it finally broke. Unfortunately, the remaining portion of the snare coming off of the duiker’s neck promptly became tangled in the vegetation due to the duiker’s frantic attempt to run away. At this point, the duiker’s tongue was turning purple, and its breath was becoming shallow. Thankfully, David was able to swiftly free the final tangle, and the duiker sprinted away. The snare was still taught around the duiker’s neck, but it may have loosened with time since it was no longer pulling against the stick. Drew returned to the site of the snare the following day to record the GPS coordinates and remove the stick with the remaining section of the snare still attached.
While Drew and David were able to free the duiker from the site of the snare, we don’t know if it survived. Rarely do we find animals in snares when they are still alive. In 2014, KSRP rangers documented 13 animals (4 monkeys, 7 antelopes, 1 pig, 1 golden cat) found dead in snares, but many more likely remain undiscovered. As described in a previous blog, a chimpanzee named Rwanda was recently snared in 2014. (Fortunately, the Kanyawara chimpanzees are followed 365 days a year, so field assistants immediately alert our veterinarian if they spot a snared chimpanzee, and human intervention is used to remove the snare when possible.) Following intervention, Rwanda escaped without permanent injury and is now a new mother! However, most forest animals do not have the luxury of continuous health monitoring and silently parish. KSRP and the Uganda Wildlife Authority must therefore continue their tireless work toward improving the safety of the forest for all residents, educating local people about the suffering inflicted by snares, and minimizing the chances of chimpanzees like Rwanda becoming caught again. Every animals deserves to be here today and tomorrow!