Friday, February 17, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 10 - Removing Poachers' Snares

The tenth day of my trip was my last day with the Africa Network for Animal Welfare on a three-day camping trip to remove poacher's snares. Mostly this day was more of the same - although we found many more snares this time around - but there were LOTS of animal sightings, including a very close up view of a sick hartebeest.

That morning began as usual, with breakfast (lots of fresh fruit for me, white bread with margarine and tea for everyone else) and some bird watching in our camp. The birds here are just spectacular - weaver birds, superb starlings, and common fiscals could all be found in our camp. Back in Nairobi were entire trees full of sacred ibises, Hammerkops, and marabou storks. And in the bush, we saw guineafowl, blacksmith plovers, kori bustards, and plenty of ostriches. That morning, we saw two new birds as we drove to where we would patrol: the crested crane and the Secretary Bird.

Crested Crane

As we passed the fence marking the planned "ICT Technopolis" a.k.a. "Africa's Silicon Savannah" a.k.a. massive habitat destruction for wildlife, we saw two jackals looking for a way out of the fence.


Meanwhile, several ostriches were looking for a way to get IN the fence:


Hey, why did the ostrich cross the road?

Both the jackals and the ostriches ran away when they saw us.

Across the street from the fence, we saw several zebras. One looked like it might be wounded.


Is this guy bleeding near his front leg?

Then we saw a secretary bird, which I had a hard time photographing as it ran away from us. I think I like the giraffes best. They stand still and look at you so you can get a nice picture.

Secretary Bird

We split into two teams in an area called Kapiti. This area has cattle ranches, with many fences to separate the savannah into paddocks. It makes for some easy poaching, since the animals must cross the fences to get to water. The first team left the car at a fence the group hadn't patrolled recently. I followed the second group - Isaac and a KWS ranger - to another fence they had patrolled just two weeks ago, where they found many, many snares. Unlike the relatively uneventful day before, Isaac spotted the first snare within twenty minutes and then just continued finding them for the next several hours.

Isaac removes a snare from a whistling thorn

One animal that didn't make it

Isaac finds a snare on the fence

As you can see in the photo below, the poachers look for the trails where animals typically go under the fences. Then they attach snares to the fence so that the animals will be caught by the neck as they go under the fence. When the animal tries to pull free, it is strangled.

A snare on the fence. It's difficult to see even when you know it's there.

Hartebeest (kongoni) antlers

Our KWS ranger finds a snare

Close up

We reached an area where two lines of fences crossed. Isaac said that the last time he patrolled here, these two fences were full of snares. We set out to patrol one of them.

Fences where poachers put lots of snares

Fenceline we began to inspect for snares

Another dead hartebeest

All of a sudden, Isaac shouted, "There's an animal caught in a snare!" and took off running. "A live one?" I asked, because finding live animals in snares is rare. Isaac said yes. I looked and looked but did not see any animals at all, let alone a snared one. Isaac must have incredible eye sight. He reached the animal first as the KWS ranger and I followed. But when the ranger and I arrived, it seemed perhaps the animal was not snared at all. It was a hartebeest, running in circles. Isaac said it must be blind.

Isaac watching the "snared" hartebeest

We stood, watching the hartebeest for a while. We could get close since it didn't seem to see us. It was thin, and the ranger said, "He hasn't taken water in days." The hartebeest ran in confused circles and occasionally fell down. Then it got up and began running again. Isaac wondered if perhaps it wasn't blind, since it never ran into any trees. I speculated that it must have some kind of neurological problem. Perhaps a TSE - transmissible spongiform encephelophy - like Mad Cow? TSEs seem to arise spontaneously, albeit rarely, in many species of mammals. Even if there was a chance of the hartebeest suffering from a TSE, it would be unwise for any wild animal - or human - to eat the hartebeest, particularly its brain. My companions assured me that no poacher would care if the hartebeest was too sick to eat. They only cared if they had a carcass to make money from by selling, healthy or not.

"Mad" hartebeest

Close up

As I shot the close up picture, my companions shouted at me to move away from the hartebeest. I panicked and moved quickly, realizing that this out of control animal could easily gore me by accident.

Hartebeest after it fell down.

Back up and running

Back down again

As we watched it run, my companions debated what to do, and I am not sure what they said but something sounded to me like a suggestion to shoot it. The KWS ranger had a gun. I felt nauseated. And yet, what else could be done? I asked Isaac what options we had besides shoot it or leave it. He said he'd call the KWS vet, which he then did. KWS didn't have any vets available, but said they would call us back. Isaac also alerted the director of ANAW, Josphat Ngonyo. Long after we left the hartebeest, still running in circles, we got a few calls back. KWS had one vet that wasn't out in the field, but he (or she) was on duty in Nairobi because some lions had left Nairobi National Park and the vet was on call in case they tried to eat anybody. Isaac looked again but did not see the sick hartebeest any more after we left it.

We walked away from the hartebeest and resumed looking for snares. The rest of the day was somewhat less exciting (in a good way - no more sick animals!) but we saw plenty of wildlife and found tons of snares.

Wildebeests watching me pee in the bush

A warthog hole

Looking for snares

Isaac, holding the snares he's already found

An ostrich feather

We approached a dam, and found herds of several species of animals there, probably drinking water, but now leaving because of us. There were wildebeests, zebras, Thomson's gazelles, hartebeests, and guineafowl, all there.

Lots of zebras in the distance


Zebras and wildebeests

Later, as we looked out on herds of animals, I took this picture. It's hard to distinguish distant animals because they appear like they might just be bushes or trees. Only when I zoom in can I tell they are hartebeests and wildebeests.

Lots of animals

You can see them more clearly here. When I zoom in I can even see a lone zebra in the middle of the wildebeest and hartebeest herds.

In this photo, with no zoom at all, the animals are even harder to see. I think I recall that there were some Thomson's gazelles mixed into the herds of animals, but even when I zoom in all the way, I can't distinguish them here.

At this point, after just a few hours of desnaring (a shorter time than the day before) we met our driver Peter and hopped in the car. In only a few hours, Isaac and the KWS ranger had found 25 snares. The day before, our entire group found only 13 snares in a longer period of time. As we drove to gather the other team, Isaac frequently called to Peter to stop the car, and then got out to remove snares from the fence. In the photo below, while Isaac was removing one snare, Peter spotted another and removed it as well.

Isaac and Peter removing snares.

Isaac called me over to see what he had found. It was a "dead snare" - a snare without a noose. This snare definitely caught an animal before. Either the animal had struggled and got free, or else a poacher came and snipped off the noose to detach the animal from the fence.

A dead snare

A kori bustard we saw as we drove

We collected the other team, and then drove to a new area. The desnaring team set out again for another 45 minutes of removing snares. This time I stayed in the car to nap, since the anti-poaching video clip we showed the village the night before had given me a migraine and I was still feeling lousy. When the driver picked up the group after 45 minutes, we counted the snares found during these three days and then took group photos. Together, they removed 49 snares. Johnson said, "I just saved 49 animals. I feel good."

The desnaring team: Isaac, Peter, KWS ranger, Kate, KWS ranger, and Johnson.

You may wonder: what does ANAW do with the mountain of wire snares it removes from the bush each year? They employ the rural communities where poachers originate to turn it into art! Then they sell it to tourists, allowing the communities to pursue a livelihood that doesn't harm the animals.

Snare art

Snare art

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