By Hilary Heuler
A recent report found that Uganda's lion population is down by 30 percent in the past decade. But in the country's Murchison Falls National Park, the figure is closer to 60 percent, mainly because of snares meant to catch bush meat.
On a blistering hot day in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, and Tom Okello, the park’s area manager, rummaged through a shed filled with wires.
“This is a store for recovered poaching implements and equipment,” he said. “So with us here we have the snares. We have wires which are got from electric lines, we have wires which are got from telephone lines, then we have wires which are even got from tires. These snares I would estimate to be about three tons, and these are recoveries in the last five months.”
A snare, Okello explained, is a wire loop tied to a tree or heavy log. Passing animals catch their necks or legs in the loops and are trapped. Snares are set for bush meat, which is illegal, he said. But the big problem with snares is that they catch more than just bush meat.
“These snares are targeting the antelopes, they are targeting the big herbivores like the hippos, like the buffalos, then eventually the lions, because it is also using the same area for hunting,” Okello said. “So where there are snares is where we have the highest concentration of these antelopes, and incidentally we also have the highest concentration of lions. Lions normally get caught in snares which are not targeting them.”
When a lion is caught, it is not pretty.
“If you get when the snare has just got it, probably the state would not be as bad as when you get when it has stayed with this snare for two, three, four days,” said Julius Obwona, a law enforcement warden who leads sweeps of the park looking for snares. “You will find when it is actually in serious pain. There are cases when you find animals that have been amputated by the snares. Sometimes you find them dead.” More....