Thursday, April 28, 2022

Snare in the forest

Michael - Thursday

Knysna turaco
The wings are bright scarlet when it flies

One of the attractions about where I live at Brenton near Knysna is that there's an area of natural forest here that's home to diverse wildlife. The star of the birds is the gorgeous Knysna turaco. They are fruit lovers and so we put out bits of fruit for them (and other birds), but we're a bit back from the forest so we’ve only had one success with them so far. On the mammal front we have multiple groups of bushbuck (they hang around in family parties rather than herds), bush pig, and even the elusive caracal which preys on rabbits and other small animals.

Caracal near Knysna
Photo Knysna-Plett Herald

Bushback ram
Photo Knysna-Plett Herald

Not too long ago a buck was spotted with a wire noose around its neck. The noose wasn’t tight, but it was important to remove it. However, although we all kept a lookout for it, it wasn’t seen again so hopefully it managed to shake the noose off. But it was warning. There are snares in the forest.

Female bushbuck grazes among the houses at Brenton

So last Saturday my neighbour, who is in charge of wildlife issues for the local residents association and an honorary ranger for the National Park, arranged a group of volunteers to work through the forest looking for snares. A morning stroll through the forest keeping one’s eyes open sounded quite fun and potentially useful, so I volunteered.

Puff adder
Photo Knysna Plett Herald
We started with a lecture about snares and safety. That was the point where it occurred to us that the forest was rich in snakes. The worst of these is the puff adder – not because it's the most poisonous, but because they're quite sluggish and tend to freeze when they feel threatened. That’s fine as long as you don’t then step on them. They are common even among the houses. I’ve had a large one removed from my garden by – of all things – the Fire Department. We were also about to learn that the forest was much thicker inside than it appears from the outside. And among the glorious yellowwoods towering overhead, there is every conceivable type of thorny shrub. Hmmm. Radios were distributed in case one of us needed to call for help, and waiver of liability forms were distributed. Double hmmm.

The snares are very simple. These are not the brutal spring bear traps with vicious teeth. They are merely loose nooses of wire or possibly stiff rope hanging across narrow pathways where the buck are forced to move through a constrained area.

Example of a set snare

The idea is that if a buck is unfortunate enough to put its neck through one of these nooses, as it walks forward the noose closes and suddenly it feel constrained. Its natural reaction is to flee, and that tightens the noose further. Because it's wire, it doesn’t release, and the animal is caught, possibly throttled. Its only real hope is to jerk the noose off the tree to which it's fixed. Unlikely, but the one spotted wandering about must have done just that.

Almost immediately, I thought I'd found a rope snare on the ground hanging from a branch. But, no, it was just a money rope vine that had grown back onto itself.

The closed snare loop is visible in front of the knee.
Below is a variety of bones including a jaw bone.

My neighbour found the first real snare himself. A thin wire noose fixed to a thick branch with barbed wire. Below it was a spread of bones that obviously belonged to a buck. Had the trappers come, killed it, and dismembered it there, or had it died a horrible death in the forest? Whatever had happened had happened long ago. The snare was clearly old, and closed as you see, so we removed it. Our instructions were to close any new snares but leave them. The people whose homes were nearby would keep an eye out and see if they could spot the poachers checking.

Heavy wire snare under an overhanging branch

I did find a snare – open, but also old and overgrown so I removed that one too. That was the entire haul for the morning. We returned to the rendezvous point with the couple of snares and a variety of scratches and bruises to prove that the forest had put up a spirited fight.

Difficult to get through...
The green stems from the ground are covered in heavy thorns

Of course, we're on the side of the buck and they are protected in this area. Yes, we need to try to protect our buck, but the reality is that far more are killed by motor vehicles than poachers. And maybe it’s worth remembering that these poachers are not after cash (bushbuck meat doesn’t sell for much), or some special organ for black magic for local witch doctors or sale overseas. These people are after food. Particularly during the lockdowns, people were starving. There were long queues at soup kitchens. No government support to speak of here.

 That's not to minimize the problem. In game reserve areas surrounded by indigent populations, it can be a huge issue.

Snare collection

These snares were collected at Hlane and Mlilwane in Swaziland over ten years. There are more snares here than buck in the entire area...


  1. Michael, I'm amazed at how much the land and foliage in Brenton resembles that found around our farm area in northwest New Jersey. On the wildlife side of things your variety is obviously much more diverse, though we have whitetail deer, rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and bears--along with an interesting array of birdlife!

    1. Sounds pretty diverse! You're better on the predator side, but you can keep the rattlesnakes!