Addressing the Bushmeat Trade in SVC

Thousands of snares, removed from a single ranch in SVC (Photo credit: Peter Lindsey)

The African Wildlife Conservation Fund supported a major study of the threats posed by the illegal hunting and the bushmeat trade in Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC), and is assisting the conservancy with their program to address the underlying causes of the problem, and to protect wildlife from poachers.

Poaching for the bushmeat trade may be the single greatest threat to wildlife populations in Africa. SVC was barely affected by meat poaching until the early 2000s. At that time, approximately 33% of the conservancy was settled by small-scale farmers, creating a mosaic of human habitation and wildlife habitat.

At the same time, Zimbabwe suffered severe economic hardship resulting in widespread unemployment and food shortages. Under these conditions, the illegal trade in bushmeat flourished and suddenly wildlife in SVC came under massive pressure from poachers.

The most common method used by poachers to kill wildlife are wire snares, which are placed on game trails. Animals walk through the snares, which then pull tight around their necks or legs, causing strangulation and/or horrific wounds.

Snares affect most species, including non-target animals such as this African wild dog which was badly wounded in a snare (Photo credit: Rosemary Groom)

Snaring is particularly undesirable from a conservation perspective, because they are completely unselective (and can kill effectively all species above a certain size) and wasteful (poachers often fail to check snarelines, resulting in animals rotting).

Impala killed in a snare in SVC and left to rot by poachers (Photo credit: Peter Lindsey)

Lions are particularly susceptible to snares as they are attracted to carcasses in snare lines and then get caught themselves. (Photo credit: Peter Wood)

Map of SVC showing the distribution of incidences of illegal hunting during 2005-2009 (taken from Lindsey et al. 2011, Oryx 45(1), pages 96-111)

AWCF supported a major study on the bushmeat trade in the SVC, which provided shocking insights into the severity of the problem. During mid-2001 to mid-2009 10,520 poaching incidents were recorded in SVC, 84,396 wire snares removed, and thousands of wild animals were killed.

However, encouragingly, the project also identified key interventions needed to address the problem. In response to these findings, SVC has developed a program to provide communities with an alternative, sustainable protein source. In addition, SVC has a security program to actively protect wildlife. One hundred and seventy scouts are permanently employed, with the express purpose of removing snares and acting as a strong deterrent for poachers.

AWCF is raising funds for efforts to protect wildlife from poachers in SVC. Specifically, we are trying to raise funds for fuel and equipment, to keep the anti poaching teams active.

Anti-poaching game scouts bent the barrel of this rifle to make sure that it can no longer be used for killing wildlife (Photo credit: Neil Duckworth)

In addition, we are assisting SVC with the development of a monitoring system, which will enable the conservancy to identify patterns in poaching incidents, which will help with the optimal deployment of rangers, and will also help which areas community outreach efforts are most needed.

Indications are that the pressure from poachers in SVC is starting to ease, that levels of snaring are falling and wildlife populations are stabilizing (some species are even increasing again). This comes as a major relief, as the levels observed during 2000-2008 were completely unsustainable.

AWCF appeals for funds to help SVC with anti-poaching to keep snares out of the bush, and to keep wildlife alive and ensure these positive trends continue.