Snaring is the single biggest threat to lions in Niassa Reserve. Not only do snares kill the prey of lions and leopards but an estimated 40 lions and many leopards are being killed in wire or cable snares each year inside the protected area. Lions and leopards are not the targets but are caught inadvertently in snares set to catch other wild animals like buffalo, zebra, and sable antelope for meat. Once caught, carnivores are usually killed and their skins are sold. Local hunters report that 5-6 lion skins and 3-4 leopard skins move through the village of Mbamba each year. This is only one village inside Niassa Reserve. Leopards are also directly targeted for their skins which are sold to outside traders for about US$ 80-100.
Lion caught in a snare set for buffalo. He was successfully released Photo: Wim Ebersohn
Snaring provides jobs and food, and local hunters in Niassa make a good living from sales of bush-meat. Demand for their products is high, and bush-meat is affordable to many residents who have few other sources of protein. Domestic meat protein (goats, chickens, ducks) is scarce and expensive, while bush-meat is more readily available and cheaper. It costs $3-4 to buy a chicken but only $0.60-1.6 for a small to medium portion of fresh bush-meat (250 -300g). A survey of more than 1,100 people from 34 villages inside the protected area showed that households generally eat bush-meat at least once a week. This amounts to an estimated minimum of 1,760-2,640 kg of bush-meat eaten per week. This is the same amount of meat that would be eaten by 36-54 male lions.
What can be done? Bush-meat snaring is about food and money. We cannot ignore the place that bush-meat now occupies in the local economy and in people’s diets. Anti-poaching efforts to reduce illegal snaring (a “boots and guns” approach), while essential, are unlikely to significantly reduce snaring on their own in a place as vast as Niassa Reserve. There are large, remote areas that need to be patrolled, and there are not enough scouts or funds to do it.
We are testing a multi-pronged approach in which we are:
(1) Providing direct employment for local hunters as conservation guardians;
(2) Providing training in animal husbandry (building goat corrals, increasing breeding of domesticated guineafowl, increasing chicken and egg production) to provide
alternative meat sources;
(3) Providing alternative livelihoods for hunters through practical skills training at the planned Environmental Centre, and
(4) Improving anti-poaching to remove snares