In this area of Uganda meat is a luxury that few households can enjoy on a regular basis. For those villagers whose homes border the forest, the allure of the apparent abundance of free bush meat within is easy to understand. Sadly the snares don’t only affect the duikers (a small forest antelope) and bush pigs they are set for but also trap a number of other species including our chimpanzees.
Snares come in a variety of forms, some of them made of natural plant fibres from the forest present less of a problem as while the experience of being caught is extremely stressful, the chimps can easily chew through these and free themselves without suffering permanent damage (go here to read about when one of our chimps actually freed another chimp from a snare!).
The worst varieties are those made from wire; the chimps are often strong enough to break the snare free of it’s attachment to the ground but the wire can’t be bitten off and stays in place. The wire can then take many months to corrode and fall off. In the meantime, as they struggle to remove it, it digs further into the soft tissue; damaging and sometimes severing nerves, tendons and blood vessels, which can result in lifeless twisted fingers, or sometimes in the complete loss of the limb (fingers, hands and even feet have all been lost by chimps in the Sonso community). At the moment 30% of our adult chimps have permanent mutilations from snare injuries. Despite the severity of the injuries they sustain, it is extremely impressive the degree to which the chimps are able to adapt their natural behaviours and continue to walk, feed and even climb with apparent ease.
In the early days of the project the Snare Patrol team could take out as many as 200 snares in a month in the area around our camp. These days can sometimes go for 2 or 3 days without finding any but they still work tirelessly in the knowledge that the illegal hunting continues and new snares are sometimes put back through in a few days. As the population in the villages around the forest increases, so does the hunting pressure on the forest animals and the continuing importance of the teams work in protecting the safety and well-being of our chimpanzees can not be overstated.
A critical part of the success of the snare removal project has been the education programme which is run in tandem to it. Our two education officers hold regular meetings and discussion groups in the villages which border our forest area in order to educate people about the aims of the project and the reasons behind the importance of long-term conservation of all of the species in the forest. Some members of our Snare Patrol are in fact ex-hunters who have signed an agreement with the project stating that they have given up their former profession and in return the project works in a number of ways to provide training which can be used generate alternative income sources.
The funding for the Snare Patrol and Education programme comes from the lovely people at the Oakland Zoo in California.
In January 2009 our Budongo vet Tonny, in collaboration with other vets and conservation workers, successfully freed a young female chimp from a mantrap snare. For details see the blog entry or read his full report.