Looking for and removing snares is a vital and regular piece of work for staff and volunteers at the Trust. Hunting is illegal in Kenya after being banned in 1977, but we know that some forms of hunting still carry on. One way of hunting small animals in forests is to lay a snare on the ground. The snares can be loops of wire tied around trees or spring traps which lie covered on the ground and then catch the animal and snap it into the air if it happens to walk over it. These traps are laid by poachers to capture Suni antelope, dik dik, bush pig, and other animals. Monkeys also get trapped in these snares although they are not set to catch them intentionally.
The skull found in the forest
On one regular visit to a forest near the Flamboyant hotel we had a grisly find. In the undergrowth, we found a wire snare that still had a skull attached to it. A Suni had got caught with the snare around its neck and there was evidence of burnt skin and fur attached. We can only guess that the animal was burnt when a section of forest caught fire, but we don’t know if it was still alive at the time.
The Suni was still attched to the wire snare
On another day a group of us were out looking for snares in Kaya Ukunda. Kayas are sacred forests, which are under increasing pressure due to human population pressures and lack of respect for elders of the tribes who look after the Kayas. Within minutes of entering the forest, we had all found some snares. Much to our horror, a few minutes later we also found some of the men who were probably responsible for laying them! A group of at least five or six men came walking past us on the forest trail, carrying arrows and full sacks on their backs. We kept walking but then realised there were more hunters in the forest as we could hear the two groups were communicating with each other through a series of whistles. The second group also started making their way towards us and being heavily outnumbered we headed off in a different direction. While we were unable to take any action at the time the encounter will be reported and we will continue to make desnaring trips to Kaya Ukunda.
One of the activities we carry out regularly at the Trust is de-snaring in the local Kayas (sacred forests). The use of snares within a Kaya is illegal; however when the locals find themselves in hard times feeding their family becomes top priority and setting snares is still seen as one way to do this.
Snares set in the forests are almost invisible, looking like the trailing creepers from vegetation. They are set low in the ground, along animal trails and any animal using that route can become trapped. As they struggle to free themselves the snare pulls tightly around their neck killing them slowly and painfully.
At least once a week, staff and volunteers spend hours walking through the forests looking for these indiscriminate killers and removing them. For the Trust, eliminating these snares is an important project. Our main aim is protecting any monkeys which are foraging for food on the forest floor from being trapped and killed. Of course this also helps to reduce deaths of Suni antelope which are the intended prey of the local hunters.
Unfortunately we were unable to save one Suni which was found in a snare not far from the main Diani road. A resident found her dead in a snare; a distressed baby near-by. The resident was too late to save the mother but brought the baby to one of our Trustees, Luciana, who has successfully hand-reared other Sunis before. One of these previously rescued antelopes (very aptly named ‘Suni’), now lives with her and has free roam of the garden and small forest plot.
Over the next few days Luciana watched as the new baby (‘Bambi’) began to calm down and deal with the trauma she had experienced in her own way. Luciana was able to bottle feed her and Bambi stopped shaking and began to find some confidence in her surroundings.
In the last few days Bambi has begun to venture outside, watched over by Suni and Luciana. Suni antelopes are unsurprisingly self-protective as in the wild they have a large number of natural predators and Bambi has already perfected her camouflage techniques, hiding when it is time to go back indoors. The scent glands on the side of her nose have started to develop and she seems to be growing up fast. In a couple more weeks Luciana hopes that Bambi too can live outside permanently and start to lead as normal a life as will be possible for her. Fortunately, she has a friend she can learn from and who will look after her, whether she appreciates the attention or not.
At the Trust we will continue with the relentless de-snaring programme and talking to the local people about the cost of setting snares. Only yesterday we were in a Tiwi forest with a group of Camp Kenya volunteers where we found 25 snares. The programme has been effective in reducing the number of snares set over the past years however there is obviously more work to be done. As long as the Trust continues to receive support we will be out there removing the snares from the forests.
Tracey Stenson, Colobologist