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How Fighting the Bushmeat Trade Protects Lions

Sometimes, when traveling through Maasai Mara, visitors may see elephants with half of their trunk missing. The poor creatures must kneel to pluck grasses, and they are unable to reach leaves from the canopies of trees at all.

It is no mystery what maims these elephants.

Over smoky fires, well hidden from passersby on the road and the wary eye of law enforcement officers, people burn the rubber from tires and harvest the steel wire within them. Twisting these metal strands together and tying a slipknot in one end, they form deadly nooses with which to catch wild animals. The bushmeat poachers set these snares in between shrubs to trap wildebeests or zebra, high in trees to catch giraffes, and low to the ground to snag warthogs. The result is gruesome. Animals die from thirst or exposure, from deep lacerations caused by the biting wire cinched around their throat or leg or from spears and clubs when poachers return to check their traps. Some animals manage to break free on their own but sustain life-threatening injuries while doing so. The elephants that have lost their trunks are examples.

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(Above: The AKTF Anti-Poaching Team removes snares in Maasai Mara National Reserve)

Elephants are not the intended targets of these snares, as zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, eland, warthogs and antelope are, but they get caught all the same. The same is true for lions.

In partnership with National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative, The Anne K. Taylor Fund (AKTF) tackles the main threat to lion populations, human-wildlife conflict, ‘head on’ through our work with predator-resistant, fortified bomas. By protecting livestock from wild predators in these stockades, we are able to significantly reduce the number of lions that die from retaliation attacks by herders. In addition to building bomas, though, we also protect lions by combatting threats to their habitat and prey populations from poachers, their snares and their spears.

Our Anti-Poaching Team, in partnership with the Mara Conservancy Rangers and Kenya Wildlife Service/David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust veterinarians, runs regular patrols in and around Maasai Mara to ambush and arrest poachers, remove snares from the bush, and rescue as many wildlife caught in snares as possible.

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(Above: AKTF & Mara Conservancy Rangers rescue a wildebeest caught in a poacher’s snare)

This past week we removed 582 snares, rescued 40 animals trapped in them, and discovered eight more animals that had succumbed or been slaughtered already. It was a good week for the wildlife we protect. Those snares that our team removed represent more than just nearly 600 wildlife lives saved: because the steel wires are nearly indestructible, poachers use them over and over again, meaning that those snares, had they been left in the bush, could have taken the lives of thousands of animals a year.

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(Above: AKTF Anti-Poaching patrollers holding dozens of snares removed from the Reserve; their faces are obscured to protect their identities)

We see the role of our work in Maasai Mara ‘buying time’ until local education, society, and values change in ways that eradicate poaching organically. By addressing threats to lion populations from these angles, there is a better chance for a lasting difference to take hold. We are deeply grateful for the generous support of National Geographic, as well as many other private and institutional donors, that make our work possible and keep us optimistic about the future of Maasai Mara’s ecosystem and the lions it nurtures.