A farmer called one morning a little while back to report 2 African Wild Dogs in his planted fields along the Limpopo River. He said one of them had a collar on, and wondered if I knew where it had come from. There are transient Wild Dogs moving through the area, and they have been recorded as travelling many hundreds of kilometres, so I was very keen to see if I could get photographs of the dogs to give to the researchers working this species. When we got there, it became very quickly apparant that the thing round the dogs neck was a snare, and not a radiocollar as he had thought.
Snaring is an enormous problem along the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, where they are usually set for antelope for meat, but so many animals get caught up in them. Often predators get caught up in them quite by accident, but can be attracted closer by prey species already caught. They tend to be set in groups or lines, often along game paths and close to waterholes.
Horrific injuries can be caused if animals do manage to break loose from snares, as they will often have cut deeply into their flesh. Rusty wires and deep flesh wounds lead to terrible infections, and slow, painful deaths for the victims. They are a particular problem to the African Wild Dog, where numbers are low and snaring can account for a large percentage of deaths in the population.
Locating the snares is very difficult and time consuming and we are working on developing a technique for using dogs to locate snares, as an extra weapon in the armoury in the war against poaching. The dogs can cover ground faster than people and can locate by scent from much greater distances than people can by sight. Its a very exciting project, and one we have been mulling over for some time. Watch this space to see how it develops!