Game departments and farmers spend enormous sums of money to keep poaching under control. This problem is present wherever game occurs. One of the cruellest types of poaching is snaring. I have seen animals lying in a twisted heap, their eyes bulging, slowly choking to death. A bullet put them out of their misery but many others are not so fortunate. Once I was on patrol in the Western crown lands on the edge of the Umfolozi Game Reserve. The game guards took me to fifteen carcasses of impala, nyala, duiker and reedbuck lying rotting in the sun. The snares that had been laid to catch the animals had never been revisited.
On the same patrol we found the perfect skeleton of a huge bushbuck ram high up in a bushy kloof. A broken wire noose was curled around the bleached skull. The animal obviously broke loose and dragged itself up the ravine. Who knows what frightful agonies it underwent before dying?
On another occasion I saw a white rhino bull dragging a back leg, the bone exposed. It had stepped into a wire snare and gangrene had soon set in. It did not live long. Ngozi, a black rhino cow, was more fortunate.
She was captured after being seen with a snare around her neck. The wire was removed from the flesh and the wound dressed. I remember being amazed at how quickly this animal seemed to understand what was being done to help her. At the sign of John Clark, the ranger at the bomas where she was being treated, Ngozi would trot forward and put her head in a position where the wound could be attended to. Ngozi recovered fully and was sent to Ndumu Game Reserve. I saw her a year later easily identified by the long scar.
Wire snares are terrible but steel traps are worse. I found one near the junction of the Black and the White Umfolozi rivers that contained the bloodied leg of a leopard. The spoor around the trap told a desperate story of how the animal had struggled for days before breaking free and dragging itself off on three legs. If it survived it would have been a most dangerous beast. Bear traps are strong enough to catch a lion but woe betide any unfortunate person who might accidentally stumble on a trapped cat. Hippo, because of their bulk, are killed in more refined ways. Planks studded with six inch nails are placed in paths. This quickly lames an animal, making it easy to finish off. In the steep paths leading to the river, sharpened stakes are set and hippo sliding to the water after a night’s grazing, are impaled.
When I first went to Zululand I recall catching a group of hippo poachers on Lake St Lucia. Their method was to wait in the trees then drop out onto young calves and hack them to death with axes and cane knives. A violent and most primitive method but one could not help admire their courage.
But sometimes the poacher becomes the victim. Game guards surprised a snare setter on Nxwala Estates who, in his haste to escape, blundered into one of his own nooses. He was left for a while to contemplate his illegal actions. In Umfolozi Game Reserve we found the remains of a boy in a warthog hole. He had crawled down. to retrieve a wounded animal, but trapped himself, suffocated and died staring at his prey.
One of the solutions to the problem is education. Another is the distribution of culled game at low cost to tribesmen adjoining the game reserves.