CONFLICT BETWEEN LIONS & PEOPLE – SURVIVING SNARES
With your support, Born Free works to put a stop to deadly snares, which pose a significant and painful threat to lions.
Born Free’s long-running programme, the Pride of Meru, works hard to protect the lions of the Meru Conservation Area (MCA), Kenya. There are an estimated 76 lions in Meru, including the iconic Elsa’s Pride, named in honour of the lioness Elsa. The true story of Elsa’s journey to freedom inspires everything we do at Born Free, and it was here in Meru that Elsa was successfully released and eventually died and was buried. Working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Born Free returned to our roots in 2014 through the establishment of the Pride of Meru programme, with the aim of safeguarding Meru’s lions.
Lions have seen a dramatic decrease in recent decades, and today it is estimated fewer than 20,000 remain in the wild. Lions are officially in the Vulnerable category of IUCN* classifications. They face several threats including loss of habitat and a subsequent increase in conflict with communities living adjacent to and within lion ranges. To protect their livestock, farmers may attempt to drive lions away using poisons, rifles, and snares.
Snares are a big problem in Meru – poverty levels in communities in the region are high, so some locals unfortunately see poaching with snares as a means of obtaining protein or income. Our recently formed and locally-employed Twiga Team (Twiga is Swahili for giraffe) have been embarking on daily patrols within the park to remove wire snares. Although only in the early stages in their de-snaring effort, they are already finding, in some parts of Meru, an average of one snare every 0.4 square miles (one square kilometre). Considering the MCA is over 1,930 mi2 (5,000km2), this could potentially mean there are thousands of snares throughout Meru. Current global crises, such as the Covid pandemic and cost of living are having great impacts on people in these regions and coupled with the devastating drought currently ongoing in the East of Africa, people may be driven into seeking alternative sources of food and income, potentially increasing the intensity of snaring.
Snares are an especially cruel method of poaching that cause agonising pain for animals when they tighten and cut into them. Snares in Meru are often laid to target herbivores such as zebra and kudu for bushmeat, but their indiscriminate nature means other animals such as giraffe, elephants and lions can also be caught. In some cases, snares may be deliberately laid to target lions in an attempt to drive them away from livestock. In September, we published an article investigating the impact of snares on herbivores such as elephants and giraffes; however, snares are also a threat to lions.
We have received several reports in recent years from our team in Meru of instances of snares injuring lions. In September 2019, the sub-adult male from Elsa’s Pride, known as King (previously named Mururi Boy 2), was found with a snare embedded in his hind leg. More recently in October 2021, Moja – an old male who remarkably controls two prides: Virginia and Bisanadi – was found with a wire snare tightly pulled around his neck causing a deep and painful wound. Sadly, this was the third time since January 2019 Moja had been found injured from a snare in two years. In both instances, Born Free and KWS were thankfully able to intervene, removing the snares and treating the wounds. Under the watchful eye of our team in Meru, both lions made a full recovery. Unfortunately, many other lions and other animals are not so lucky.
“It is critical the issue of indiscriminate snaring is addressed in Meru to protect populations of lions and other wildlife species from this cruel form of poaching,” explains Dr Caroline Ng’weno, our Pride of Meru Manager. “You can support the Twiga Team and Born Free to continue protecting the lions and herbivores of Meru from the threats of snares by donating to our ‘Saving Lions Together’ appeal. You can also help by adopting Elsa’s Pride, one of the most recognisable prides in Meru!”
*International Union for the Conservation of Nature