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Snares: The Hidden Killers


It’s often said that the simplest solutions work best. Unfortunately, this is very much the case for one of the deadliest killers of wildlife on the planet – snares. When we think of the most direct threats to endangered species, our minds often leap to the big hitters like climate change and habitat destruction. But a small, looped piece of wire is now considered just as deadly, or even more so by many working in conservation.

One report compared the snaring crisis in Africa as “the terrestrial equivalent to the drift nets that have devastated marine and freshwater biodiversity” *. The same report described snares as “the greatest threat to the long-term presence of tigers in Southeast Asia”.

Another study across 24 countries in Africa revealed snaring for bushmeat poaching to be perceived as the biggest threat to wildlife – but specifically lions**. So, these low-tech, low-cost, and low-profile killers are being used on both continents where DSWF focuses our work. That’s why our latest appeal aims to cut out snares for good.

Snares can be made from simple wire and rope loops for as little as 30 pence. Image credit: Freeland Thailand.

Indiscriminate, effective… and profitable

Most snares are set to capture game to eat or sell – but snares are both coldly indiscriminate and highly effective. In Africa, lions, giraffes, gorillas, painted dogs, and even elephants are often victims of snares. In Asia, elephants are just as vulnerable, as well as tigers, dholes (wild dogs), sun bears, and leopards. And whilst not specifically being species that are targeted, hunters have quickly learnt that there is value in killing these animals and trading their parts.

Big cats are a prime example. As wild populations of tigers across Asia become ever more sporadic and drop to dangerous levels, lions in Africa have become a valuable commodity – as their bones and parts are almost indistinguishable and are now used as an alternative. Pangolins suffer similarly. Not only are they already hunted as bushmeat in Africa, but they are considered a delicacy in key Asian markets. However, their scales are also a highly prized component in Asian and Traditional Chinese Medicine. And just as with tigers, as Asian species of pangolin have become critically endangered, their African counterparts are being sought to satisfy demand – making them the most trafficked mammal on the planet. Many are captured in snares – elevating the crisis far beyond localised hunting for consumption.  

An Indian elephant calf with a snare injury is watched over by an adult. Image credit: Freeland Thailand.

Millions of potential killers lying in wait

DSWF provides support and funding for ranger-based projects in both Africa and Asia that target poachers and work to remove snares from protected areas. However, a single poacher can produce and set thousands of snares in a relatively short period of time. It is impossible to pinpoint the exact number of snares being laid by poachers on an annual basis, but with over 12 million snares* being used every year in just Cambodia, Laos, and Cambodia, it’s safe to say the figure runs well beyond that.

If the aim of the fight we were taking on was just to remove snares, we know that at this point and time it would be a losing battle – it would simply be impossible to keep up. That’s why we also focus on behaviour change, working with communities to provide alternative livelihoods and using education to instill a better understanding why conservation is important to all. We also support authorities and governing bodies to make law enforcement an effective deterrent.

Cruel and Careless

Each snare has the potential to take a single life each time it’s laid. But tragically, snares are not as effective at killing as they are at catching animals. Often, they inflict brutal and horrific injuries that mean agonising, unending pain before death from starvation or thirst. And up to 90% of animals caught in snares are left to rot by poachers who never return to them*. This is because they can only harvest so many animals before their needs are met.

A volunteer with Painted Dog Conservation (DSWF partner) with snare cache removed from vital habitat. Image credit: Painted Dog Conservation.

How we’re working to cut snares out altogether

Our partners in the field work heroically to respond rapidly and effectively to snaring incidents, and thanks to their dedication, many lives have been saved. But we need your help to bolster this work. Across our programmes in both Africa and Asia, we are combating the snaring crisis through:

Community engagement

Ensuring as many people as possible are reached and educated on the effects of mass snaring, as well as encouraging whistleblowing and the sharing of intelligence. We also offer alternative livelihoods to combat poaching and ensure local laws and regulations on illegal snaring are known, feared, and enforced.


DSWF’s partner in Zimbabwe, Painted Dog Conservation, run bush camps in Hwange National Park for up to 1,000 children each year, educating and raising awareness on the detrimental effects of snaring, and the importance of conservation and championing it within their communities. These programmes along with anti-poaching patrols are the main reason why painted dogs have not gone extinct in Zimbabwe. 

How you can help

When you support and donate to our snaring crisis appeal, you enable new and existing projects to do incredible things, including:

Work with local wildlife authorities

Enforcing regulations and assist with arrests and prosecution, as well as fund and lead investigations into the illegal wildlife trade and criminal syndicates, focusing on inclusion of local communities to protect their national heritage.

Anti-poaching operations

The best and most serious deterrent in our arsenal. Our partners train rangers to patrol areas on foot and how to handle conflicts in the wild. For example, our DSWF partner in Namibia, Save the Rhino Trust, have patrolled over 50,000 kilometres in the Kunene Region, preventing any recorded poaching of black rhinos in over 3 years.

Collaring and monitoring of animals (where possible)

The instalment of camera traps in high snare areas to monitor and reach snared animals before they perish or get taken, as well as administer care for wounded animals before they die, get eaten, or chew through their limbs to escape.

You can make a donation here.

With your help, we can fund and support those detecting and removing snares as well as deter the widespread use of them on the endangered species being decimated across Africa and Asia. 

Thank you from everyone at DSWF.

A painted dog being rescued and released from a poacher’s snare. Image credit: Painted Dog Conservation/Nicholas Dyer.
But not all are so lucky. Image credit: Painted Dog Conservation/Nicholas Dyer.

*WWF, Silence of the Snares, 2020.
**Wildlife Conservation Network, 2017.

Painted Dog Conservation

Help us stop the snaring crisis before it’s too late by donating to our Urgent Appeal.

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