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Spartan conservationists find creative solutions for protecting human livelihood while saving wildlife in East Africa.

In many countries in Africa, wire snares are used to trap animals for food, but they’re also set by poachers to capture animals like lions, elephants, giraffes and other wildlife. Often these snares end up killing or maiming these creatures, posing a serious challenge to conservation efforts.

“While snaring presents considerable challenges for wildlife conservation, this is actually a human livelihood issue,” says Tutilo Mudumba, an MSU fisheries and wildlife doctoral student. “This is not a prosperous area of the country, and people set snares to catch antelope and other bush meat for food.”

A lion’s paw is caught in a wire snare. In some cases, injuries from snares require amputation.

But simply removing snares from the landscape doesn’t address the needs of people who hunt for their livelihood. So MSU researchers are working to stop the steep decline in wildlife populations in East Africa while also creating new opportunities for those who make a living snaring animals.

Robert Montgomery, assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, runs a lab at MSU called RECaP, which conducts Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey. In addition to studying wildlife ecology, Montgomery also works to diversify the field by training underrepresented students from East African nations to lead conservation efforts in their home countries. In fact, they are the only Africans being trained in nonmilitary conservation efforts.

Mudumba is one of those students, drawn to MSU with the intent to learn how to address the problem of wire snares in his native Uganda.

Robert Montgomery (left), MSU graduate student Tutilo Mudumba (center), and Sophia Jingo, RECaP research assistant, survey the landscape.

Unraveling the Problem

Wire snares are made from vehicle tires. The rubber from the tires is burned off, and the internal wires that give tires their structural integrity are turned into rudimentary but extremely strong and reliable snares intended to catch antelope in and around places like Murchison Falls National Park, the largest of its kind in Uganda.

And there’s little separating hunters from dangerous encounters with hippos, crocodiles or lions as they attempt to hunt the bush meat they can’t afford to buy at market.

“When you think of a park like Murchison Falls, you might envision that there’s a fence around it or a border,” says Montgomery. “There isn’t. People live right at the edge of this park and the abundant wildlife are right there. This makes human-wildlife interactions more common and potentially harmful for the wildlife and humans.”

The park’s wildlife and natural resources are managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority. They work regularly with researchers like Montgomery and Mudumba to develop innovations centered on wildlife conservation and human livelihood improvement.

Turning Snares into Wares

Mudumba’s goal is to change the value of the wires within the community and provide its members with new skills.

“The reason why snares are built from the wires of tires is because the materials are freely available,” he says. “Disused tires litter the roadside of many developing nations. We can pick up snares every day, and every day there will be more snares set before we are done.”

This led Mudumba and Montgomery to develop the Snares to Wares initiative to shape and mold the wires that are collected into toys and works of art that can be sold to support community members. They work closely with a group of young men from the village of Pakwach, one of the poorest villages in Uganda, which sits directly on the western border of the national park.

“There are youth in Pakwach, ages 11 to 12 who haven’t qualified for secondary school and have little to do,” says Montgomery. “As they get older they become potential recruits for poachers.”

The pieces of art are being sold in Pakwach, and, next, the group plans to sell the creations in Murchison Falls National Park and other locations throughout Uganda as well as in Michigan to sustain support for wildlife conservation.

The Crafts Boys of Pakwach convert illegal wire snares into wares for sale in the market. The project is a collaboration between MSU researchers and the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

“We are entering the next phases of Snares to Wares as we are teaching the young men how to form the wires into sculptures of the animals that are being snared so people locally and globally can truly help conserve wildlife,” Montgomery says. “We cannot address the problem of snaring without addressing the livelihood issues that snaring and poaching incur. We think this project will help do both.”

The ultimate goal of this community-based conservation effort is to change a way of life—and preserve the lives of the animals.

“Removing snares from the landscape is critically important to the survival of some of the most enigmatic and important wildlife on our planet,” says Montgomery.

See the Full Story

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MSU assistant professor Robert Montgomery and graduate student Tutilo Mudumba explore Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, the site of conservation efforts to discourage wire snares that trap and injure wildlife.

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Snaring is being reduced in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park thanks to a special group of artisans.

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