Recently, our conservation team went out to Stanford, just outside of Hermanus (in the Western Cape) to do a short anti-poaching course with Betty Taube, a model and former participant on Germany’s Next Top Model. With a small film crew in tow, we set out into the Milkwood forest to shoot a segment for her show “Betty Goes to Cape Town” for the German production company, Good Times TV.
The weather played along perfectly, not too hot with a little cloud cover and light rain (which stopped just in time for us to set off into the forest). The Western Cape’s famous (or infamous?) south-easterly wind was in full force.
After lengthy discussions with the crew, we set out along the path to the forest, encountering the usual residents in this area, such as this Cape Angulate Tortoise (Chersina angulata) and even the sheep on the neighbouring farm, who wasn’t to impressed with our intrusion.
Ranger Luke Boshoff and his colleague, Bodhi Middleton, explained to us that the snares
would be difficult to spot and that we shouldn’t expect to find anything quickly or easily, but luckily for us Luke spotted one almost immediately on entering the forest. We were warned not to make too much noise (difficult with us amateurs tagging along and a small film crew with a large, heavy-looking camera and a cumbersome microphone) so as not to scare off any animals or poachers.
Naturally, we wanted to know what they would do if they came across the poachers and they explained that they usually chased them, caught them and took them to the police. This was the main reason they carried such large knives. The poachers themselves would be armed with knives and axes to slaughter the animals they caught or to defend themselves.
Taking a closer look at the snare, Luke explained how it was perfectly set up to catch smaller game such as Impala or Springbok. Poachers look for a narrow trail that’s well-used by smaller game with a low branch across it so the animal would have to duck its head (or the poacher would arrange one to do that). They then place another branch close by to close off any other route. This snare looked to be relatively freshly set up as it still had grease on it (to help the knot slip and tighten around the animal). The only fault to be found with this snare was that the knot wasn’t the greatest as it was just wrapped around the wire.
So what next? Well, as the snare was set by hand, it was easy enough to undo by hand. Of course, the rangers then take it back with them to dispose of, out of reach of potential poachers. We were told that if there was one snare in an area, we could expect to find a few more, but unfortunately (or fortunately) we only found one more which hadn’t yet been completed.
No more snares were found but we certainly enjoyed the hike and Luke kept us entertained complimenting the director’s strong calves… When Betty asked about the berries on the plants and whether they were poisonous, I was pretty sure we were going to have a case of poisoning on our hands with Luke telling her to taste it because he THINKS it’s okay. Luckily Bodhi stepped in to confirm that it was safe just slightly bitter. Sorry – I’m still not going to be tasting that berry!
The indigenous foliage in the area was incredible and of course, when hearing the name Wild Dagga (another name for Lion’s Tail or Leonotis leonurus), everyone wanted to know if you could smoke it! Apparently you can and it has a mild calming effect but it is more popular for its medicinal properties.
On our way back to the farm, we wanted to know how many snares Luke has found in the area. In the six years that he’s been working in this area, he has destroyed up to 500 snares. It’s an ongoing battle! Unfortunately, the neighbouring communities don’t realise that this is private land or understand why they cannot hunt the animals here for bush meat – they need to eat.
So while the fight to protect endangered animals is important to us, it is also easy to understand why hungry poachers commit these crimes, knowing that it’s illegal. When they’re arrested for the first time, they are fined. For a repeat offence, they can be jailed for up to five years. It seems like a catch 22 situation, fining or jailing adds to the poverty situation, which may well increase poaching for bush meat.
Thank goodness for people like Luke and Bodhi who continue to tackle this growing problem. While smaller scale poaching like this doesn’t seem to attract as much media attention as large scale black market poaching for rhino horn and ivory, this is an everyday problem that needs to be addressed in order to preserve local wildlife.