Thomas Gray, science director with conservation group Wildlife Alliance, which operates in Cambodia, says that snares — simple traps made of wire and rope — have become the single biggest threat to ground-dwelling animals in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos over the last decade.

But the tragic thing about snares, says Gray, is that “they take out everything.” Animals caught in these “barbaric” devices face a lingering death, he says.

A few manage to escape but are likely to die from their injuries — sometimes because they have gnawed off a limb to free themselves. Trapped animals without market value are simply left to rot in the forest.

Southeast Asia’s forests once teemed with myriad species, including sun bears, striped rabbits, marbled cats, hog badgers, and monkeys.

But the snaring epidemic is leading to what conservationists call “empty forest syndrome.”

“In some areas there are no mammals larger than a rodent left,” says Gray.

A perfect storm

In Cambodia, setting snares is illegal in protected areas — where most of the wildlife is found. Selling the meat is also illegal, says Gray.

But that has not deterred poachers.

Demand for wild meat is fueled in part by rising incomes in the region, says Regine Weckauf, an illegal wildlife trade advisor with Fauna & Flora International. Research conducted by the non-profit in Cambodia identified two main types of consumers.

‘Barbaric’ snares are wiping out Southeast Asia’s wild animals
Found with its arm caught in a snare by researchers from the Laos conservation group Anoulak, this stump-tailed macaque was released back into the wild.
‘Barbaric’ snares are wiping out Southeast Asia’s wild animals
A sambar deer caught in a snare in Belum Telemgor forest in northern Malaysia, near the Thai border.
‘Barbaric’ snares are wiping out Southeast Asia’s wild animals
Snares, home-made guns and chainsaws confiscated by Wildlife Alliance’s rangers in Cambodia’s Cardamom rainforest.

The toll of snaring on many species across the region has been devastating. The saola, a mysterious antelope-like animal that was only discovered by scientists in 1992, is on the brink of extinction — it has fallen victim to snares despite not being a target species, says Gray.

The dhole — a tawny-colored wild dog — is also highly endangered. “There are probably fewer dholes left than tigers,” says Gray, ‘but they don’t get the same level of attention.”

Dholes are especially susceptible to being caught in snares, he says, because they roam over large distances in search of pigs and deer which are, themselves, becoming increasingly rare because of snaring.

Gray says dholes are thought to be extinct in Vietnam and are likely to become extinct in Laos. “There is still a decent population in Cambodia, but if we don’t solve the snaring crisis, they will go too.”

‘Barbaric’ snares are wiping out Southeast Asia’s wild animals
This dhle pup was born in San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Its counterparts in the wild are being killed by snares.

Changing behavior

Wildlife Alliance operates a team of 110 rangers who work “24/7” removing snares from the Cardamom rainforest in western Cambodia , says Gray.

In 2018 alone, the team, working in partnership with the Cambodian Ministry of Environment, removed 20,000 snares and destroyed 779 illegal forest camps — structures built inside protected areas where poachers sleep and store equipment and animal carcasses.

Rescued creatures are cared for at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, which houses more than 1,400 animals — some of which are released in safe areas and some of which stay there for the rest of their lives, depending on the severity of their injuries.

This work is vital, but it’s not nearly enough, says Gray.

‘Barbaric’ snares are wiping out Southeast Asia’s wild animals
A Wildlife Alliance ranger rescues a common palm civet in Cambodia’s Cardamom Rainforest. Civets are often found dead in snares, but this one survived the ordeal.
‘Barbaric’ snares are wiping out Southeast Asia’s wild animals
Chhouk, a male elephant, was found as a baby wandering alone in the forest in northeastern Cambodia. He had lost a foot to a poacher’s snare and was close to death. Wildlife Alliance took him to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre where he was given a prosthetic foot and has been cared for ever since

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