Hunting in the forest was once the legitimate pursuit of some families. They could eat or sell what they caught. What they have done honourably for many generations is now poaching.
There are six former hunters employed to police the forest. The leader of the group I went with was Ofen.
The other experienced set of eyes belonged to Dr Caroline Asiimwe, the Conservation Coordinator at Budongo.
Then there were three beginners.
Ofen has worked for Budongo for 18 years. He has a wealth of knowledge.
Traditionally a hunter had a patch to himself, he would set as many as 200 snares and walk around them every couple of days. In order to find them efficiently he made marks on the trees near where the snares were placed.
The main target animals were Duiker and Giant Rats. He would look for the regular trails that Duiker used, determine whether it was Red or Blue Duiker, find a place where the trail was narrow and a snare could be concealed and then set up his trap. The snare would be smaller and set a little lower for Blue Duiker than for Red.
For the rats the technique was different, a noose, a trigger mechanism and a bent sapling. Set at the entrance to its burrow. The unfortunate rodent would put its head through the noose as it released the trigger, the sapling straightens tightening the noose and hoisting the rat into the air.
If a hunter found an animal in someone else’s snare he took a leg. To take the whole animal would, according to tradition, cause the thief to die.
We started out by visiting an area which had recently been illegally logged. The loggers typically bring only beans and their logging equipment. They set traps to supplement their diet, mainly with Giant Rats. The pit sawing equipment had been destroyed by the Forest Authority and the area thoroughly searched by the Snare Patrollers. Our follow up visit found no evidence of renewed activity.
We then turned our attention to an area closer to the edge of the forest and Ofen found the first snare. To sharpen our eyes the rest of us were invited to find it as well. It took a while but helped develop a search pattern. Find the Duiker trail, look where it narrows, look very carefully in the foliage. Also look for a cut stick about two metres long, there isn’t always a sapling or tree conveniently placed where the snare is to be set. Even if the stick comes free from the ground it will soon get caught in a narrow place on the trail. No point these days looking for the traditional marks, the poachers know that the patrollers will find them all too easily.
I’m especially proud of this one …
because I found it all by myself.
By day’s end we had found 6 wire snares (these days made out of motorbike throttle cabling) and an old sapling and liana spring trap. None contained any animals.
Ofen spoke with pride about the work the team had done for their chimpanzees. When he started work around 2000 the team were finding 200 traps a day, sometimes as many as 300, the chimpanzees were fewer in number and many had limb injuries from snares.
Back at camp we were shown a shed full of “man traps”. These are very spiteful devices using car springs to close a pair of spiked jaws. One was set up for us. It took a man’s weight applied to the end of a stout lever to open the jaws which were then held open by a trigger mechanism …
dig enough of a hole to set it flush with the ground and cover with leaves…
An animal or human stepping on the plate seen to the left of the upper photo is in for a very nasty surprise.