By Jade Cizeau, Wildlife Works Intern
Jade spent a day with Wildlife Works rangers and witnessed the rescuing of a lion from a poacher’s snare. This is her story.
It all began as a ranger patrol day in Rukinga. Early in the morning, Wildlife Works’ Head Ranger Eric Sagwe drove down to camp to pick up the rangers who were on duty for the day. All ready in their uniforms, the rangers jumped at the back of the green Landcruiser ready for their patrol
“Rangers daily patrols are crucial for conservation”, explained Eric. There are 103 rangers dispersed in various camps based in different locations within the project area. They patrol every day in the bush, sometimes by foot and sometimes by car. Their major role is to identify potential poached wildlife or burned trees, remove snares, and to intervene if they encounter poachers in action as well as to organize ambushes to arrest them.
One hand on the wheel and the other tightly holding the radio, Eric stared at the horizon on the lookout for wildlife.
Suddenly, a message from the radio came announcing that a lion had been caught in a wire snare. The information came through thanks to a group of rangers from a nearby camp who were on a foot patrol. Eric asked them to register the lion’s GPS location and to retreat from the area. Having people around the lion would only cause the animal more stress and increase its state of nervousness. Once we got there, the rangers explained that they were conducting their usual patrol when they noticed three zebras caught in snares. Taking advantage of this readily available meal, the lion had already eaten two of the zebras, but when the lion heard the rangers’ footsteps, he got trapped in another snare whilst moving away.
Eric was able to get in touch with the Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarian, whose team is funded by Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, as the lion needed to be sedated in order for the snare to be removed and the potential wounds to be treated.
Eric explained that the snares are set to capture game meat such as zebras, impalas, or gazelles; it was never meant to catch a lion. The issue was the lion could hurt himself seriously by pulling too hard on the wire to try to set himself free.
When the veterinarian and the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers arrived, everyone moved to the registered GPS location of the lion. The vehicles got as close as possible, allowing the veterinarian to be up front. Hit by the dart in the shoulder, the lion let out a loud roar before falling to the ground.
The veterinarian covered the lion’s eyes and started to examine him. The snare was caught in his jaw and around his neck, Eric removed the snare from its head and the KWS crew disinfected all its wounds. Afterwards, the lion was left to wake up, a little weak and confused but otherwise unharmed, and walk back into the wilderness.
The rangers moved around the vicinity to identify any other remaining snares and organized for the next day to comb the entire area. The zebra carcasses were picked up, as poachers could still make money from the sale of a leg or pieces of skin.
Our day was over, and Eric was proud to see how his foot patrol team reacted exemplarily, and how everyone managed to save the lion thanks to their coordination. It was a very successful intervention conducted by Wildlife Works’ rangers, and by the Kenya Wildlife Service team!