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Caracal (Caracal aurata)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 182519655

African golden cats as collateral damage: assessing the threat snare poaching bycatch poses on African golden cat conservation in Uganda

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 182519655) - Caracal - Awarded $10,000 on February 03, 2019

Illegal bushmeat hunting (poaching) is widespread in Africa's protected forest areas. Because the commonest and easily accessible tools are non-selective, many globally threatened species endemic to these forests are "collateral damage" of poaching due to unintended death in traps as bycatch (the incidental capture of non-target hunt species). The overall direct impacts of poaching have been well documented. But the potential impacts of hunting by-catch on tropical rainforest mammals,particulary the rare African golden cat are not well understood. We assessed the potential effects of poaching by-catch on the African golden cat at three Ugandan Protected areas; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Kashoya-Kitomi and Echuya Forest Reserves. Our objectives were; 1) to quantify the level of threat poaching by-catch poses on African golden cats, 2) identify strategies to mitigate poaching by-catch and 3) identify interventions to stop poaching, 4) identify the common materials for making snares at project sites and 5) explore strategies to limit availability and access to wire at project sites.

 After interacting with 265 (78 households, 88 poachers, 83 wildlife rangers and 16 researchers) local community members from three protected areas, 29 parishes, and 84 villages through group discussions and interviews, we discovered that the threat poaching poses to African golden cats is more severe than we thought. We discovered that African golden cats are not only killed unintentionally in snares as by-catch (the incidental capture of non-target hunt species) but are also directly hunted by poachers for their skin used for witchcraft and decoration. Other wildlife being directly hunted for body parts include the Serval (Leptailurus serval, 51.2% ), side stripped jackal (Canis adustus, 5.3%), Gambian pouched rat (Cricetomys gambianus), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), bushbuck (Tragelaphus Scriptus), blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis), black and white colobus monkey (Colobus guereza), and olive baboon (Papio anubis).

 The skin is the most sought for wildlife body part (79.4%, n = 31 of 39) and meat ( 7.7%, n = 3 of 39). Other body parts included; horns, limbs, tail, and tongue. These animal body parts are mostly used for witchcraft (35.9%, n =14), decoration (23.1%, n = 9 of 39), dog food (10.3%, n = 4 of 39), medicine (10.3%, n = 4 of 39). Other uses include theater, trade, making bags and sorghum farming.

In the last year (between Febuary 2019 and January 2020) , a total of 80 African golden cats died as a result of poaching as reported by 84 hunters, 16 researchers, and 83 wildlife rangers. Nine African golden cats were directly hunted by four poachers and 71 African golden cats were unintentionally killed in snares and traps as bycatch. Of the 33 poachers who caught golden cats as bycatch in their snares and traps, six freed the dead cats from the snare (to retrieve their snare or trap), 25 killed the cats if found still alive and six did nothing (left the cats to die and rot in the traps). What is interesting is that poachers reported finding the highest number of African golden cats as bycatch (73.2%, n = 52), compared to wildlife rangers (22.5%, n = 16) and researchers (4.2%, n = 3). These results suggest that although law enforcement patrol teams often aim at locating poacher traps, poachers themselves remain most reliable and prolific at locating traps and animals caught as by-catch. This information is very important as it emphasizes the need to include ex (reformed) poacher groups in law enforcement initiatives against poaching such as snare removal, strategic patrols, efficiently directing community benefits of conservation, intelligence, and community policing.

Poachers reported that the most important reason why they engage in poaching is poverty and the need for income (52%, n = 42 of 88). The other two top drivers of poaching include cultural tradition (23%, n = 21 of 88) and need for meat (7.95%, n = 7 of 88). This means that any working intervention to reduce poaching should be able to address these three drivers of poaching. When asked to suggest conservation initiatives to mitigate poaching, the poachers suggested goat keeping (23.9%) and piggery (21.6%) as the main two preferred initiatives with the potential to dissuade poaching. This is because goats and pigs can be both sources of income and meat. Other suggested initiatives included; cow keeping (11.3%), sheep keeping (11.3%), Law enforcement (6.8%), formal employment (5%), and farming (4.5%).

Controlling the tools and materials used for poaching was not suggested as a potential intervention against poaching. This was surprising considering that the most common tools used as reported by poachers themselves; spears (61.3%, n = 54), snares (12.5%, n = 11), machete (7.9%, n = 7) and dogs (7.9%, n = 7), bow and arrow, nets, ropes, pitfalls, and sticks can all be sourced within villages (from local blacksmiths and markets) and can arguably be regulated if there is (political) will. For example, because of strong political will associated with restricted gun ownership, hunting with guns in Uganda is nearly non-existent. The same can arguably be achieved with the most common locally sourced poaching tools such as spears, snares or domestic dogs. It is even more problematic at regulating snares as the materials used to make snares are virtually everywhere and ubiquitous. For the eleven poachers who reported to use snares for poaching, they access the wire used to make the snares largely at no cost from motor garages, discarded barbed wire and only a few poachers buy wire from local markets. The other reason behind the difficult regulation of poaching tools is that the same tools used for poaching are also used for day-to-day household chores; machetes are used in gardens, spears are used for self-defense and dogs are used for household protection against thieves and also in crop gardens to deter crop-raiding animals such as elephants.

Asking the poachers, wildlife rangers and researchers how to reduce poaching bycatch of golden cats, 135 interviewees had no suggestible solution. The 52 who made suggestions reported law enforcement as the top intervention (57.6%, n = 52 ), elimination of poaching (23%, n = 12) and local people engagement (19.2%, n = 10). We have used the information from this project to design a community-based conservation program to reduce poaching together with local wildlife authorities and households living at the frontline of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. We are engaging with local wildlife authorities and reformed (ex) poachers through piggery as a source of livelihood and alternate source of meat to dissuade poaching at the three protected areas where we work. Moreover, the piggery initiative is designed as a "pig seed bank" so as to not only benefit poachers but the entire local community. The pig seed bank works by providing a pig to poachers. When that pig has offspring, at least one female piglet is given to the nearest neighbour household in exchange for voluntary community policing against poaching and other threats to African golden cats and wildlife in general. Once the pigs reach maturity, one pig at a time is sold to raise school fees for children, pay medical bills and for the day-to-day running of the household. This initiative is successful thus far as evidenced by the number of poachers that have been reported from our community policing initiative, and the associated need to expand the initiative to recruit more ex poachers and local households. Further, this initiative has installed a sense of ownership in local communities that wildlife conservation is the responsibility for the community as a whole (not only for the wildlife authorities) and can indeed bring livelihood benefits to impoverished households.

From this project,we have also learnt that building honest rapport with the local people is time-consuming, requires a lot of patience but is definitely the path to go. We have been fortunate to have a very unique experience to directly interact with poachers. Through this project, we have had privileged access to information about one of the World's most secretive wildlife crime-poaching. We have engaged with poachers themselves alongside wildlife authorities to acquire information on the threat poaching poses to African golden cats and other wildlife. We have identified from the poachers themselves, what drives them into participating in such a dangerous wildlife crime, and the potential interventions to dissuade them from poaching.

African golden cats are severely threatened by poaching both as bycatch and direct hunting. The key drivers of poaching include the need for income and meat. And accordingly, the poachers themselves suggested the key working interventions to stop poaching are those that can generate income and also provide alternatives to meat. These combined will improve the lives of local people while at the same time dissuading poaching. We have in fact-based on this information to initiate together with local wildlife authorities and households living at the frontline of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to reduce poaching. We are engaging with local wildlife authorities and reformed (ex) poachers through piggery as a source of livelihood and alternate source of meat to dissuade poaching at protected areas. This is the first-ever community-based conservation program on the African golden cat anywhere in the species range. We wish to expand this initiative to two other forest protected areas (Echuya and Kashoya-Kitomi Forest Reserves) in Uganda where we work, and eventually in other areas of the species range. 



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