With over 40 active projects across Africa, the IUCN Save Our Species’ SOS African Wildlife Initiative aims to halt the decline of various threatened carnivores and their prey species. Co-funded by the European Union, this initiative enables conservation work across the species’ natural habitats by working with local communities and civil society organisations.
In Uganda, an SOS African Wildlife Initiative project is turning one of the most dangerous and problematic poaching tools into inspiring pieces of art. It not only recycles wire snares, but it also does so by shining a light on the irreparable harm they cause to wildlife.
Residents of Murchison Falls National Park are among the poorest communities in Uganda and have resorted to poaching for daily sustenance, using wire snares as their preferred hunting method. Set to primarily capture ungulate species for bushmeat, wire snares are very destructive to wildlife populations as they are indiscriminate. This means that they can catch their intended target species as much as any other animal that accidentally gets caught. As a result, they often catch threatened lions and giraffes, which maims them for life or in some cases even kills them. The National Park’s wildlife monitoring efforts in 2020 have revealed that 52 lions and 135 giraffes had snaring injuries. Another assessment by the Park has shown that it has the highest density of wire snares in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Not only is this a major conservation issue for wildlife in and around Murchison Falls National Park, but there is also growing concern that local youth are vulnerable to being recruited into the poaching trade.
The Snares to Wares initiative works with youth and converted poachers who transform the wire from snares into sculptures. This project provides legal income opportunities to a community who might have otherwise become wire snare poachers, and also works with converted poachers and youth. Being expert reed basket weavers, the project also taps into the Pakwach community’s artistic cultural heritage. Their involvement in the initiative has been essential to its success, as artistry is part of their cultural history.
My life has changed and I am respected by my peers. My income has improved and I hope that my friends in the distant villages can see what I have become
Nobert Odaga, a converted poacher
The wires are sculpted into representations of the animals that some of the very artists working on the project had previously killed, such as African lions and Rothschild’s giraffes, classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Making sculptures out of the wire snares not only directly stops the snaring of wildlife but also provides a higher income to young community members, which might ultimately deter them from poaching. The initiative currently has 324 artisans creating more than 1,000 sculptures per month, with markets as far afield as the United States.