In Southeast Asia, illegal hunting is a more immediate threat to wildlife than forest degradation

In Southeast Asia, illegal hunting is a more immediate threat to wildlife than forest degradation
Removing snares in Vietnam. Credit: Andrew Tilker

A new study carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in cooperation with the World Wide Fund for Nature Vietnam (WWF-Vietnam) and the Sabah Forestry Department of the Government of Malaysia suggests that for ground dwelling mammal and bird communities, illegal hunting using indiscriminate snares may be a more immediate threat than forest degradation through selective logging. The researchers conducted a large scale camera-trapping study to compare several forest areas with logging concessions in Malaysian Borneo and protected areas in the Annamites ecoregion of Vietnam and Laos known to be subjected to illegal hunting. The results, published in the journal Communications Biology, show severe defaunation in snared forests compared to logged forests.

“We had a unique opportunity to investigate the complex mechanisms of these defaunation drivers and compare their relative severities,” says Andrew Tilker, doctoral student at the Leibniz-IZW and Asian Species Officer at Global Wildlife Conservation, one of the lead authors of the paper. “Our rainforest study sites in Malaysian Borneo are degraded through logging but have experienced little hunting, whereas our rainforest study sites in the Annamite Mountains are structurally intact but are subjected to extremely high illegal hunting pressure. Because the two study landscapes generally have similar habitats and faunal communities, it was an opportunity for us to investigate to what extent these defaunation drivers differ in their impact on  faunal communities.”

In Southeast Asia, illegal hunting is a more immediate threat to wildlife than forest degradation
Forest degradation through selective logging. Credit: Andrew Tilker

“These findings are not only interesting from an academic perspective, they also have implications for ,” says Dr. Jesse F. Abrams, postdoc at the Leibniz-IZW and co-first author. “Our results show that maintaining habitat quality as a means of protecting tropical biodiversity is, by itself, insufficient.” The researchers suggest that, whilst both defaunation drivers should be addressed to maintain tropical biodiversity, in some cases it may be more prudent to focus limited conservation resources on addressing overhunting rather than habitat degradation.

Because hunting in the Annamites is primarily accomplished by the setting of indiscriminate wire snares, the findings of the study have implications for other landscapes in Southeast Asia, which currently are facing an ever-increasing snaring “epidemic.” In this respect, the levels of defaunation found in the rainforest study sites in the Annamites by the researchers could offer a foreboding glimpse into the future of biodiversity across the wider Southeast Asian biodiversity hotspot. Co-author Ben Rawson, Conservation Director of WWF-Vietnam, says: “Industrial-scale snaring must be addressed if we are to avoid empty rainforests in the region and retain healthy populations of what are now some of the world’s rarest species.”

The study’s findings also have positive implications for conservation. Datuk Mashor Mohd Jaini Director of the Sabah Forestry Department notes, “These results show that logging concessions can be safe havens for mammal and bird communities, particularly if sustainable forest management protocols are applied, following principles of forest certification standards” Dr. Andreas Wilting, project leader, agrees. “Incorporating these degraded sites into conservation planning strategies could substantially extend the conservation real estate for the world’s tropical regions,” he says. “Our study has made it very clear that tropical rainforests must be protected from unsustainable hunting, regardless of whether they are logging concessions or protected areas. We must get ahead of the wave of indiscriminate hunting that is sweeping across Southeast Asia. Only then can we ensure the survival of Southeast Asia’s biodiversity heritage.”

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Hunting responsible for mammal declines in half of intact tropical forests

‘Barbaric’ snares are wiping out Southeast Asia’s wild animals


By Sarah Lazarus, CNN

Updated 10:30 PM ET, Wed October 16, 2019 A deer trapped in a homemade
A deer trapped in a homemade snare.

(CNN)Across Southeast Asia, wild animals are being hunted out of existence
to feed growing demand for bushmeat, according to conservationists.
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.
Snares collected by community rangers in Nakai-Nam Theun — a protected area
in the Annamite Mountains in Laos.
Snares collected by community rangers in Nakai-Nam Theun — a protected area
in the Annamite Mountains in Laos.
The scale of the problem is “phenomenal” says Gray.
Between 2010 and 2015, more than 200,000 snares were removed by patrol teams
from just five protected areas in the region. But despite these efforts,
says Gray, law enforcement patrols can’t keep pace with poachers and stop
the slaughter.

Typically made from motorbike and bicycle brake cables, snares are cheap and
simple to construct. Traditionally, hunters made snares from rattan and
other natural forest products which were “relatively weak and decomposed
relatively quickly,” says Gray. Wire snares require much less skill to make
and can last for years.
The hunters’ targets are animals they can sell as food, including wild pigs,
muntjac deer, civets and porcupines.
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, illegal wildlife trade advisor with Fauna & Flora
International. Research conducted by the non-profit in Cambodia identified
two main types of consumer.
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.
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.
“In rural areas, people generally consume bushmeat because they like the
taste,” says Weckauf. “Often, they don’t realize it’s been sold illegally.”
For urban consumers, in the capital Phnom Penh and other big cities, eating
wild meat is an “elite practice” she says — and it’s almost exclusively men
who do it.
Procuring wild meat when entertaining associates demonstrates power and
status, says Weckauf. “It shows that the man can afford the meat and that
he’s well connected and knows how to source it.” In cities, many consumers
know that wild meat is illegal, so providing it also sends the message, “I
am untouchable,” she says.
Similar patterns of consumption have been observed in Vietnam.
A sambar deer caught in a snare in Belum Telemgor forest in northern
Malaysia, near the Thai border.
A sambar deer caught in a snare in Belum Telemgor forest in northern
Malaysia, near the Thai border.
According to Gray, the perception of bushmeat as a prestige food has
combined with changes to the landscape to create a “perfect storm” for
Southeast Asia’s wildlife.
“Fifty years ago, people would have set snares within walking distance of
their village, for their own consumption,” he says, “but the rest of the
forest wasn’t snared.”
Since then, he says, rampant deforestation, expanding road networks and the
ubiquity of motorbikes have led to forest interiors becoming accessible like
never before and subsistence hunting has developed into commercial poaching.
Cambodia’s wildlife is also squeezed because the country has one of the
biggest deforestation problems in the world. It was once cloaked in lush
forests but huge expanses have been cleared by loggers and to make way for
roads, fields and vast rubber plantations.
Analysis by scientists from the University of Maryland and Global Forest
Watch has revealed that although other countries are losing more forest in
terms of area, Cambodia’s forests are being cleared especially rapidly. The
country lost four times as much forest in 2014 as it did in 2001.
However, although logging and deforestation destroy the animals’
habitat, Gray says that by the time the trees are cut down, most of the
animals have already been killed by hunters.
Snares, home-made guns and chainsaws confiscated by Wildlife Alliance's
rangers in Cambodia's Cardamom rainforest.
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.”
This dhole pup was born in San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park. Its
counterparts in the wild are being killed by snares.
This dhole 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.
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.
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.
Gray believes legislative reform is needed.
Currently, snaring is almost a “risk-free crime,” he says, because although
it is illegal in protected areas, “the chances of catching someone
red-handed in the act of setting a snare are close to zero.”
In 2001, the Cambodian government created the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team in
an effort to crack down on the trade. The team says it has saved more than
70,000 live animals, seized 54 tons of animal body parts and arrested 3,400
Heng Kimchhay, who heads the team, says the Cambodian government has created
more than 27 thousand square miles of protected areas (around 40% of
Cambodia’s total land mass) and assigned additional personnel to combat
poaching on protected land.
But, he says, the illegal wildlife trade has grown in size and
sophistication and his team needs more staff, more training and more
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.
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
Gray would like to see the “intent to snare” treated as a serious crime.
“If someone is walking in the forest with snare materials — such as 50
motorbike brake cables — they are clearly planning to set snares,” he says.
But while poaching remains lucrative, there is only so much that legislation
and enforcement can achieve. The key to solving the snaring problem, some
believe, is behavior change.
“We need to understand why people consume bushmeat and the best ways to
persuade them to stop,” says Weckauf.

Fauna & Flora International plans to work with marketing firms and
communication specialists to find solutions geared to human psychology, she
says. “We want to use the kind of techniques that have successfully
persuaded people to wear seat belts, to use mosquito nets and to stop
wearing fur,” she says.
These efforts are essential, says Gray, because otherwise “we face the loss
of species, the loss of heritage, and the loss of tens of millions of years
of evolution that have created Southeast Asia’s unique wildlife.”

Save Dogs from the evil of Traps


ACTION ALERT: Do you have a story about a dog caught in a trap or snare even if it was not your dog? Many animals, including dogs, are unintentionally brutally killed or injured in snares. Contact Governor Dayton, share your story, ask him to eliminate wildlife snaring.

Gov. Dayton phone #: 651-201-3400, toll-free: 800-657-3717
Gov. Dayton contact form:

Please share your story with us. It may be used to pass legislation. Email:


Bill in Legislature tries to save dogs from accidental trappings

 by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune

  • March 18, 2015 – 10:27 AM

Dogs continue to be trap victims, and a controversial bill in the Legislature aims to change that

Rosie Nordby knew something was wrong when she stepped outside her rural Pequot Lakes home Nov. 29 to retrieve the family’s three dogs, and Lily, a chocolate Lab with a two-week-old litter of eight puppies, was missing.

“It was like she just disappeared,” Nordby recalled this week.

She and her husband, Daren, and three kids searched, called neighbors and then authorities, fearing their hunting dog had been stolen. That night, the family hand-fed Lily’s puppies to keep them alive.

Rosie Nordby found Lily the next day, dead in a body-gripping trap set in a ditch about 750 feet from her family’s house.

“I was heartbroken,” she said. “I’m glad it was me who found her and not my kids. It was traumatic.”

Lily was one of at least 34 dogs caught accidentally in traps in Minnesota last year and among five that were killed. Since 2012, the Department of Natural Resources says 75 dogs have been caught in traps and snares, and 17 died. A group pushing for trapping restrictions claims at least 25 dogs have been killed during that time.

The issue, which gained attention in 2012 when the Legislature tightened some trapping restrictions in response to dog deaths, is again being scrutinized. A bill was introduced this session that further stiffens trapping regulations to reduce or eliminate accidental dog deaths.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration has testified in support of the measure.

Supporters say the changes made three years ago haven’t stopped the accidental trapping of dogs.

“We need to do something so our pets don’t get killed anymore,” said Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, author of the bill.

Hoffman’s bill would require body-gripping traps to be either completely submerged in water or have enclosures with smaller openings and larger recesses, or be placed at least 5 feet above ground. These methods would greatly reduce the chances of a dog being accidentally trapped, he said.

The Minnesota Trappers Association and the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association both oppose the measure, saying the proposals would greatly limit the effectiveness of trappers.

“Trappers want this issue to go away more than anyone,” Gary Leistico, an attorney representing the Minnesota Trappers Association, testified Tuesday at a Senate hearing in St. Paul. “We’ll continue to work with everyone, but this bill … does much more than what it’s claimed to do. It would not allow meaningful trapping in Minnesota.”

The Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association also opposes the bill, as does Michael Tucker, who runs a wildlife removal service and is a member of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association. Tucker told legislators the bill would severely limit the ability of businesses like his to remove problem animals.

Trappers reduce predators of ground-nesting game birds, such as raccoons, skunks, mink, fox and coyotes, the groups say.

And a section in Hoffman’s bill requiring body-gripping traps used near water to be fully submerged would greatly reduce the taking of beavers, who cause damage to culverts and roads around the northern half the state, opponents say.


“You’re taking away the most effective way to trap beaver,” said Randy Goldenman of Zimmerman, who traps beaver for Sherburne County. “I catch up to 200 a year.”

Hoffman says his bill isn’t meant to be anti-trapping and wouldn’t inhibit trapping. “It will just make it safer for dogs and our pets,” he said.

The issue is an emotional one and drew impassioned testimony. Among those testifying in support was a handler for a search-and-rescue dog, the executive director of a Cloquet animal shelter that took in a dog injured in a trap and several hunters.

Loren Waalkens of Lake City, whose beagle, Frisbee, was caught in a body-grip trap in 2011, pleaded with senators to tighten regulations. Though he saved his dog with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he said Frisbee now has breathing problems related to the incident.

And Waalkens said when he hunts rabbits he’s constantly concerned his dogs will encounter another trap. “It’s taken the joy of hunting from me,” he said. “Please do something about this.”

Kurt Boerner, an upland bird hunter from Wayzata, said his English setter had a close encounter with a trap, and since then he’s been on a quest to tighten trapping laws. He’s quit hunting when trapping season begins and told outstate friends not to come to Minnesota to hunt during trapping season.

“The problem isn’t trappers, it’s the regulations,” he testified.

Tim McCauley of Fridley is a board member of Dog Lovers 4 Safe Trapping MN, which has pushed for tighter trapping laws, too. He no longer hunts public lands in Minnesota during the trapping season, either, for fear of losing a dog.

“I won’t take the risk,” he said in an interview. “It would ruin my life if I lost my dog.”

Restrictions passed in 2012 require trappers to use a 7-inch overhang when using baited body-gripping traps on public lands. The overhang is intended to prevent dogs from sticking their heads in the trap to reach the bait.

Trapping proponents say the restriction is working. But the DNR reports that since 2012, 15 dogs have been trapped in boxes with overhangs.

Rosie Nordby’s dog was caught in a body-grip trap recessed in a box. The trap was recessed 6 inches, meaning it wasn’t legal. Two of the five dog deaths in 2014 were in illegally set traps.

Some, including DNR officials, say even if the recess had been a legal 7 inches, it probably wouldn’t have saved Lily because of the trap’s location. Meanwhile, the trapper was cited.

“The fine was a whopping $100,” Nordby said.