Spotted hyaena rescued from a poacher’s snare

Spotted hyaena rescued from a poacher’s snare

Written by Shannon Airton and Frances Hannah

While on a game drive, Rhino River Lodge guests came across a hyena with a snare around its neck. Springing into action, the team from the Zululand Rhino Reserve and Rhino River Lodge spent the next three days dedicated to making sure that they were able to remove it. 


Ranger Frances Hannah was having a morning like many other mornings, winding down from a fruitful game drive:

“The sun was baking, it had been a successful morning with the wild dogs up the fence line, but they had settled under some shady trees for the morning so we set off back to the lodge with expectations of bacon and eggs. That’s when we saw her, trotting up the road in front of us – that sloping back, her erratic spots and her large paws – a spotted hyena! What luck, as our population of spotted hyena is still quite small.

As we drove closer, she calmly plonked herself down on a mound of dirt and watched us. Amazing. I grabbed my binoculars to have a closer look, and that was when I saw her shimmering necklace. This was not the kind of necklace you want to wear. This necklace was a symbol of death. It was so tight that it cut into her skin, exposing her pink flesh. It was a wire snare, and from the looks of it, she had been wearing it for some time.”


“She must have got her neck caught in the wire contraption and the harder she tried to escape the noose, the tighter it pulled, nearly killing her! I called our general manager, Dale Airton, straight away. He asked us to stay with her until he could get there. And so the waiting began.

Thoughts of bacon and eggs quickly dissolved as we observed this beautiful creature and all felt pity for what man had bestowed upon her. The soft rumble of an engine murmured in the distance – help was on its way! The wildlife vet was on standby and we had back-up coming to monitor her. We left the scene with heavy hearts but we had faith in the team that was preparing to release her from her choker.

As Dale approached her, she swiftly disappeared down a warthog burrow that she had been sitting near. It was her den! And so started the three-day episode to get her out of her hole. From the looks on my guests’ faces, they would gladly have camped outside her den to free her – bacon or not.”

Frances’ game drive was lucky to spot the injured animal, particularly in a location next to a den, so the chance of her staying where we could relocate her was high. Reserve and lodge staff, accompanied by wildlife vet, Mike Toft, staked out her den looking for an opportunity to dart and treat her. Conservation work is exciting and rewarding but often there is a lot of waiting involved and, after a long day’s hard work, the wait can feel interminable. On the first and second nights, staff retired from the evening disappointed and frustrated that they had not been successful. However, they say the third time’s a charm and, sure enough, on the third night an opportunity finally presented itself and the vet was able to dart her. Though it looked severe, Dr. Toft felt that the injury would heal itself easily and that the hyena should recover just fine.


The hyena’s ‘necklace’ was not a rarity. Snares are a common form of illegal hunting in game reserves across the continent of Africa. They are cheap, easy to manufacture and effective.

Generally, subsistence poachers set snares to catch small game as part of the illegal bush meat trade. Illegal bush meat is easily sold in impoverished communities, providing income and an inexpensive form of protein.

A snare consists of a wire tied to something secure (e.g. a tree) that ends in a loop fastened with a slipknot. When an animal passes through a snare, the tension tightens the loop around whatever body part has unluckily ended up in the mechanism. If the animal is stronger than the snare, as is the case for rhino or hyena, then they can struggle and break away from the anchor. Unfortunately, the tightened wire remains in place, meaning the animal may still die from their injury or infection. Many other animals are unable to break free and die attached to the snare or when the poacher returns to collect their bounty. Snares are a cruel and indiscriminate method of poaching, and are wreaking havoc in populations of endangered predators like African wild dogs and cheetahs.


Photo credit Malcolm Sutton


Thanks to ranger Frances’ quick thinking, her guests’ patience, and the reserve and lodge staff’s hard work, we were able to see a happy end to a sad story. There was a second hyena hanging around the den site as well, and though we aren’t sure of the sex of the second animal or the relationship between the two, we are all hoping that one day in the not-too-distant future we may be lucky enough to have hyena pups running around. For now we are all happy with the occasional sighting of the two hyenas near their den and hearing the characteristic ‘whoo-ooop’ echoing through the night.



Originally published online at Africa Geographic.


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