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A new study, conducted by conservationists from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other environmental organisations, has found that illegal snares are a more severe threat to Southeast Asia’s biodiversity than degradation caused by forest logging. These snares, which are being set up illegally at an alarming rate, are having a devastating effect on Southeast Asia’s tropical rainforests and the mammal and bird communities that inhabit the region. This study reinforces the calls of many environmental activists to redirect some of the attention on habitat conservation towards placing stricter oversight and sanctions on illegal traps, which pose a bigger threat to the region’s wildlife heritage.
For years, habitat loss and forest degradation had been perceived as the biggest culprits for damage to the rainforest ecosystems in Southeast Asia. Now, a new study carried out by researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo & Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), WWF Vietnam and the Sabah Forestry Department in Malaysia, reveals that illegal hunting using indiscriminate snares is a more immediate threat than forest degradation through selective logging.
The study, which was published in the journal Communications Biology, was conducted by placing large-scale cameras to compare areas of the Southeast Asian forests that have been known to be subjected to illegal hunting snares and others that have had concessions in logging. This marks the first study to compare the variation in impact between forest degradation and illegal hunting on forest fauna. Higher defauntation rates – the loss of wild animals in a specific area – were found in hunting sites relative to other drivers such as habitat loss due to logging. More specifically, over-hunting led to 25 species becoming functionally extinct in the Annamites forest, compared to 4 species going functionally extinct in the logged forests of Sabah.
Snares are anchored cable or wire nooses that are set up by humans to catch wild animals, and while regulations have been placed to make the practice illegal in many areas, ground-dwelling mammal and bird communities have continued to be subject to these traps. These recent findings by conservationists follows previous research that similarly emphasised the impact of snares and traps on wildlife – especially tigers and leopards in Laos’ forests.
Commenting on the results, co-author of the paper and conservation director of WWF Laos Francois Guegan said: “Snares are pernicious because they are inexpensive to make, can be set very quickly, and are incredibly deadly to anything that steps into them.” He added that Southeast Asia is currently facing a snaring crisis and stricter oversight of protected areas and specialised wildlife protection must be implemented if we are to avoid mass species extinction.
The snare study presents implications for current conservation work. As Dr Jesse Abrams from Leibniz-IZW argues, it demonstrates that “maintaining habitat quality as a means of protecting tropical biodiversity is, by itself, insufficient.” Rather than just addressing logging and habitat conservation, the authors conclude that more work needs to be done to fight overhunting in tropical rainforests to ensure the survival of the region’s biodiversity.