Tail with a happy ending


Somewhere in the middle of the toughest part of the early Coronavirus lockdown days, a story of hope emerged from a thicket deep in Belmont Valley, south of Makhanda.

Cyclist Cathy Gorham was pedaling along the Belmont Valley dirt road when she heard a dog yelping from somewhere deep in the thicket alongside the river. Carefully noting the place, she returned there with later her partner and they hunted high and low until it got too dark, but with no joy.

They were convinced the dog was still there and trapped: hunger had begun to make people desperate and farmers and Stones Hill residents had noted a dramatic increase in poaching.

She returned the next day, this time with friend Dan Wylie, an old hand at finding snares.

We hand the story over first to Wylie, and then veterinarian ad SPCA chairperson Amy Jackson-Moss, with a final comment from the Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs Makhanda office.

A mistake owners often make is to call to the dog when they think they are near

Don’t give up easily


On this occasion friends heard a dog barking steadily in the bush near Grahamstown, static, and therefore presumably stuck. One learns to distinguish that steady bark from, say, the kind of excited baying when the dog has treed something, or is mobile and on a hunt in a pack.

This dog barked only intermittently, however, and the friend

could pinpoint the general area, but not precisely enough to find it.

Barks can echo deceptively in hilly country or when under trees, so it’s a good idea to try to triangulate from high points if possible before plunging into our thorny thickets.

Some dogs, especially those used to a feeding schedule at home, may bark especially at meal-time; early morning and the cool of evening are often the best time to listen, though dogs will behave variably. Some panic and do themselves terrible damage; others will wait more patiently. If caught hard around the throat, the dog may be unable to bark at all, in which case a grid search becomes necessary.

In this case, on the third day we went out in the morning to search the area. This included a thickly wooded ravine with some water; the strong likelihood is that snares would be set on established game paths leading down to water, often on steep sections where the animal will fall and be unable to escape.

Not hearing the dog bark, we began to search paths leading into the ravine from the nearest vehicle track, looking for narrow places between small trees; sometimes broken branches are stacked alongside or above the snare to guide the animal into it. The snare can be well-hidden, and often it is first visible at the attachment point on the tree itself.

A mistake owners often make is to call to the dog when they think they are near, at which point the dog, thinking they are effectively found, keeps quiet; in thick bush you can miss it by just a few metres and not find it. Best to be patient and wait silently for the next bark or whine.

This one was unknown, of course; we knew it did not belong to the nearest farmers, who disappointingly showed zero interest in helping. We suspected it would be a ‘township’ or hunting dog.

So it proved.

Having scoped out just three or four likely-looking paths, the dog burst into shrill crying when it heard us approaching – not so much out of welcome as terror. We got some water to her, but she was so frightened and aggressive we feared being bitten. Tricky one.

Fortunately she had been wise and not pulled much; the wire had not cut through her thickish coat around the hips, so she was essentially undamaged. If she’d needed a vet it would have been much more difficult.

We decided it was best to just cut her loose; we were able to back her into a bush, reach the loop of the snare and clip her free so she could run off without taking the wire with her. Off she fled, with not a word of gratitude!

A relatively easy success, in its way.

What to take when you search for a dog in a snare

On such a search, then, best take a small bag or fanny-pack with water, a rope or slip-lead, a bandage to bind possible wounds, and strong wire-clippers. Snares laid for bushpig can be cable, very very hard to cut.

Most of what I know I learned from my mother, who trained dogs to track other dogs, which could make a search much more efficient, especially if the tracker had an individual’s scent to go on. Reading her wonderful books, “Call”; and “Search”, which tell of some of her hundreds of rescues in Zimbabwe, will enlighten anyone interested. I have never come across anyone else who has specialised in this way, though it is no more difficult than training dogs to find thieves, or drugs.

The last thing we learned was, don’t give up easily. Depending on conditions, snared dogs are known to survive for up to ten days before being found.

A home-made snare hidden among leaves and branches. Photo: WESSA Facebook page

A terrible death


Injuries from snares in our town are very common and the SPCA has dealt with a number of different snare wounds within that last few years. It is not only dogs who get caught in snares and there are at least two cows that the SPCA has dealt with who have been caught in snares and had significant injuries.

In most cases when dogs get caught in snares, they put their head through the loop of the snare and the loop tightens around their neck the more they struggle to get loose. Therefore most of the injuries that are seen in dogs that have been caught in snares are around the neck of the dog. The wire of the snare cuts into the skin and muscle of the neck and leaves a deep wound around the entire circumference of the neck.

Depending how long the snare has been there, the wound can also become necrotic, infected and gangrenous. These wounds require intense veterinary treatment in the form of antibiotic therapy, pain control as well as regular cleaning of the wound itself and possibly bandaging.

Apart from the injuries that the snares cause, these animals that are caught in snares are also dehydrated and lose a lot of condition as they do not have any access to food or water.

Unfortunately in most cases the wounds are so severe and painful and the animal is also usually compromised that it is more humane to euthanase the injured animal.

Due to the fact that snares are designed to get tighter the more the animal struggles, snares can be fatal to dogs and can cause them to die through asphyxiation or suffocation.

  • Dr Amy Jackson-Moss is a veterinarian and the Chairperson of the Grahamstown SPCA.

Poaching offences

Information from the Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs’ Makhanda office

Information related to snares is outlined in the provincial legislation, the Nature and Environmental Conservation Ordinance No 19 of 1974.

A snare is defined as a trap in the Ordinance included with other devices such as a gin trap, net, pitfall and birdlime.

In Section 84 1(1) under “Presumptions”:
The act states that any prosecution under this Ordinance includes d) any person found removing or proved to have removed any wild animal or carcass of any such animal from any trap shall, unless the contrary is proved, be deemed to have laid or prepared such a trap and to have captured the animal concerned.

Section 85:
A person is considered to have committed an offence while in possession of any trap or other contrivance intended to be used or which could be used for the hunting of wild animals, trespasses on land on which there is or likely to be any wild animal.

DEDEA Compliance and Enforcement Division officials located in the Department’s Port Elizabeth Office where incidences of poaching can be reported on 041 508 5800.

The Eastern Cape Nature and Environmental Conservation Ordinance No 19 of 1974 will be repealed once the draft Eastern Cape Environmental Management Bill is promulgated. The EM Bill has published for comment on the 22 July 2019 and a copy can be accessed via the cer.org.za site. Issues of snares, traps and poaching have been updated in this Bill. – Information courtesy Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs Makhanda office

  • If you would like to read Jill Wylie’s books, Call and Search, you can get them directly from Dan Wylie at D.Wylie@ru.ac.za. If you’d like more details on www.netsoka.co.za, and jillwyliesanimalwisdoms.blogspot.com
  • Grocott’s Mail makes no apology for the well-used headline pun.
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