Tuesday 19th of September – Snared
Today, I start at a hyena den in North clan. One female hyena walk away from the den and out of curiosity I follow her while she walks towards another hyena, a young one of 1.5 old which she greets and grooms. This is probably her offspring and it’s adorable to watch. But then something catches my eye. I am not sure, I don’t want to be sure, but it looks like the young hyena has a wound around its neck. I fear that I know the cause of the wound and I don’t even need my binoculars to confirm; this young hyena is snared.
A snare is a trap that poachers set to catch game-animals such as wildebeest and zebra for bushmeat. Using iron wire or cable they make a ring that is almost invisible, which is tied to a tree or trunk. When an animal gets its head or other body part stuck in the ring and starts to pull, the wire tightens and the animal is trapped, stuck to the tree. All it can do is wait for a slow and painful death by injury, stress, infection, malnourishment, dehydration and/or by the poacher. Sometimes an animal manages to pull itself loose, but the snare usually remains around the body and continues to cut into skin and muscles, causing amputations and/or a slow death. Apart from being a horrible, cowardly, anonymous and destructive form of poaching, it is also indiscriminate. Not only targeted game-animals are caught, but every animal is under risk of getting trapped. And that happens A LOT.
LHY-550 (Bola) is the victim of this horrible method and though she may be young, she has been strong enough to break the snare. It is still around her neck though and is cutting deep into the skin and muscle. It’s a tremendous challenge, but we have to do something.
I inform Daan, who contacts park management. People mobilise and plans are made. I stay with Bola in the meantime. 5 (very hot and sunny) hours with a severely injured hyena. Hours that have my thoughts spinning in circles of anger and frustration. Sometimes it’s all too much. To see what humans and their influence do to this planet and all her species makes me sad and frustrated at best and just plain desperate at worst. I do what I can but the realisation that I can’t do enough, that animals are in pain daily and the destruction of the planet continues pushes tears of frustration down my cheeks, out there, with Bola on the plains. Sometimes I just want to quit and spend the rest of my life in bed, in a cold room, under a nice duvet. Far away from the pain, unfairness and injured or dead animals.
A few hours pass before I receive good news. AP is arranging logistics and ZCP vet Dr. Kambwiri Banda is on his way from Kafue, he will be here tomorrow. Bola has a good chance of surviving her ordeal. This makes me hopeful again and I smile at her (not that she understands of course).
I’m a puppy in the conservation game but I think the secret every conservationist has, is that seeing an animal in pain or an ecosystem decimated doesn’t make them sad. No. It makes them angry. Furious. That’s the fuel they need to get up and continue the fight. To work tirelessly and selflessly towards the protection of all species and nature on the planet. Conservation goes with many losses and equal numbers of frustrations and setbacks. But it is all the people that care that can make this planet a better one. I can’t give up on caring, because if I had done that yesterday, I wouldn’t have found Bola today and she wouldn’t have had a new shot at life tomorrow. So we continue, that amazing team of people all over the world and little me. Together we care. Together we can change things. And that’s just the way it is.
Wednesday 20th of September – With pliers, needle and thread
Today is the day! From today onwards, LHY-550 can continue her life pain- and injury-free!
The first challenge in the process, though, is finding this hyena again. In the vast Liuwa plains, with over 500 hyenas, animals that can easily move >20 km in a night, that is kind of like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But Daan had a genius idea: call-ins; playing the sound of a dying wildebeest to attract nearby hyenas, which, ideally, includes LHY-550. We have never tried this before but are hopeful. So we set off before dawn and install the call-in set where I left Bola yesterday.
We start the sound and within 2 minutes, 6 very confused hyenas are around the vehicle, looking for that dying wildebeest. Add 5 more minutes and we see hyenas approaching from far and wide. Some are just a little cloud of dust running towards us from 3 km away. AMAZING! I feel bad for them too as they seem very confused to find a vehicle with 2 people, not the dying wildebeest they were going for. Despite that I can’t help but smile and be amazed.
On the motorbike I drive towards a group of 6 hyenas, one of them smaller than the others and with something around the neck. To my great relieve and excitement, it’s Bolaaaa! I radio Daan and we are over the moon, high-five and follow Bola and the others moving away, now that the wildebeest has miraculously stopped dying.
Finding her was our biggest challenge and now that we did, all we have to do is not lose her out of sight until Kambwiri comes. So while the hyenas bed in tall grass, we sit and wait for hours which I continue solo when Daan goes back to camp to prepare for our mission.
Kambwiri arrives at 14.00 and darts a needle into Bola’s bud. All other hyenas fly up but Bola just looks from the dart to Kambwiri, back to the dart with a look that says: ‘Dude, what the fuck?!’ When the drug is starting to make her drowsy she decides to walk into a pan, which is not ideal. Some good manoeuvres of driver Daan make her move away from the water and she falls into a deep sleep.
Everyone moves in to create shade, measure body temperature and breathing and assess the injury. The wound is deep but Dr. Banda, helped by his numerous assistants, cuts the snare, cleans the wound and starts stitching. The whole surgery takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes and afterwards, Bola wakes up slowly. She is drowsy and it takes some time before the reversal drug spreads through her body and she walks without looking tipsy. When we are sure that she’ll be ok we return to camp. It’s been a long day.
In the following days Bola is seen a few times, she looks great and the wound is healing nicely. It is incredible to see how strong hyenas are and how they bounce back from injuries.
Because of the amazing teamwork between ZCP, African Parks and DNPW, this young hyena gets a new shot at life. One day, Bola will be an adult female. One day I will approach the den like I did yesterday morning and I will see her, with some small, newborn cubbies raising their head at the arrival of a weirdo on a bike that had a small part in saving their mother’s life once upon a time.