HEAL (Houtbosloop Environment Action Link) is a local environmental (Section 21) organisation which employs Rangers who patrol on properties in the Stadsriver, Houtbosloop and Schoemanskloof Valley, not far from Nelspruit. They patrol the area searching for snares set by poachers and are trained to look out for anything untoward which may impact upon the environment, such as dumping of litter and illegal harvesting of indigenous plants and trees. They do their utmost to guarantee an intact environment in these three beautiful valleys.
HEAL is funded by different landowners in the covered valleys including private persons as well as companies. The members of HEAL contribute to a collective fund that enables the organisation to employ rangers and buy equipment like uniforms, bicycles, patrol, etc.. HEAL’s budget is very limited and the work is also done on public properties and private properties whose owners do not pay.
The Rangers write a monthly report about their work which includes information on the number of snares found and what animals have been seen. The work of the rangers is very successful and efficient. Since HEAL started in 2001, more than 11000 snares have been removed from the valleys. Many residents furthermore noticed, that the snaring activities became less in their area as the HEAL rangers were able to spread the awareness amongst the people that snaring is illegal and can lead to a big fine.
For people who enjoy being in nature and who like observing wildlife, Mpumalanga is one of the most popular provinces in South Africa. Not only the “Big 5” can be found in National Parks and game reserves, but also a variety of small bush animals that still live in the wild. In the Escarpement of Mpumalanga, there are quiete a few patches of natural land still remaining where many antelope species still occur naturally, such as Bushbuck, Red Duiker, Water buck and Kudu.
Nevertheless, due to the loss of natural land to forestry and agriculture many of these species are threatened and some of them, for example the Oribi, are on the Red Data List. In many places the population of antelopes is decreasing due to poaching activities. Not only big mammals such as Rhinos are hunted illegally, but also smaller ones, that are not only in official Parks but also found in semi-wilderness.
Antelope and bush pigs are sometimes caught for commercial purposes but generally by individuals that want the meat. The most simple and frequently used technique of poachers is the use of “snares”. A wire snare is fixed between a tree and a stick on a spot where animals often pass by. Once their neck is in the snare they are trapped. The harder they try to escape, the tighter the snare becomes. As snaring is not a controlled kind of hunting and one cannot plan which animal will be caught in the end, it can have a severe impact on the population of a species. Any animal, no matter if it is still young or on the Red Data List, can be trapped in a set snare and is then condemned to die.
Animals killed through snaring die a terrible death. They are hardly ever fetched by the poacher directly after they have been trapped. In many cases the poachers come days later. The animals therefore suffer for a long time, and often die from thirst and starvation. Furthermore lots of animals that are not meant to be caught, e.g. dogs or wild cat species, are found in snares as well. Often they are badly injured as they have been trying to escape for hours or even days.