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Down to the Wire: Kenyan Art Project Turns Poachers into Conservationists

Animal sculptures created from wire snares protect wildlife and provide alternative income

All Animals magazine

  • Africa Network for Animal Welfare

by Karen E. Lange

Josphat Ngonyo carries within him a transforming moment: the day the  dik-dik looked him in the eye. Ngonyo had just released the little antelope from a snare set by a poacher in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. The  dik-dik looked back, and in the animal’s big, doe-like eyes Ngonyo sensed the words “thank you.”

The memory inspired Ngonyo as he established the Africa Network for Animal Welfare, which among many efforts sends out teams to remove snares from the wild. (Humane Society International, The HSUS’s global arm, advises ANAW and helped it obtain funding for the work.) Ngonyo invites volunteers on the trips because he wants others to have the experience he did: “When you see an animal suffering and relieved from the pain, you’re never left the same.”

In 2006, he launched a project through which former poachers turn the snares into animal sculptures (pictured above). The work pays three men $200 a month; Ngonyo hopes it may one day be completely self-sustaining, plus fund the desnaring teams and wildlife rescues. For now, ANAW is looking for ways to market the wire animals, which sell for $40 to $65 on the organization’s website and at the Waatha Cultural Center, another income-generating project.

What’s important, Ngonyo says, is to give those living around Tsavo a means of surviving. For as much as he remembers the dik-dik’s gratitude, Ngonyo cannot forget the history of his own people: In 1948, the Waatha (commonly spelled Waata), who hunted elephants with poison-tipped arrows, were evicted from Tsavo, told that they could no longer kill wildlife, and settled on land too dry to farm.

Today, desperate people poach dik-diks even though they get just $2 each for the meat. Until they have a way to support themselves, Ngonyo says, poachers will put up wires as fast as ANAW teams can take them down.

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