'Barbaric' snares are wiping out Southeast Asia's wild animals

A deer trapped in a homemade snare.

(CNN)Across Southeast Asia, wild animals are being hunted out of existence to feed growing demand for bushmeat, according to conservationists.

Thomas Gray, science director with conservation group Wildlife Alliance, which operates in Cambodia, says that snares -- simple traps made of wire and rope -- have become the single biggest threat to ground-dwelling animals in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos over the last decade.
Snares collected by community rangers in Nakai-Nam Theun -- a protected area in the Annamite Mountains in Laos.
The scale of the problem is "phenomenal" says Gray.
    Between 2010 and 2015, more than 200,000 snares were removed by patrol teams from just five protected areas in the region. But despite these efforts, says Gray, law enforcement patrols can't keep pace with poachers and stop the slaughter.
      Typically made from motorbike and bicycle brake cables, snares are cheap and simple to construct. Traditionally, hunters made snares from rattan and other natural forest products which were "relatively weak and decomposed relatively quickly," says Gray. Wire snares require much less skill to make and can last for years.
      The hunters' targets are animals they can sell as food, including wild pigs, muntjac deer, civets and porcupines.
      But the tragic thing about snares, says Gray, is that "they take out everything." Animals caught in these "barbaric" devices face a lingering death, he says. A few manage to escape, but are likely to die from their injuries -- sometimes because they have gnawed off a limb to free themselves. Trapped animals without market value are simply left to rot in the forest.
        Southeast Asia's forests once teemed with myriad species, including sun bears, striped rabbits, marbled cats, hog badgers and monkeys.
        But the snaring epidemic is leading to what conservationists call "empty forest syndrome." "In some areas there are no mammals larger than a rodent left," says Gray.

        A perfect storm

        In Cambodia, setting snares is illegal in protected areas -- where most of the wildlife is found. Selling the meat is also illegal, says Gray. But that has not deterred poachers.
        Demand for wild meat is fueled in part by rising incomes in the region, says Regine Weckauf, illegal wildlife trade advisor with Fauna & Flora International. Research conducted by the non-profit in Cambodia identified two main types of consumer.
        Found with its arm caught in a snare by researchers from the Laos conservation group Anoulak, this stump-tailed macaque was released back into the wild.
        "In rural areas, people generally consume bushmeat because they like the taste," says Weckauf. "Often, they don't realize it's been sold illegally." For urban consumers, in the capital Phnom Penh and other big cities, eating wild meat is an "elite practice" she says -- and it's almost exclusively men who do i