For this young male lion, getting stuck in an illegal snare was just one part of a really bad situation. The rowdy crowd that gathered while conservationists worked to free the animal made a highly stressful rescue even more challenging. And while this story has a happy ending, it's also a stark reminder that something as simple as a crudely crafted wire trap can pose a serious threat to wildlife across Africa.
Fortunately for this big cat, rescue efforts led by local non-profit group Aware Trust Zimbabwe were a success. A team of veterinarians was able to partially sedate the animal before severing the snare, which had been wrapped around a tree. Once the lion was hoisted onto the vehicle, the crude contraption was cut away from its paw.
No part of the process was easy, though. The difficulty started with the report of the trapped lion itself. According to Sky News, residents in the town of Kariba in the northern part of the country had heard growling coming from a nearby river gully. When the noise persisted for a full night, locals reported it to the team at Aware, who arrived early in the morning.
No one had actually seen the lion in order to pinpoint its location, however, and thick vegetation blocked access to the area. Armed with very little information and no real idea of what to expect, the team set out to locate the cat in order to sedate it with a tranquiliser dart.
"The search for [the] exact location ... felt like it lasted hours," writes the team in a Facebook update.
Meanwhile, news of the rescue had spread, drawing in curious onlookers. "As time progressed, this crowd grew to a size that was bordering on a stadium feeling. We were located at the bottom of a gorge so everywhere we looked up there appeared to be more and more excited spectators," adds the team.
For the trapped lion, the noise of the crowd caused severe additional stress, which likely interfered with the workings of the tranquilising drugs, according to the team.
In the end, the team managed to cut away the wire with minimal injury to the lion. However, when it comes to snares, happy (if chaotic) endings like this one are rare.
From lions and elephants to endangered wild dogs, many thousands of animals are maimed and killed by illegal snares across Africa each year. The simple loops of wire are mostly used by rural communities to catch bushmeat, but many non-target animals are snagged too. According to UK-based conservation non-profit LionAid, an estimated 90% of animals caught in snares are killed and left to rot, while the few that are rescued or escape often sustain injuries that make it impossible to hunt or survive in the wild.
But for this lion, at least, life continues: after a stressful rescue, the youngster recovered fully and was successfully released back into the wild.