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Friday, July 13, 2007

Swords into ploughshares

"Snarewear" jewelry, successfully changing the lives and fortunes of poachers in Zambia ensuring the survival of species threatened with extinction.

Reformed poacher Thomson Tembo, Zambia, proudly models a necklace made from snare wire.Photo: Julie Larsen Maher (WCS)You may not see them in midtown Manhattan boutiques yet, but the latest rage in certain rural villages in Zambia is a line of necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry made from a one-of-a-kind material: wire snares once used to illegally catch wildlife. Called “Snarewear,” the handmade jewelry is the latest in a line of products sold by a growing band of reformed poachers, all of whom have joined a highly successful sustainable farming co-op designed in Zambia’s rural Luangwa Valley.

The co-op, known as COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation), is a voluntary program designed by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, that allows poachers to turn in firearms and snares in exchange for training in organic farming methods, bee-keeping, gardening, carpentry, and now, jewelry making. So far, over 40,000 snares, along with 800 firearms have been turned in. Many products are sold in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, and outlying towns under the brand name “It’s Wild!” (http://www.itswild.org/). Last year the program grossed over $350,000 in sales and has attracted over 35,000 members since its inception in 2002. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that it has saved thousands of animals from poaching, including elephants, lions and leopards.

Snare wire jewelry is an idea that COMACO director Dale Lewis of the Wildlife Conservation Society proposed to a Zambian jewelry designer, Misozi Kadewele. Faced with many hundreds of yards of confiscated snares left to rust in storage, Lewis decided to see if they could be transformed into something more useful.

“Snarewear is wearable art with a mission,” said Lewis. “Necklaces, bracelets, earrings and decorative pieces not only make a fashion statement, but a statement for conservation as well.”

Misozi uses seeds from local plants and trees incorporated with snare wire that she has handpicked from large bags of the tangled material. She employees several other local people to complete her creative team. It takes one person one day to complete a necklace, the group can produce five if they collaborate.

Completed snare wire jewelry and pieces are for sale at the regional Mfuwe Airport in Zambia, where tourists from around the world pass through to see wildlife in South Luangwa National Park. However, plans are already underway to expand sales via the Internet, though, as Lewis likes to point out: “Supplies are hopefully limited as snares will become a thing of the past in Zambia.”

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