Snarewear, A New Eco-Trend

July 12, 2007

It’s more than a fashion statement. The latest trend in African jewelry design takes its raw material from snares once used to trap wildlife. And its salesmen are the poachers who laid the snares.

Maybe you’ve seen earrings made from fishing tackle or anklets fashioned from hemp, but the newest trend in “green” jewelry is just starting to, well, catch on. “Snarewear” is fast becoming the latest rage in certain rural villages in Zambia. Here, where wildlife poaching was once rampant, the same snares used to trap elephants, lions, and leopards are being crafted into a one-of-a-kind line of jewelry. What’s more, the handmade bracelets and necklaces are sold by those intimately familiar with the raw material: a growing band of reformed poachers. The enterprise is part of a highly successful sustainable farming co-op in Zambia’s rural Luangwa Valley.

Known as COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation), the co-op was designed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to encourage poachers to turn in firearms and snares and receive job training. And so in exchange for 40,000 snares and 800 firearms, former poachers of Luangwa now draw their income from organic farming, beekeeping, gardening, and carpentry, in addition to the jewelry-making.

Many of COMACO’s eco-friendly products are sold in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, and outlying towns under the brand name “It’s Wild!” Membership in the program has grown to more than 35,000 since its inception in 2002. Last year, the co-op grossed more than $350,000 in sales; it also saved thousands of animals from being poached.

The idea for snare wire jewelry was hatched by COMACO director Dale Lewis of WCS. Faced with hundreds of yards of confiscated wire snares left to rust in storage and yearning to see them transformed into something useful, Lewis proposed the concept to Zambian jewelry designer Misozi Kadewele. In her capable hands, the snare wire is picked from large bags of the tangled metal and incorporated with seeds from local plants and trees. Kadewele employes several other local people to complete her creative team, and together the group can produce up to five necklaces a day.

Snare-wire accessories are for sale at the regional Mfuwe Airport in Zambia, an arrival site for eco-tourists coming to see the wildlife of South Luangwa National Park. Plans are already underway to expand sales via the Internet, though, as Lewis likes to point out: “Supplies are hopefully limited, as snares become a thing of the past in Zambia.”

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