Archive for February, 2018

Poachers can be victims of wildlife trafficking too

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

The recent news that a man suspected of being a poacher died in a South African nature reserve after being mauled by a pride of lions, reflects the horrific consequences of wildlife poaching and trafficking for both wild animals and people across Africa and the wider world.

While Born Free is primarily concerned with the impact of poaching and trafficking on individual wild animals and the populations and wider ecosystems to which they belong, we have to recognise that poachers, who all too often come from impoverished communities, are frequently victims of this heinous trade, alongside the animals they target.

The grizzly incident in question reportedly took place in the Ingwelala Nature Reserve, which borders the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Kruger has been a hot-bed for poaching, particularly of rhinos, over the past decade. Last year more than 500 rhinos were killed by poachers in Kruger for their horns, which are worth tens of thousands of dollars per kilo in illegal Asian markets where rhino horn is used as a medicine, a recreational drug, a prestige gift, and increasingly as an investment.

Of course we don’t know for sure who the unfortunate individual was, or exactly what he was doing in the nature reserve, where his body was found with a loaded hunting rifle nearby. However, poor villagers, often from across the border in neighbouring Mozambique, have been recruited in large numbers by wildlife trafficking gangs in recent years to cross into Kruger targeting rhinos, elephants and other wild animals, with the promise of being paid many times their monthly income. Clearly these people are exploited by those who stand to make a financial killing without ever putting themselves at risk from wild animals or from the increasingly effective anti-poaching forces charged with defeating the poaching epidemic.

Most of the frontline poachers are mere pawns of the organised criminal networks that control wildlife trafficking, and expendable ones at that. When one dies, they are all too easily replaced, leaving their family to suffer the consequences.

And the circle of destruction, misery and death doesn’t end there. All too frequently, wildlife law-enforcement rangers, who may also be poorly paid and badly equipped, lose their lives or suffer life-changing injuries. More than 1,000 wildlife rangers have been killed in the line of duty over the past decade – yet more victims, along with their families, of the wildlife poaching crisis.

Lion body parts, while less valuable than rhino horns, are increasingly being targeted by poachers. South Africa legally exports hundreds of lion skeletons and large quantities of bones each year to Asia, where they are in demand as a substitute for traditional tiger bone in medicines, tonics, wines and other products. While the export of bones from wild lions is now illegal under international law, South Africa declared an export quota of 800 skeletons from captive-bred lions last year. This legal trade not only symbolises what some regard as the country’s cynical and exploitative captive predator breeding industry, it also stimulates international demand for lion bones and gives traffickers a mechanism by which to launder illegal bones from wild lions into the legal trade. With as few as 20,000 individuals remaining across Africa, lions simply cannot afford to be targets for poachers and wildlife traffickers.

The solutions to these problems ultimately lie in improving law enforcement to protect wild animals from trade, reducing demand for wildlife products through trade bans and public education programmes, and providing alternative livelihoods for impoverished people who might otherwise be tempted by the money on offer from wildlife traffickers.

As is so often the case, the poaching and trafficking of wildlife is, in many respects, closely related to poverty. Until this is addressed, wild animals, rangers, wildlife officers and their families – and, yes, poachers and their families, will continue to be victims.

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