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Intensified Poaching in African Nations: Social Motives of Poachers
Today, species extinction is more than 1,000 times the historical average- the worst since the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 65 years ago when the massive collision devastated the global environment and led to the end of dinosaurs (Falbab-Brown). This environmental catastrophe is largely in part due to the intensified poaching in African nations. With over 27000 elephants slaughtered each year, mortality rates of African elephants are far higher than birth rates (Steyn). The toll that poaching takes on the environment is increasingly contributing to the loss of biodiversity in African nations, and enforcement on poaching is ineffective: more than 170 rangers have died while trying to protect wildlife and tourists from poachers (Actman). However, the motives of these native poachers often come from the lack of a stable society and their state of destitution. For the native people, poaching is a means of survival. According to Biggs, a professor at the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University in Sweden, the coordinator of the Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society:
Africa is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, but poverty levels are high, populations are growing rapidly, and human capacity to manage fast-changing, globally connected societies is often extremely limited. (Biggs)
On the other hand, natives do not realize that though poaching may bring temporary wealth and income, it contributes to the development of criminal networks and brings apparent harm to biodiversity. In order to successfully prevent poaching, the natives’ low levels of education and societal morals must be communicated and taken into account to better both the local community and environment.
Natives’ Levels of Education and Resulting Destitution
In many cases, the most significant driver of poaching is the natives’ state of destitution. As seen in research by Knapp, an Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies, Biology and Earth Science at Houghton College in New York, more than 9 out of 10 native poachers claimed that they would discontinue poaching “if they had income that met their needs” (Knapp). As Knapp concludes from further investigations comparing poverty and education, natives with higher levels of education were more likely to acquire profit from employment other than poaching: “a greater percentage of respondents who completed secondary school… were able to secure employment over their lifetimes” (Knapp). However, the current state of African education is devastating, with diminishing financial resources forcing Africa to significantly struggle behind other developing regions in terms of public spending, “particularly on education, availability of educational facilities, equal access to education, adequate pools of qualified teachers, and sufficient numbers of professionals and skilled worker” (Atteh); despite this, military expenditure continues to increase.
This lack of educational facilities and opportunities in Africa has forced natives to fall into a state of destitution, and poaching becomes a necessity. Impoverished individuals are “preoccupied with survival in the present where any effective concern for the future is missing… [and] poverty [becomes] both the cause and effect of environmental degradation” (Murphree). Education is a prerequisite in order to promote economic growth, which will provide alternatives to poaching for impoverished local communities and improve environmental situations. By “focus[ing] on rebuilding the communities surrounding the park, and promoting peace and economic stability in the region” (Biggs), it will become the best interest of local communities to promote anti-poaching and protect endangered species.
Communication between the Government and Local Communities
The historical legacy of colonialism is another factor that contributes to the natives’ noncompliance with enforcement on poaching. Colonialism forcefully eliminated the natives’ rights to hunt in order to protect the sports-hunting of Europeans, further impoverishing the indigenous population; therefore, some natives believe that “they have a right to access and use wildlife as they have done for generations” (Duffy). This difference in viewpoint is further deepened from the lack of communication between the government and local communities, causing the two parties to clash repeatedly. Distinct standpoints develop when local communities feel alienated from the strict enforcement of anti-poaching policies “via greater use of arms, shoot to kill, expansion of ranger numbers, contracting anti-poaching out to the private sector, [and] more use of new technologies” (Duffy) which may seem effective in the short run but are counterproductive in the long run. Additionally, unclear property rights, as well as wildlife conflict resulting from policies made by the elite “with little input from indigenous communities” (Haas) has motivated natives to participate in poaching from recruitment by criminal organizations. According to Fenio, the Foreign Affairs Personnel at the Department of State in Washington DC, “A lack of perceived opportunities has translated into anger toward park officials and, for some, a desire to protect illegal hunters” (Fenio).
Natives are unjustly punished- trust and interactions between both parties, not enforcement, leads to prevention, not strict enforcement. Therefore, establishing trust, identifying common goals, and encouraging meaningful interaction between the two parties “are key to successful transdisciplinary problem-solving in the face of uncertainty” (Biggs).
The riskiest attribute of poaching may be the fact that it finances illegal activities of criminal networks and terrorist organizations. Haas, an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin, argues that Asian demand for ivory is inelastic, which “contributes to a perception of high-profit potential in rhino poaching, particularly by organized crime syndicates.” (Haas). These native syndicate poachers are highly motivated and “are exceedingly well equipped with small aircraft, helicopters, assault rifles, explosives, [etc., and] have extensive skills [and] knowledge”(Kamminga). Though impoverished natives may seem to profit from this high-risk crime, it is apparent that poaching degrades the country’s economy. The loss of wildlife directly contributes to losses by tourism industries- criminal organizations manipulate natives to poach using the “state’s weakness in the areas of territory control, governance, and economic opportunity”(Haken) to their benefit. Furthermore, Haken, the Executive of Chevron International Government Affairs, further explains that due to this benefit, “traffickers have a vested interest in actively preventing a source country from developing economically and structurally” (Haken). With desperate motives of native poachers and devastating social harms of poaching, there is a growing need to “listen to the grievances, hopes, and wishes of communities” (Hübschle).
Several attempts have been made to prevent poaching through strict enforcement; however, “[b]ecause poaching is illegal, monitoring, enforcement, and deterrence are difficult … [and] [s]uch activities require significant human and financial resources” (Kathler). Moreover, strict enforcement is not solving the fundamental and root problem of the natives’ state of destitution. Eroding the relations of the government and natives through ineffective enforcement also contributes to the instability of the country.
Therefore, the integration of the local community into anti-poaching policies is crucial in order for the effective regulation of the illegal wildlife trade. When considering the needs of local communities, the government must realize that the promotion of higher education will grant significantly more opportunities that will serve as alternatives to poaching. A variety of possible solutions have been presented; however, “[w]ithout… ending the economic dependence of local communities on participating in or tolerating poaching, many conservation efforts will fail, no matter how sophisticated the Rangers’ equipment against poachers becomes” (Felbab-Brown). Thus, the best approach to combat poaching is to allow poachers to have greater opportunities from higher levels of skill and education.
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