It is hard working in the conservation world and really being able to see a positive light at the end of the dark, gloomy and (for many of the people working on the front lines), treacherous tunnel. There seem to be so many dark stories; poachers being found with grenades to booby trap rhino carcasses; young rhino calves found with machete wounds. It’s hard sometimes to think of rational and reasonable ways forward.
This is why the public are forever baying for blood and wanting poachers strung out to dry. However that is not where our real problems lie. There will always be poor people who can be coerced and bribed with large sums of money to do dreadful things, but what is the driving force behind this? Who are the entities willing to pay the money for this bribery, corruption and death?
People are quick to jump at it and point fingers at the end-users – and bay for their blood or sanctions against their countries. But have we stopped to understand who is using rhino horn and ivory products, why and whether they have an inkling of what is happening here in Africa? Do they know that in Africa rhino are being tranquilised and having their horns cut off and left to bleed to death, or that more than 80 poachers were shot and killed in the Kruger Park alone since the beginning of 2013… I don’t think so.
I think the only ones who have the full picture is a small group of powerful, rich middle-men who are orchestrating it all. They are feeding lies to both ends of the scale – poor poachers with the allure of money and end-users with the allure of status and well-being. Keeping them both in the dark about how much they are benefiting from this immensely profitable and relatively risk-free supply-chain they have created. They feed the demand with false-information and clever word-of-mouth marketing skills – backed by influential people with money and power. We can fight this.
We need to show people from the poor, rural poaching communities the greater truth about the number of their far-flung community members which have been killed or jailed and how they are being coerced into supporting and making powerful a small group of middle-men with theirs and their families lives. We need to redevelop that emotional connection and revere that the people from Africa had for their wildlife and help them regain their pride.
We need to show people who are using rhino horn as a status symbol, or ivory trinkets as business gifts, the truth behind where these products come from – that not only animals, but also people are being slaughtered weekly for these products. That the status they want to achieve is currently at risk in the rest of the world’s eyes and potentially to their peers when they discover the truth.
We need to let these people know that they have an amazing opportunity and the power to turn the tide on one of the most appalling scenes occurring throughout Africa, elevating their own status to ones of protectors and saviours. We need to let them know that they are being swindled into thinking that these animal products, which they so valuably prize, are worth even a fraction of the amount they are paying for them and that a small, few, greedy groups are gaining from this profiteering and making a fool out of them.
Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but I think we need to make sure that we are shining that light on the right group of people. We have to show people on both ends of the scale the truth and illustrate to them the bigger picture. They need information which can help them to start making informed decisions and realise the consequence of their actions and how they could flip the switch and gain from this opportunity – we just need to present it to them.
Simon Morgan, PhD
Black Rhino Range Expansion Project
“If we can’t step up and protect a species like this, we don’t really have much hope for anything else – specially for something as iconic as a Black Rhino.”