A suspected poacher has reportedly been killed in Kruger National Park, in South Africa, last week in a grisly sounding sequence of events. It is believed that the individual was trampled to death by an elephant and subsequently eaten by a pride of lions. Accomplices reported the person’s death from the elephant to the family, who then alerted the park management.
The four accomplices – who have been arrested for possessing ammunition and firearms without a license, as well as conspiracy to poach and illegal trespassing – were hunting rhinos, which are quite common in the park. They told officials Tuesday they had moved the body near a road so that it could be easily spotted by park rangers, but unfortunately, lions got there first. It wasn’t until Thursday that the rangers were able to find some remains, a human skull and a pair of trousers belonging to the victim.
“Entering Kruger National Park illegally and on foot is not wise. It holds many dangers and this incident is evidence of that," Glenn Phillips, the park's managing executive, said in a statement issued Friday. "It is very sad to see the daughters of the deceased mourning the loss of their father, and worse still, only being able to recover very little of his remains."
You may be outraged at Phillips' compassion, and think it serves the poacher right, but bear with us, he has a point.
The story has been widely reported, with many people celebrating the death of this man and attributing some kind of human agency to the elephant in providing “righteous retribution” against the poacher. But there is nothing righteous about this death, instead, it highlights one of the lesser talked about aspects of the problem of poaching. What makes someone become a poacher? This wasn't a western hunter on holiday for some touristic trophy hunting. Poaching, unfortunately, remains one of the best, and often one of the only options, for many living in proximity to prized animals. The protection of these endangered animals is paramount but it can’t be achieved if poaching is not seen and tackled in a wider context. Political, economic, social, and environmental issues all play a role. If these issues push people into poverty, which in turn leads to poaching, they will continue to do so, regardless of what happens to an individual poacher.
These issues have deep roots in the history of the continent, colonialism and the overuse of resources from the West. Plus, poaching continues to be fueled by international trade from Asian countries where rhino horns continue to be desirable and are thus illegally imported. Poaching won’t be solved by celebrating the death of a single individual. It requires political will and commitment to make sure that poaching is not a desirable option by legal deterrents, educating people about the importance of protecting endangered animals, offering alternative sources of income, such as the park ranger program, and tackling and ending the market that buys the end products.
It's a pressing subject, as more than 1,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa – which holds 80 percent of the world's wild population of rhinos – every year between 2013-2017. According to Save the Rhino, the last four years have all seen a decrease in poaching, with it dipping below 1,000 to 769 recorded rhinos poached in 2018, which they say could be attributed to better anti-poaching laws.
An inquest has been opened into the alleged poacher's death and the four accomplices remain in custody.
[H/T: Washington Post]