Last week, the New York Times published a widely read report detailing an incident in which three suspected rhino poachers were eaten by a pride of lions in the Sibuya Game Reserve of South Africa. Rather than detail the events that transpired, you can go ahead and read the Times report found here – NY Times Report Lions eat Poachers.
In case you choose not to read the report, here’s an executive summary:
• On July 2nd, 2018 three suspected poachers entered the Sibuya Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
• Armed with axes and high-powered rifles, these poachers were believed to have been after the park’s rhino population
• On the black market, rhino horn can fetch upwards of $65,000 per kilogram which has led to an exponential rise in rhino poaching across the continent. This has led some experts to estimate that rhinos in South Africa could go extinct in the next 15-20 years
• On July 3rd, the anti-poaching unit at Sibuya located the remains of three individuals in the immediate vicinity of a pride of lions in addition to gloves and a rifle
• A forensics team was called in immediately and the lions were sedated to take samples
Immediately after the report came out and big outlets such as National Geographic and CNN picked up the story, the topic became an international conversation. And just like any national news, opinions on the events were screamed into the abyss. Twitter was set ablaze, yet perhaps not in the light you may have expected. Celebrity advocates took to the platform to decry “Karma!” There were op-ed posts, such as this one from Vice News, hinting to “not mess with the animal kingdom.” And the Telegraph went as far as to question this as “Fair Game.”
Now, let me be clear about one thing: I am in no way defending the actions of poachers in any way, shape, or form. Those that are close to me know that I have dedicated the greater part of the past five years of my life to rhino conservation and the preservation of the species moving forward. But hearing such reactions across the main-stream media, I just couldn’t help but feel unsettled about our approach.
You see, the three people killed by these lions played just a tiny piece in the vast and intricate puzzle that is a poaching king-pin.
So I challenge you to put yourself in the following situation:
Imagine you’re a farmer living on the fringes of the Sibuya Game Reserve in South Africa making no more than $6 a day. You have a family of seven that you need to support. You are living in absolute poverty and struggle to find the next meal day-to-day. Then, a BMW rolls up to your doorstep. Out steps a man of Asian-descent carrying a briefcase. He proceeds to explain to you the opportunity of a lifetime: he will pay you $2,000 if you are able to provide him with the horn of an African rhino. $2,000. That’s almost one year’s worth of work all at one time! So, what would you do? Do you take the risk of venturing into the bushveld in an effort to hit it rich? Or do you tell him no?
Not so simple now is it?
Now, of course this is not saying that the poacher is right by his decision. But simply put the issue is not so cut and dry. Especially in a country like South Africa, which exhibits the highest levels of economic inequality in the world, such problems must be acknowledged in terms of their complexity and addressed as such.
Were the three men eaten by lions in the Sibuya Reserve of South Africa violent murderers set on a path to destroy a species? Or did they fall victim to a malevolent poaching syndicate intent on supplying a black-market demand no matter what the costs?
There is a greater target for public scrutiny and dismay; and it is one that has not nearly received as much condemnation and investigation as it deserves.
So what are your thoughts on this hot-button issue? Am I going to easy on the suspected poachers? Where have I missed the mark? Let’s start a dialogue – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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