Eleven professional WHITE people have been arrested and charged with rhino poaching in South Africa. The outcry from their colleagues is deafening and revealing. The story is fascinating.
I’ve written continuously that during hard economic times, poaching increases. Poaching is a relatively easy occupation, a job, a gig, when none others are available. The market is always there: in Yemen, especially, but also in Asia.
The mind set of those who buy poached ivory or poached rhino horn or poached bear feet is pretty simple: these are animals, which like trees to make our houses, are to be used by man. The final consumer feels no remorse and as evidenced by the many street window apothecaries in Kuala Lumpur, does not consider it a crime.
Quite to the contrary, the seller of poached animal products sincerely believes in their medicinal or symbolic value, and often claims that the legal restrictions strongest in the areas where the animal is actually killed are affronts by arrogant cultures.
And the archetypal culprit who kills the animal is usually an individual African down on his luck.
Well, guess what. There’s more to it. What wildlife conservationists have been telling us for years was underscored last week when 11 professional South Africans including veterinarians, professionally licensed hunters and respected local community officials were indicted for a huge poaching ring that South African police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo said was linked to “hundreds of rhino poaching incidents.”
The eleven respected wildlife professionals arrested in a multi-agency sting in South Africa last week included game farmer, Dawie Groenewald; his wife, Sariette; licensed veterinarian, Karel Toed and his wife, Maria Toed; licensed veterinarian, Maine du Plessis; and professional hunters, Tollman Room Erasmus, Dallied Gouws, Nordus Rossouw, Leon van der Merwe and Jacobus Marthinus Pronk; and a game farm employee, Paul Matoromela.
Naidoo told the press Thursday that the suspects are believed to be the “masterminds” behind South Africa’s poaching scourge, which has claimed the lives of 210 rhinos already this year.
White rhinos are flourishing in South Africa. There are many scientists, in fact, who claim there are too many and that culling should be considered in some places. (This in contrast to black rhino which remain seriously endangered. The horns, however, are not differentiated on the black market.)
CITES is the international treaty designed to stop such poaching, and it does a pretty good job. Its mandate, too, is quite simple. Have enough countries in the world sign a treaty that forbids the trade of certain animals across its borders.
That suffocates the market and means that the animal killer becomes much less important than the syndicate of criminals that distributes the animal product as contraband.
That’s why CITES is so important. The many parts of the distribution chain become criminalized, and ultimately when all parts particularly in the Far East are aggressively pursued by legal authorities, then the market dries up, and killing the animal becomes pointless.
Because killing the animal is the easiest thing to do.
A lot has been written about South Africa’s tourist boom this year, linked to the successful World Cup. But the truth is that when football enthusiasts are removed from the numbers, we’re still at revenue levels around 2004, 20% below where they were in 2007.
Game farms in South Africa, from where this particular atrocity was apparently managed, are kind of down on their luck at the moment. Farming a protected animal and butchering it for the black market was an opportunity these “professionals” felt they couldn’t pass up.
We don’t know if these 11 Afrikaners had lost their insurance, or couldn’t pay their kids’ college tuition, or had farms being foreclosed. I don’t know if any situation of this sort would garner them sympathy from you, any more than the poor African in Tanzania who poaches a wildebeest for food might.
That is the other side of the market, the darker one. The side that drives people to the crime. The side that is much harder to remedy.
The other fascinating part of this story is the local reaction. I am privy to an exchange of private emails among professionals in South Africa that I consider somewhat appalling. And there is plenty in the public blogosphere you can google.
Other … whites .. are reacting with ridiculous fury, as if whites would never do such a thing. As if poaching like this is something only the uncivilized black would do. Here is a piece from just such an email I received this weekend:
“Hello —– ,
I am APPALLED, SHOCKED, DEVASTATED, DISAPPOINTED, BLOODY ANGRY!!!!!!! How DARE these people, in positions of trust and responsibility, and WORST OF ALL, our own people, from whom we would LEAST EXPECT this uttterly disgusting and traitorous behaviour.”
The presumption that the criminals involved in poaching are not usually “our own people” unsheathes a terrible racism. It isn’t the animal killer who is most responsible. It is the transporter, contraband arranger and most guilty, the purchaser. These criminals have much more culture in common with Manie du Plessis than the unnamed black man in Tanzania.
And they are much more responsible for poaching in the first place.
Kudus to the South African police and wildlife agencies that managed this sting. Spread the world that poaching is on the rise and that aggressive police action worldwide is required. And most importantly:
Forget that these guys were white. And if you can’t, we’ve got a lot more blogs to write but it isn’t about poaching.