ProjectThorn’s position on preventing poaching

Photo credit: Anke Kruger

We have recently received feedback that ProjectThorn focuses much of the blame for poaching on poachers. I would like to take the opportunity to recognize the concern and to clarify where the efforts of ProjectThorn fit into the very complex issue of how to stop poaching.

ProjectThorn focuses on preventing poachers from poaching

The work of ProjectThorn does focus on poachers and poaching. We fully acknowledge that the individual that goes into the bush to kill an animal is only one of many in a much larger system directly involved in the illegal killing of animals. Perhaps, it could even be said that the poachers are likely the most “innocent” and “justified” parties in the poaching cycle.

The systemic causes of poaching reach far beyond and are far more complex than we are qualified to address as an organization or for me as an individual. I wouldn’t even be able to scratch the surface of the topic if I were to take the next several years to write a dissertation on the subject. Poaching, who poaches, who benefits, who consumes are all topics that can be and need to be discussed. They are big – enormous – topics including societal dynamics, suppression, economics, segregation, colonialism, racism, classism, dominance, and even add in motivation, folklore, tradition, and spirituality.

I will never fully understand the complexity behind why an animal gets killed, how that fills a need for each individual involved in poaching or the negative and positive impact the death of one animal can have. I am just not that intelligent, wise, educated, or arrogant. I also do not have the perspective and life experiences of each person that is a link in the poaching chain from animal to consumer.

“Stop the demand – Stop the poaching”

Insulated here in the west, it is easy to shrug off the entire topic of poaching by saying “It’s not the poacher that is to blame. If there wasn’t a market, there wouldn’t be a demand. If there isn’t a demand, there is no poaching. Blame the end consumer.” Again, I will concede – truth – no consumer demand, no economic gain to be made, no poaching.

As I said above, despite being the person that pulls the trigger and swings the ax, the poacher is likely the most excusable party in the equation of poaching. Some likely also have the most understandable motivation of providing for the needs of their family and they certainly take the largest risk. The poachers are the ones risking their lives to kill for keratin horns.

That said, poachers are not innocent victims of an unfairly stacked social and economic system. They enter a reserve with the intention to savagely kill and butcher unsuspecting animals for economic gain and they are also willing to kill those who are there to protect the wildlife. I will also point out that the economic gain is often limited to an individual payday for the poacher, whereas the economic opportunity provided by one person working on a reserve is a continual source of income that supports on average an extended family of 10 people.

Who are we in all of this?

We are outsiders, looking in from positions of privilege that want to do what we can to help keep a species from being wiped out. Our motivations are pure. We truly do want to help save biodiversity. ProjectThorn focuses on rhino conservation because rhinos are a keystone species that are being killed in alarming numbers, numbers greater than the birth rate. As a keystone species, their wellbeing and presence have a direct impact on other species that share their habitat. If they are eliminated, a cascade of others follows.

I am just one person, who is advised by 2 others, and helped by 3 more who volunteer time and resources with a goal to raise funds to help protect wildlife. That is who ProjectThorn is. We are trying to save animals’ lives through tangible projects that break the first link in the very long, complex, and dynamically changing quagmire of illegal wildlife poaching. We are aware that until the demand wanes, poaching will continue. We know that we do not have the ability to change a cultural belief system that is based on thousands of years of tradition that creates the demand for rhino horns. We don’t have the ability to change international trade policy or have access to infiltrate cartels. We as individuals can’t correct the societal sins that perpetuate the status quo or disrupt the economic incentives that drive the market.

We do have the ability to help buy a couple of anti-poaching canines. We do know that the canines will protect rangers, act as deterrents, and if there is a kill, can track and help apprehend a poacher.

Just a band-aid? Perhaps – but it is what we know we can do and it might be just enough help until a greater good and compassion prevail.

Photo credit: Anke Kruger