Nature of Poachers
By Lisa Jorgenson, Lead Wildlife Researcher KwF Interview with an Ex-Poacher, Tanzania Interview Conducted and translated by Ogossy Gasaya Interview with an Ex-Poacher, Rwanda Interview Conducted and translated by Gerard
Archaeological and historical records show rhino meat had been hunted for food across many parts of the world. It was a dietary staple in hunter-gatherer societies beginning in western Germany approximately 80,000 years ago and continued to be for Dutch and British settlers in South Africa until the early 19th century. Hunters also discovered uses for other parts of the body, like the horn, for medicinal and ornamental purposes (dagger handles, bowls, jewelry). Collecting such a large animal and returning it to camp also brought prestige and status to the hunter (Sas-Rolfes, 2012).
Rhino horns are made of tightly packed keratin fibers, which also make up the hair, hooves, and nails of all mammals. The chemical structure of keratin reacts with alkaloids. This made the horn valuable to the elite and nobility of Europe and Asian dynasties because keratin in rhino horn bowls could detect poison; this instigated the notion that rhino horns must have healing powers. Records of rhinoceros horns, urine, blood, and skin have been in use in Chinese medicine dating back to 200 B.C.E. (TRAFFIC, 2008). It has yet to be scientifically proven that rhino horn provides any medicinal properties, yet Eastern medicine continue to use horns as treatments for various illnesses such as convulsions, cancers, strokes, nosebleeds, and fevers. This, however, is of no interest to those who practice Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is largely based on tradition and religious beliefs over science and commercial interest (Sas-Rolfes, 2012).
South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe hold the world’s population of rhinoceros with 80% residing in South Africa. Deaths have escalated in the past 5 concurrent years from 6 per month in 2008 to approximately 83 per month in 2013 (Coghlan, 2014), most of which occurs in Kruger National Park. If this trend continues deaths will soon surpass births and will reach the tipping point in the African rhino population. Poaching is the primary cause of death within the rhino population.
Categories of Poachers Poachers are excellent bushmen who understand the terrain, environment, and animals. Kills are made after dark, most of which occur under a full moon. There are 3 categories of poachers, some of which contain professional hunters, wildlife veterinarians, and military. 1. Commercial poachers target commercially valuable species such as rhinos, primates, and elephants. They are a highly organized group and have access to GPS tracking devices, tranquilizers, precision firearms, and mobile phones. Many also pose as businessmen or tourists to gain entry into national parks and survey the land and security strength then communicate this information back to the group for entry after dark. Commercial poaching has a detrimental effect on wildlife populations, in that their numbers are already low and bounty fetches the most profit (Duffy & St. John, 2013). 2. Subsistence poachers specialize in species such as antelope and other small game intended for a food source. Techniques are of low quality (snares and traps) and have minimal impact on populations. 3. Hybrid poachers combine the former 2 categories. This group focuses on demand for ‘empty forests’ from commercial logging companies. Not only does it have a high impact on local wildlife, this type of poaching also depletes protein sources for local communities (Duffy & St. John, 2013).
In Central Africa, approximately 80% of rangers are, on some level, involved in trafficking (Mathot, 2014). Because communities are small, some rangers and poachers know each other