Tag Archives: Ivory poaching

Who is a poacher? A new perspective

Pieter Kat on 29th April 2010 commented on Johan Knols post- When Poaching is The Only Way

The comment is slightly modified to suit Kenyan audience

If you are of European descent, it is likely that a distant ancestor of yours was a poacher. This might surprise you, but it is also important to realize that those of us alive today are only here because we are linked to a long line of people who did what they could to feed their families. For many hundreds of years in England for example, the remaining wildlife was the property of the aristocracy with big estates. Poor, and often starving people lived on the boundaries of such estates, and would occasionally sally forth to take a rabbit, a deer, or maybe a salmon from the river. Not ever a swan, as those all belonged to the King (now to the Queen – thanks to a statute dating from 1186 (reaffirmed by the Act of Swans of 1482 and the Wild Creatures and Forest Law Act of 1971). The estates would employ gamekeepers to keep your ancestors out, and if they were caught, the local Sheriff would put them in the cells.

People in Africa have always supplemented their diet with game. Now, in all countries, wildlife (except that on game ranches) belongs to the State, and people adding an impala to their pot are still called poachers. The gamekeepers have now grown into Wildlife Departments, and the aristocratic estates are now National Parks. The poor have remained the same.

Kenyans, with their usual sense of humour despite adverse conditions, have long called wildlife “Government cattle”. It is not unusual in Kenya to see cows sharing their grazing with zebras, gazelles, and wildebeest on ranches. The former are owned by individuals, and someone trying to feed a family better not select a cow – laws in place are strict and justice is swift. But a gazelle does not belong to your neighbours, instead to a fuzzy entity that sits somewhere far away in a big city that you have probably never been to and probably would not spend money to go to. So go for the gazelle, and if the government comes to inspect your pot you could say it was a goat.

We are all meant to believe that poaching is a big problem in Africa. But there is poaching and then there is poaching. On the one hand, there is large-scale commercial poaching for an overseas market. Rhino horns and elephant tusks can be immediately identified as forming a basis for this trade. We have all been informed by now that the gamekeepers and government leaders have been complicit in such activities. Then, there is poaching for the commercial market. We have all been informed by now that the bush meat trade is destroying wildlife populations at a great rate, but that such trade is often assisted by logging companies that provide the rainforest roads and the trucks to bring meat to market. Then there is poaching to sustain the stomachs of various rebel armies competing for territory. We have all been informed of the Lord’s Resistance Army previously in Uganda and now shifted a bit to the west – you think they rely on manna from heaven to keep their bellies full? And finally, there is poor Wanjiku, only wanting a dik dik for her pot every now and then, as her family is only used to eating meat infrequently.

So who are the really bad guys in terms of poaching? It seems clear the biggest poaching problems need to be addressed first in terms of making an impact. Wanjiku is way down the line, and does not even own a gun. Africa is a very big continent but in the still small rural communities, everyone knows what is going on. Everyone in the local communities in Europe knew that your great, great, great Grandfather was a bit of a poacher, and your family survived because that man was able to outwit the gamekeeper. Don’t focus on Wanjiku, but do focus anti-poaching on the fat cats, the companies, the armies. But Wanjiku is easier to catch isn’t she?

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