Inside the Mind of a Poacher
Say you are on a safari with your family. You are in the wild, surrounded by the beautiful South African savannah, and you notice on the horizon a female white rhino and her calf sauntering towards your vehicle, grazing as they go. Maybe you see their beauty, maybe you are afraid of their power, or maybe you just see this little creature traipsing about its disinterested mother. You take a photo, cherish the beauty you were lucky enough to witness, and drive away. Now say you are a poacher. Standing in front of you, assault rifle and machete in hand, all you see is a $200,000 dollar keratin horn. Having studied the beast you know exactly where to place your shots and deliver those immobilizing blows. You sneak up and position yourself for that perfect shot. As soon the deafening bang of your rifle breaks the savannah’s sweet silence you jump out at the dazed mother, slashing wildly at its spine. Terrified and confused the mother frantically swings her head looking for her baby, growing weaker and weaker as you persistently chop at her back. Finally, the giant collapses and you step back breathlessly, your heart pounding with triumphant adrenaline. Not wasting any time, you move to its face and begin hacking mercilessly at the living rhino’s snout, harvesting as much of the precious horn as possible. You deliver the final blow, releasing the horn. Deaf to the mother’s groans of pain you drop your machete, lift up your gory prize with a smile on your blood spattered face, and disregard the faceless animal painfully struggling with every breath it takes. You hop in your car and flee the scene leaving the baby rhino nudging at its unrecognizable mother, crying for her to get up again.
Despite intensive conservation efforts and poaching regulations, this unspeakable crime is only getting more prevalent. Why would someone do this? You might ask. How could someone do this to another living creature? The answer is simple; money. Due to a high demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly in Vietnam, the value of the horn has recently exceeded that of cocaine and even of gold, making it one of the most valuable commodities on the black market. Such demand is driven in part by the traditional Chinese belief that the horn has medicinal properties. It is thought to be a remedy for a wide rage of conditions from hangovers to cancer simply by crushing it into powder and mixing it into boiling water. Recent studies found, however, that the horn is merely composed of keratin proteins, making it no more beneficial than grinding up and consuming your fingernails or hair. Even more ridiculous is that, due to its high value, rhino is now being purchased and used as a symbol of status by wealthy individuals. As a result of this ignorant and selfish trade, rhino populations are predicted to go extinct within the next ten years. As if the situation couldn’t get any worse, statistics show that as rhino populations drop, the value of their horn grows, therefore only increasing incentive for poachers to continue committing this barbarous crime.
Its hard to imagine how a poacher could do such a thing; how they could be so heartless, merciless, and selfish. If you take a closer look at how we treat nature as a society, however, it seems almost hypocritical to call poachers the murderers. Ever since the rise of agriculture, we as humans have separated ourselves from nature; looking at it as resources reserved purely for our benefit. Although it started with using nature for the purpose of making tools to make our lives easier or more comfortable, today our exploitation of nature has become extreme. All of society is built on the notion of obtaining and spending money; we clear-cut forests—destroying ecosystems and habitats to build neighborhoods that we live in, and factories that make our clothes. We dig and drill—polluting the ground water and depleting limited resources to extract what is left of the fossil fuels to power our cars, computers, and, houses. We create and sell disposable items so people can conveniently throw them away with out thinking twice about where ‘away’ is. Why do we do this? To pay our bills, to put food on the table, to send our children to school, essentially to survive in the society we live in; the same reasons poachers kill rhinos for their horns. Although most of us are not directly killing another creature with our bare hands, we are murderers of nature of a different kind.
My point in saying this is not to say we are all horrible, selfish, killers, because for the most part that is not true: our lives are so removed from environmental issues that most people don’t even know that some of their daily activities are a big part of the problems. My purpose in saying this is to show that as a society, if we hope to resolve any of our environmental issues—including saving the rhino population from extinction—we humans need to change our outlook on nature. As I said before, there are regulations in place, but until people realize the importance of nature and the survival of another species, such as rhinos, we are not going to see a change, which is why Youth 4 African Wildlife (Y4AW) is focusing on raising awareness and educating the youth. We are hoping to help people learn that nature is not just there for us to take advantage of, even though we have the capacity to do so. Only when society as a whole grasps the importance of nature will the world start to see a change. Help us rewrite our history! Get involved, spread the word, and maybe our future generations will have a shot at seeing a rhino on a safari for themselves, as opposed to just as a memory in a photograph.
By Suzanna Bradley