On March 3rd, 2020, as I was trolling through the twitter news feed for conservation stories I came across “Poaching and the problem with conservation in Africa (commentary)“ published by Mongabay. The title was definitely a draw and Mongabay does some pretty good stuff so I started my scan. A few key points were italicized just below the headline.
My attention was grabbed immediately with “Poaching is a complex topic that cannot be solved by myopic, top-down enforcement approaches.” I continued reading. “Across Africa, state-led anti-poaching forces, no matter how well funded and equipped, have been unable to curtail the high levels of poaching currently observed.”
This is a pretty sweeping and general statement to make for an entire continent and essentially not correct on more than one level.
“In spite of all efforts of national defence forces and wildlife departments, elephant numbers are in a catastrophic decline.”
To clarify, overall the elephant poaching numbers are not in a good place, but much better than five years ago.
The improvement is based on a number of factors, including better trained and equipped anti-poaching forces (not necessarily state-led), criminal justice systems that give increased attention to wildlife crime and the closing down of markets in China.
The reasons for poaching as postulated by the article are based on a theory of Yale University professor and political scientist, James Scott, who believes that poaching (as well as “such acts as foot-dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, feigned ignorance, desertion, pilfering, smuggling, poaching, arson, slander, sabotage, surreptitious assault and murder, anonymous threats”) are forms of resistance that over time became a form of class conflict. The basis of this theory came from observations made while Dr. Scott spent 2 years living within a Malay agricultural community in the 1960’s. As part of that theory, poaching is defined as “that activity that was part of the traditional subsistence routine of the rural population, an activity embedded in customary rights.”An example provided is that of rural England (in Robin Hood times) when peasantry were subsistence hunting on lands that were later claimed by government/feudal lords who then outlawed said hunting. But is this applicable to the Great Rift Valley or forests of Gabon. Have local African communities historically ever sold ivory or rhino horn as part of their traditional subsistence routine? And I do not see transnational organized crime on James Scott’s list of other forms of resistance.
To recap, as I see it, this is what this commentary is about:
1. Two academics writing an opinion piece on subject matter that is not normally within their field of expertise.
2. Based on statistics from one park in South Africa relating to one species over a three year period, anti-poaching forces across the African continent have failed.
3. Based on research from rural Malaysia and Sherwood Forest (feudal England), the underlying cause of ivory and rhino horn poaching is not greed or Chinese demand but due to class struggle and resultant resistance.
4. The solution to poaching in Africa is through the use of local communities who should also have the autonomy to decide if they will allow trophy hunters to kill the biggest and strongest of species, “planned in a manner that facilitates co-existence with wildlife” and in total disregard to their global population numbers or global regulators.
Of course, my recap is an over simplification, slanted, generalized and mixes truths with untruths. But then, what is our professor’s article?
2016 Headline in The Guardian