Would you kill someone to save a rhino?
Is it justifiable to kill an impoverished, uneducated foot soldier at the bottom of the illegal trafficking chain to save a rhino? And does it actually help solve the problem, when there are an endless number of desperately poor locals to take his spot?
Would you personally order a ranger to shoot and kill this poacher?
These are uncomfortable questions. I am not saying let the rhino be slain, in fact I am desperate to save the rhino - but it pains me how this issue is widely and massively oversimplified, which perpetuates the problem. (Additionally the human cost is completely ignored by most popular conservation posts and adverts.)
I had the privilege of spending time in HluHluwe, the oldest national park in South Africa. It has a very successful rhino conservation program, and it's the only national park where I've seen more rhino than elephant!
However I was also in shock to see my first rhino carcass here (killed just to be dehorned then left in the bush - see photo). Heartbreaking.
While I am obviously 100% for saving the rhino, doing a little research around it has really broadened my mind and made me think.
We talked with one of the rangers in the park and he said those same poachers who shot that rhino tried to poach again the following week; the rangers managed to shoot and kill two of them and captured the third (which is how they now know that they had shot the rhino in the photo).
The ranger also added that in the last 10 years of rhino conservation program in Kruger National Park 600 poachers have been killed. This is shocking, it is basically a war, and this never really struck home until I heard it from the ranger: so many people loose their lives in this battle.
Poachers face the risk of being shot or a serious prison sentence for any attempts at poaching. They are so poor however, and face pressures unimaginable to most of us (feeding their families when they have no job prospects etc) that they take the risk. And if we shoot them, there are plenty others to take their place, earning next to nothing - compared to what the syndicates supplying them with guns and doing the trades will make off them.
There is no simple solution. In my experience of the world, as long as there's a market, people will always find a way to serve that market, and unfortunately it's the Chinese and Vietnamese markets that fuel this illegal economy. South Africa and other countries can debate endlessly about the pros and cons of legalising horn trade and flooding the market, devaluing the product which can be farmed without killing the animals, who's horns grow back etc. (An interesting topic that I'm happy to discuss further if anyone is interested.) But the real issue I see is how to educate the Asian market which is ever willing to pay a fortune for a placebo product. (Have I seen this before elsewhere I wonder...?!)
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this matter, or if you have any questions.
If you want to know more, there's a documentary on Netflix called Stroop that is well worth watching to get an idea about how global this issue is. Also my walking safari retreat in HluHluwe National Park will show you a far greater insight into how rhino live in the wild, read about that here.