Jungle Justice

» October 15th, 2013

In my last post I deployed the trite metaphor regarding an elephant in the room. I even had the gall to suggest that elephants are lazy creatures!

Given that governmental ministers in Tanzania are now considering a “shoot-to-kill” policy against elephant poachers, thus backing a kind of jungle-based ad hoc capital punishment approach to the illicit ivory trade, I’m reconsidering the wisdom of using anti-elephant language. The word choice authorities hover over The Pitchfork with the eyes of an eagle (I think I’m okay on that one) and I’m feeling the wither of their gaze.

In all seriousness, tens of thousands of elephants are killed by poachers every year in Africa and many advocates indeed believe that the threat of death may be the only effective deterrent. Good idea?

Said one advocate (a natural resources minister): ”Poachers must be harshly punished because they are merciless people who wantonly kill our wildlife and sometimes wardens” said  .. . . . . The only way to solve this problem is to execute the killers on the spot.” He added: ”I am very aware that some alleged human rights activists will make an uproar, claiming that poachers have as much rights to be tried in courts as the next person, but let’s face it, poachers not only kill wildlife but also usually never hesitate to shoot dead any innocent person standing in their way.”

Poaching is a murderous act that warrants the full weight of punitive justice. But death—especially when delivered under duress in the thick murk of the jungle—shouldn’t be a viable legal option. Authorizing open season on poachers would only antagonize an already enflamed situation, engendering more violence and habitat destruction. What’s instead needed is better funding of game wardens, better enforcement of existing laws, and programs that support a level of non-animal based economic development that makes poaching less of an alluring option for poachers caught in their own web of interlocking oppressions.

Plus, advocates of animal rights, human rights, elephant rights, gay rights, civil rights, whatever rights, are almost always better off choosing ameliorative methods that do not implicitly condone what we’re trying to eliminate in the name of decency, compassion, justice, and peace.



25 Responses to Jungle Justice

  1. Kimberley says:

    I strongly advocate a shoot to kill policy against poachers. I honestly believe that my life has no more value than that of an elephant. Based on the familial connections that elephants have, maybe my life is worth less, that an elephant would be mourned more than I. Certainly, while my species is doomed, we are not in imminent danger of extinction. Elephants are in danger of extinction so my life is worth less on that basis. If a gunman was taking aim at me, there would be no uproar if a policeman shot dead my would be assassin. So should it be with elephants.
    I think that the only real solution to save the elephants is to send in United Nations troops. The elephants do not respect borders, neither do poachers.
    If it were allowed I would travel today to Africa to stand between an elephant and a poacher.

  2. Mountain says:

    James, you sly fox, you. You know I was merely aping indignation. It wasn’t even planned; I just did it on a lark.

    It’s hard to find much fault with the shoot-to-kill policy. If you consider elephants to be persons, and to have the same basic rights as humans, then poachers should be treated just like a gang on a killing spree (of humans). Arrest them if it can be done safely, but frequently it can’t be done safely.

    Even if you don’t consider elephants to be persons, the shoot-to-kill policy may still be justified by the large number of game wardens who have been killed by poachers in recent years. Even if the threat to the lives of elephants doesn’t justify lethal force, the threat to the lives of game wardens certainly does.

    The only problem with the policy is the threat of corruption & abuse. Do we trust an agent of the government to– in addition to being a law enforcement officer– be the judge, jury, and executioner of alleged poachers? If we could trust them to get it right every time, then no problem. But governments have a long record of getting it wrong– either intentionally or unintentionally– which is why we usually build in checks on the use of power & discretion.

  3. Yetik Serbest says:

    Can we just not tranquilize the Elephants and cut their cusks and get rid of the reason for poaching? The same for rhinos? Why do we have to kill the poachers?

  4. Taylor says:

    Elephants in Tanzania (where the government minister has suggested shooting poachers) live on the savanna, not in “the thick murk of the jungle”.

    It seems wild elephants can distinguish among human languages. English-speakers are typically tourists and not a threat.

    • James says:

      Hmm. I thought there were forest elephants in Tanzania. Still, my point is that, without a proper trial, there’s too much room for mistaking a non-poacher for a poacher.

      • There are some forest elephants at Lake Manyara and perhaps elsewhere.

      • John T. Maher says:

        There has never been any such thing as a proper trial and we are beyond due process in terms of extinction events.The responsibility should be a collective one to prevent poaching and consumerism of endangered species and Western delusions such as due process and fair trials should not be imposed to burden an impoverished country trying to be ethically responsible in confronting poaching. Tanzania is not America and America is not the America it pretends to be and many think it is in terms of fair trials and such nonsense. In fact Tanzania is holding itself to a higher collective standard in exigent circumstances and should be lauded where Western nations are supine and listless at the possibility of spilling a little human blood.

        • Mountain says:

          The problem with collective responsibility is that it doesn’t actually incentivize any individuals to act responsibly, it just punishes a collection of people.

  5. Karen Dawn says:

    Shooting poachers on sight? Not only do I think it’s right, I think it might be my dream job. Now about those people who buy ivory…

    • Thanks for the smile this put on my face, Karen! ~Linda

      • Karen Dawn says:

        Linda, thanks for taking that in the way it was meant! But they say every joke has a little truth so I am going to expand here on my truth: Far from being a dream, being responsible for the fate of a human about to kill an elephant would be a nightmare. I think I would find the trauma of killing a man overwhelming. But if I were in a country that was so desperate to save it’s elephants that they had passed a law making it legal to shoot poachers, and I came across somebody about to take down an innocent being, a being many wonderful humans had died defending (rangers are killed constantly) and if the only way to stop him right then would be to kill him, I hope, and I think, I would have the strength to do it. And I commend, and am grateful for, those people who fight poachers to the death, in the way that many people are grateful for those who fight for their country.

        • Hi Karen,

          I think many if not most of us animal advocates realize that the taking of a life, any life, is a serious matter. In fact, I think we vegans/AR advocates are aware of that gravity much more than the average person.

          They are in an awful fork in the road in some of these developing countries that are making such decisions. I truly feel for the dilemma they are in, as I think you do too. ~Linda

        • Jennifer Greene says:

          Karen, just so you know, I was really concerned when I read the first comment you posted. I have tremendous respect for the media work you do, but I still didn’t know how to take your “dream job” quip. I’m betting I wasn’t the only reader (as Dominic’s post, below, suggests to me).

          So thank you for posting this clarification. But please, in the future, I hope you’ll keep in mind that not everyone who’s reading comments in a public forum knows when a quip about shooting people is meant as a bit of (dark) humor.

  6. Marc Bedner says:

    Organized killing by poachers acting outside the law is properly regarded as a war against wildlife. In this case, the laws of war should apply. Uniformed troops have the right to defend the innocent with lethal force. If capturing prisoners is practical, that may be a preferred option, but under the rules of war, armed poachers are illegal combatants with no rights.

  7. Ouch… It suddenly feels very weird in here…
    I just hope nobody gets shot for their comments.
    I fold.

  8. Karen Dawn says:

    If the poachers were killing some non violent human tribe, who had some mark of great monetary value on their bodies, say a highly prized tattoo, I think few would question the shoot to kill policy. Our responses here show a similar level of outrage and desire to protect the innocent and defenseless, regardless of species. I think its safe to say that due to the society in which we have been raised, none of us are entirely without speciesism, but I think the tone of responses here show some escape from our programming.
    Interestingly, killing slaughterhouse workers would not be “my dream job” and I don’t prefer elephants to goats. But if mustang roundups were banned in the US, and somebody was out there shooting endangered mustangs for profit, I might have a similar reaction (I’m not sure) so perhaps when we add lawbreaking to slaughtering innocents it meets my personal criteria for lethal response.

  9. Ellen K says:

    I assume everyone reading here already knows about Damien Mander, former special ops sniper who brings that experience and expertise to his International Anti-Poaching Foundation

    his TED talk is not to be missed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FCsyK4aRXQ

  10. It’s hard to add anything to the good (and post-speciest who hoo) comments of this thread. Two other items of note – India has declared dolphins to be non-human persons with rights to life and liberty, and Kenya is moving toward life sentences for poachers.

    Normally I am not one to rush to the nearest violent solution for anything, but as others have pointed out, conservation wardens are in serious danger for their lives, and this is a war. Unfortunately, some of the tools and tactics of war may have to be employed to defeat this atrocity. ~Linda

  11. John T. Maher says:

    No human, or billions of humans, is/are worth the extirpation of any species. It is insane to value the lives of individual humans, as Americans do above any other species. So many responses here are predicated upon affect when they should be dispassionate. There is in fact a moral duty to preserve species, and it has come to a species extinction event for elephants, by killing those driving the extinction. This means the poachers, the Asian consumer, the exporter, shipping agent and banker in Thailand, and the North American trophy collector. They must all be eradicated with lethal force and laws passed to authorize and encourage this. Americans are so conditioned to fear the idea of terrorism but poaching and consumption are the worst sort of terrorism. Humanity should be about some higher value than preserving mere lives of humans — it should mean standing for a principal — in this case against species extirpation. Humanity should be about ideas and ideals and not about the individual lives of humans or enabling speciesism and consumerism at its most extreme attempts to turn life into death. The minister in Tanzania was speaking in hyperbole but there is already a shoot to kill policy in some parks in India and elsewhere in Africa and this needs to become the law worldwide all across the supply chain.

    This is not about retributive justice, although it would be nice if someone eliminated the Bob Parsons the CEO of Godaddy and the King of Spain, who, being privileged white people, legally shot elephants, for example. I am not so much interested in retributive justice but a proactive justice based upon a desire to live in a world with Elephants and all other species threatened with extirpation. A professor once said to me that poachers should be hugged. She meant that the material and social conditions of their lives and communities should be changed and I agree. In fact many poachers are Somalis looking to make some money to buy luxury goods or pay fro a bride or two in their patriarchal culture. Until the poachers and consumers can learn to exist in other ways they must be shot on sight, there is a moral duty to do so, and laws to authorize and encourage this should be drafted and passed. The war on the wildlife trade extended all the way across the supply chain.

    And by the way the trade in endangered species includes mostly fish and trees. Should the humans in this supply chain be shot as well? Of course. As many as it takes. And this fight should not be limited to poachers in Africa but should include power companies right here in the US who dam rivers and the backers of the Keystone XL pipeline who will kill untold numbers of endangered blackfooted ferrets with their destructive and ecocidal venture.

  12. Ruth says:

    Just wanted to say that I agree with a shoot to kill policy for poachers for many of the reasons previously stated.
    Whilst here can I ask what you think of having a thumbs up/down symbol or similar so one can say whether they generally agree with a comment or not?

  13. ingrid says:

    I support game wardens having all tools at their disposal to fight this most grueling war — and to protect themselves and the poaching victims from endless brutality. Whether shoot-to-kill is a deterrent, I don’t have the expertise to say. But, it’s obviously a policy that comes as loaded as poaching does, with the corruptibility of individual discernment and vengeance motives.

    At the same time, I realize those on the front lines are dealing with the unfathomable ruthlessness of crime syndicates who hire, as John T. Mayer points out, trained and heavily-armed killers from remote areas, Somalia, etc. I understand how dramatic measures like shoot-to-kill arise arise alongside the grand scale of the poaching enterprise and its soulless executioners. Add to that the sometimes woefully inadequate penalties, combined with the near impossibility of linking poachers to their crimes in legal proceedings, and it’s difficult to imagine stemming this bloody tide without all options on the table.

    I like the approach that organizations like Big Life employ — addressing the various facets driving the trade and its perpetrators, in conjunction with combat technology and boots on the ground. As their own documents point out, and as most of us know, if there were no market for ivory and medicinal animal parts in Asia, poaching would likely dry up in a flash. So, even if shoot-to-kill were employed on a large scale, the real perpetrators are shielded from any such repercussions by their wealth and stealth.

    John also commented on the likes of Bob Parsons — and let’s include other prominent exploiters like the Trump sons. They all claim to financially benefit local communities through their trophy-killing endeavors. What the media often fails to report is how the poaching syndicate masters use the same hunting laws, permits and loopholes to transport the contraband. So, in effect, the African trophy hunting business, as cruel and distasteful as it is inherently, is also providing a critical poaching and smuggling portal.

Leave a Reply