Posts Tagged ‘Tanzania

Consider the Poacher?

» October 17th, 2013

You’ve got to love blogging. I slip into thoughtless language and call an elephant lazy. A reader gently mock-chides me for my verbal slippage. I respond with a brief commentary on a proposed Tanzanian policy to shoot elephant poachers on the spot, as a sort of humorous self-warning to watch my language. Then excitement erupts.

In regards to the shoot-to-kill policy, I suggest due process, or a version of it, rather than firing away. For this opinion I’m mistakenly characterized as a simplistic minded pacifist while readers—every single one of whom I adore—ponder the joys of killing the poachers themselves (rather than, you know, fantasizing about it in a blog comment box).

Yeah, I know I’m exaggerating a bit here, and maybe even being snide (grant me a little room for that), but the following question is serious: has anyone considered the poacher? As far as I can tell, we’ve dismissed him as a thug doing a terrible thing. Yes, in shooting an elephant for the tusk trade, he is a thug doing a terrible thing. But could he be more? Could he be a victim and a thug? And might the two be connected?

Say he’s a confused teenager damaged by a childhood of dire poverty, physical abuse, and impressment into a gang of child soldiers. Say he’s a grown man whose crops were torched and whose children are starving and whose wife is ill. Say he’s a person for whom one tusk will bring unimaginable wealth.  Such scenarios are hardly unlikely. Do we take the poacher’s past and present circumstances into consideration before we shoot to kill? Do we consider the possibility that—as often as we discuss “interlocking oppressions”—the poacher is both oppressor and oppressed?

Hence my reason for declaring that we hold our fire, at least for the moment. Yes, murdering an elephant is murdering an elephant. There is no relativism there. It’s wrong on every level. But when the man pulling the trigger could be the victim of distant or immediate circumstances that put him in that position, I think we need, at the least, to see what’s happening behind the scenes, in places we didn’t look.

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.