“The horror, the horror”, Marlon Brando’s character, Colonel Kurtz, repeatedly whispers in Apocalypse Now. Brando’s breathless drawl as eerie as the ubiquitous photos of dead rhino with gaping facial wounds we too often see.
Our repetitive exposure to the horror now breeding a soul-numbing trauma fatigue; created by a mixture of heartbreak and a resigned sense of pointlessness. Red horns and “dehorn poachers” bumper stickers to show we care. Online petitions to do something. Donations to contribute somehow. What else? How much more? Now what? Are we winning yet?
We lost another three rhino just twenty minutes outside of Grahamstown two weeks ago. Six in a month; spitting distance from our lives. And I have no idea where to put this news in my body. Unable to coherently sum up what I’ve come to know about rhino poaching as a Cliptivist. Recently I found out that one of the poachers killed in the Kruger wanted the money to build his mother a new home. $2000 goes a long way when you’re living on a couple of dollars a day.
Ignored and excluded, with no thundering drops of neo-liberal economic benefits that trickle by but never down, it’s easy for organized crime to recruit you. And to keep recruiting replacements if you’re killed by the SANDF. Indeed, rhinos and poachers from poverty stricken areas are always the first to die. Dead shot-up boys and dead defaced rhinos look surprisingly similar when crushed by the weight of the human condition in crisis.
Killed by lethal concoctions of socio-economic disparity, organized crime, inter-cultural mistrust, inept governance, failed diplomacy, mixed messaging, limited policing, special interests and good old fashioned poverty and greed. Not all poachers are ogres. Some are as dissimilar to the poacher on your bumper sticker, as rhino horn is to the plastic red thing on your car. And most of the real monsters that puppet-string the game along, sip cognac in villas; buying people in power and policing with blood-stained cheap-change.
That’s the truth – a speck of it – and the only way I can tell it without screaming. A rabbit hole of stupidity, cruelty, gluttony, superstition, misunderstanding, desperation and inertia.
The horror’s far more nuanced than you think. But who you are and what you know, may just define the unique role you choose to play to end it, once you have the facts.