By Fortunate M. Phaka
Growing up in the rural parts of South Africa and helping out in my grandmother’s garden I learned at an early age that the best way to get rid of weeds was to pull them out by the roots. My grandmother being a very traditional gardener did not believe in herbicides, and to this day her gardening is without any chemicals. The rhino poaching problem is somewhat of a weed that needs to be removed by the roots and not just have its branches or fruit continually chopped off. Simply put, targeting poachers alone will not make the poaching problem go away, although it is a necessary measure. The best way to combat rhino poaching is to target the source of the problem. The root of this problem is the misconceptions around rhino horn originating from the East. The East’s misconceptions form the tap root of this rhino poaching weed which also has many secondary and tertiary roots. Secondary and tertiary roots which include corrupt conservation officials, legislation that offers little protection to non-humans and dire poverty leading ex-military men to become foot soldiers of rhino poaching syndicates are enabling factors that help the tap root to anchor itself even further.
To effectively fight rhino poaching the misconceptions of the East need to be changed, be it through education, celebrity public service announcements or even respected scientists from the East going public with research proving that rhino horn has no use to anyone except the rhinos themselves. The temptation of financial gain for those aiding poachers needs to be somehow removed. Be it through economic incentives, or entrenching a sense ownership or connection with rhinos since it is not easy to let something die if you have ownership of it or have placed sentimental value upon it. The socio-economic situations of countries that bear the brunt of poaching need to be fixed. For instance, If rhino killers recruited from Mozambique had the option to achieve a better life without risking their lives in shootouts with anti-poaching units they would most likely choose the less risky option. This however is easier said than done, just as I discovered in my younger days when I sprained a shoulder muscle trying to pull out a weed by its roots and the weed was clever in that it anchored its taproot as deep as possible in the short amount of time available to it. My grandmother assured me that my pain was not in vain.
Tackling the root of rhino poaching will not be without sacrifice. For example; funds for things such as social development may have to be re-channelled towards stopping rhino poaching. The East will most likely be offended by those opposing their culture and also trying to change misconceptions of one of the world’s oldest cultures will not be an easy task. Different countries would have to work together and with egos, selfish interests and philosophical debates involved in politics this will make things that much more difficult. So how do we proceed? Do we attempt to pull out this weed even though its deeply embedded root may cause us to hurt ourselves or cost us a fortune as we seek solutions to remove it? Do we continue pruning this weed’s branches and fruit by taking out the rhino poaching foot soldiers and hoping this will cause the roots to wither away and die?