Laws should protect endangered rhinos but in South Africa there appears to be a problem.
Sitting at the Paris airport waiting for our flight to Johannesburg we got talking. Oni and her husband have a bush home on one of those property developments that also serve as a nature reserve.
Of course, with anyone connected to African wildlife the rhino poaching issue soon comes up. Oni was quite perturbed about a recent incident where one of their anti-poaching rangers in the line of duty killed a poacher during a pursuit. The ranger, according to South African law, was charged with murder.
Yes, murder! Here he puts his life on the line on a daily basis to protect the conservancy’s rhino… and when he does so, he is the bad guy? Of course, ruthless killing of poachers (although some have no qualms advocating this), is also wrong. Justice and not vigilantism must prevail. However, current laws appear more in favor of the poacher who is robbing South Africa of one of its valuable economic resources, a member of the Big Five, the iconic rhino.
Speaking of resources. Not only is this ranger in trouble with the law, it is costing the property owners thousands of rand in legal fees to get him acquitted. Money that could be spent protecting the rhino!
So the inevitable question arises, why after four years of the escalation in rhino poaching has the law not changed?
From a human behavior perspective, my background, “all behavior is purposeful“, in other words we as humans do things because there is a reward or payoff of some kind.
What is the payoff for not protecting the rhino?
Years ago in Swaziland when Ted Reilly made a stink about the poaching of rhino and petitioned the King that the remaining animals be moved to South Africa, the King refused and instead changed the law to increase the penalties for illegally killing a rhino or other wild animal that belonged to the Kingdom of Swaziland. Poaching became a jailable offense, no questions asked. And anyone found associated with the poacher was equally punished. Naturally it worked.
Why has the South African government not acted similarly?
Why hasn’t ‘stealing’ wildlife, which is either public/private property, been dealt with legally? Is there some incentive not to do so?
Supposedly in Switzerland they really don’t like speeding. So speeders lose not only their driver’s license but their car as well, permanently. The car is auctioned off! Now there’s an incentive to watch the speed limit wouldn’t you agree?
If a country, community or society really, really wants to stop a destructive, unwanted behavior it seems that government officials have the power to make it happen.
How disheartening it is for citizens like Oni who pay taxes, contribute to society, strive to do right by their country and its wildlife only to have the laws of the land not be on their side!
My hat off to her and the many others like her who continue to do what they do hoping that in the end it will all work out for the good of the rhino, wildlife, the country, and its people.
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