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Neither militarization nor legalization can end poaching

Neither militarization nor legalization can end poaching

This year there has been a steady stream of self-congratulatory announcements of successes from the bloody "war on poaching" undertaken by security services led by merciful mercenaries, drone fleets etc. But conservation should not be inhumane or trample on human rights. Nor should it be used as a geopolitical pretext to put troops on the ground where there are not enough drugs or religious fanatics. As long as there is demand for ivory and rhino horn and as long as possession of such is legal there is no chance of stopping this trade. Some therefore propose to focus on demand. Tackling demand can involve education and peer pressure but it is very likely that the affluent and powerful buyers of such "works of art" are not so sensitive. Perhaps a global campaign to pressure key and powerful governments to make holding ivory (all ivory, not just "illegal") and rhino horn pieces illegal? Even including artefacts in museums, that glorify and thus perpetuate this abominable "art"? Perhaps! Even though governments (in effect the military-industrial complexes behind them) cannot agree even on small steps to combat climate change.


We should also realise that elephants and rhinos are not the only victims. The poachers are victims themselves, ultimate victims of a globalised capitalist race for resources, enclosures of the commons and land grabs, a race which after the end of the Cold War is de-ideologised and increasingly reminiscent of 19th century imperialism, a race which devastates and enslaves communities and countries in every direct and indirect way (think of corporate social responsibility) taking away jobs, sustainability, independence and the future itself. Neither militarization nor legalization can end poaching, they are tools of the same system, we need another system!


Some argue that nature tourism can do the trick as long as it can provide a legitimate life-style and a living wage to those who would otherwise become poachers. But the truth is that tourism, in its current global model, cannot compete with illicit wage levels, not even with wage levels in extractive industries such as mining or palm oil plantations. It will require a deeper, systemic change for tourism, another tourism, to start providing some of the answers that genuine conservation (i.e. not of the mercenary variety) and social justice are asking. Finding the ways to effect and coordinate this system change in conservation, tourism and governance at large will determine if the 21st century is not a farcical repetition of the 20th.

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