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Tue Jul 22 12:13:52 SAST 2014

Rhino vs gang victims a false dilemma

Bruce Gorton | 11 April, 2014 10:53
Rhino horn. File photo.
Image by: DAVID W CERNY / REUTERS

The Patriotic Alliance recently came out and proclaimed that rhinos are more valued than the victims of gangs, and that not as many rhinos are dying.

This idea essentially rests on a false dilemma, where choosing to neglect our endangered species will lead to a safer South Africa for potential gang victims.

The truth is if you look at poaching in Africa, to a large extent protecting our wildlife is in fact fighting our criminal gangs and terrorist groups.

If you look at Somalia – where do the likes of al Shabaab get their money? Where does Boko Haram get its money? Where do groups like the Lords Resistance Army get their money?

Quite a bit of it is from poaching – particularly high-value animals like rhinos.

The Chinese traditional medicine market is basically funding not simply the extermination of animals but a perpetual civil war that claims countless human lives every year.

And its practitioners don’t much care, because if they had consciences they wouldn’t be selling what amounts to nail clippings to cancer patients.

So what do you think would happen if we ignored poaching in South Africa – if we stopped prioritising it so much? Our own criminal groups would just get bigger and more dangerous, to the point of actually threatening our government as a whole.

We would have a whole lot more gang victims.

Even aside from all of this – a big chunk of our economy is tourist driven. The area around the Kruger National Park for example has a fair amount of income from people coming from overseas to see our animals.

What happens when those animals just aren’t there anymore? Suddenly we don’t have that money anymore – and that means more instability, more desperation, more gangs.

A lot of the time people make the mistake of thinking of issues as being silos – that the effects on one part of the country don’t really impact the rest.

This is why I am not entirely comfortable being described as an environmentalist – it isn’t really about the environment per se. It is about where we live.

When we talk about for example mine pollution – it isn’t some abstract idea of killing the Earth, it is children getting cancer.

When we talk about global warming, it isn’t just some smelly business someone else has to deal with; it is families in Limpopo losing their homes ultimately because tropical storms have started moving further south as the ocean gets warmer.

And when we talk about poaching, we talk about major crime rings that aren’t just killing rhinos. These are armed gangs wiping out our wildlife, and they have other things going on.

Finally, there is a tendency to try and make crime a matter of class – and that is a mistake. Environmental crime is often perpetrated by the moneyed classes, and it can cause far more lasting harm.

So when we talk about prioritising gang violence over environmental crime, we run the risk of prioritising throwing poor criminals in jail, while letting the rich ones continue wrecking our country on a far larger scale.

Dealing with a lot of our issues requires dealing with the things we normally assign to those silos we ordinarily wouldn’t think of. It requires a mind to see how it all links together – how one issue feeds into others.

And that is something we need to remember – it isn’t as simple as saying rhinos are more important than X group of people, it is recognising that these seemingly abstract issues all feed into each other.

X group of people may be suffering precisely because of what is happening to our rhinos.

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Tue Jul 22 12:13:52 SAST 2014 ::