This article was written by Samson Phakathi, Senior Field Officer of the EWT’s Threatened Grassland Species Programme, and first appeared in the EWT Newsletter.
Given the state of our planet and unsustainable development which continues to exacerbate wildlife destruction, green lobbyists are even more at loggerheads with perpetrators of environmental crimes than ever before. The past few years have seen the bulk of the attention and resources directed to the fight against Rhino poaching with little emphasis on other species, many of which are in dire situations. The Oribi for example, a small, grasslands antelope, is being driven to extinction by illegal hunting with dogs and this charming species has received very little attention to date.
As I go about my community engagement I am often asked about my feelings towards hunters. In the beginning I used to sing the same tune as the non-hunting fraternity, which often paints hunters and poachers with the same brush. Growing up hunting (against my will) and seeing how animals were cruelly ripped apart by half-starved dogs, I began to become ignorant in many ways about hunters, their values, and their passion for wildlife and the outdoors. Most of my ignorance was due to the fact that I, like so many others, was unknowingly tarring hunters with the poachers brush.
My work with the Endangered Wildlife Trust has taught me that a poacher, by definition, is someone who trespasses on private property in order to hunt or catch game illegally. A poacher has no passion for the outdoors, no vision of sustainable or correct utilization of natural resources, and no will to protect the environment for the next generation. They are the individuals who have no respect for the law; no idea about the conservation of species and the need to build up biodiversity in order to sustain healthy hunting and eco-tourism sectors. Poachers are often willing to pay huge sums to “hunt” animals protected by law, just to feed their egos and boast about having killed animals from swiftly dwindling populations. These poachers dishonor the true spirit of the hunter and the long history of sustainable hunting in KwaZulu-Natal.
I often look at Nonhlupheko, the mounted Oribi in our offices in Howick, and often wonder if he is the only one of his kind I will get to show my son when he is older. What answers will I give him when he asks where the living Oribi have gone?
Engaging alleged poachers within the community has taught us that lack of information about environmental laws leads to immense misunderstandings. Mandela once said “education is a tool which can be used to change the world”.
Therefore as we go about our community engagement facilitation on sensitive issues like the illegal hunting with dogs, we are reminded of Tata’s words and this fuels us to approach conservation issues with truly determined strategies, sense of purpose, enthusiasm and optimism. The positive spirit can however be short lived when one looks at the issue at hand and how ineffective general law enforcement has become. Organised illegal hunting with dogs is here to stay unless tougher stances on fines as per the legislation requirement are implemented; law enforcement capacity is intensified; and communities becomes true custodians of their heritage by taking responsibility of their surroundings.
Humans, animals, plants, water and all other environmental components are interlinked and lead to an ecologically functioning system. We urge communities to stand up for what they have borrowed from the future generations and to once again implement indigenous community conservation strategies created and implemented by the Kings and Chiefs of old where respect for life and the dignity of the hunt was paramount.