Houghton College’s Professor Eli Knapp traveled from western New York state to villages bordering Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Ruaha National Park to find out why poachers ply their illegal trade.
His research universe was quite different than organized poaching gangs on the prowl for rhino horn, elephant ivory, and other valuable export items such as pangolin scales and meat. Rather he sought the rationale behind the bottom rung of poachers: bushmeat hunters.
Professor Knapp interviewed 200 practitioners offering them nothing other than the ability to talk of their lives and motivations. What he found belied a number of assumptions regarding bushmeat hunters. They are not, for instance, the poorest of the poor. Poor by most standards, they are. But, they don’t see themselves as poor, only of “average” income. To them, poaching is a means that allows a doubling of yearly income with minimum risk. Their prime motivation is to improve their lots in life.
Village farmers and those engaged in small business endeavors typically make US$258 each year. A bushmeat poacher averages US$425.
Risks to poachers come in the form of injury from dangerous animals as well as arrest, imprisonment, and fines. They consider such negatives minimal. Statistically they are correct.
A third of poachers suffered some form of injury requiring little more than a month to heal. On average a poacher who spends 1,901 days hunting faces a 0.02 percent chance of being injured. Bushmeat poachers risked a 0.07 percent chance of arrest. An arrest could mean being fined, imprisoned, beaten, or let go. Over a five-year career, jail time amounts to 0.04 days and fines are roughly US$39. Over a poacher’s career, fines average to barely two cents per year. Two thirds of poachers are never arrested.
Professor Knapp concluded that bushmeat poaching continues because, given the lack of other more lucrative economic opportunities, “it pays.”
The answers Professor Knapp uncovered on his trip to Tanzania are a perfect depiction of the seminal sentence said by Indira Ghandi at the United Nation’s Conference on Human Environment, “Poverty is the worst form of pollution.”
If we are to eliminate cruelty, suffering, and environmental abuse we must focus not only on changing the behavior of the governments and corporations, but also on providing equitable social justice to influence that of individuals, too.