This is why we risk our lives: Poachers speak about why they do what they do (South Africa)

Poachers carrying elephant tusks South Luangwa National Park Zambia. Photo: Roger Leguen/WWF, as originally published by TimesLive.

Claire Keeton, TimesLive | September 24, 2020

Read the original story here.

The lack of money and jobs, peer pressure and ignorance about the penalties and impact on their families were among the motivations for poaching, 73 convicted wildlife crime offenders in 25 SA prisons said in interviews.

The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, conducted the interviews for a study The People Beyond the Poaching: Interviews with convicted offenders in SA. It released details of the interviews on Thursday morning.

Nearly three-quarters of the offenders (54 individuals) were imprisoned for rhino-related crimes, while 10 were convicted for poaching abalone and nine for cycad-related offences. Of the group, 97% were men.

“There is no money where I am from. That’s why I was tempted,” said one of the offenders.

Another said: “If I were working, I would not have gone and done this. It’s just sometimes when you are in [a] tough situation, you resort to desperate measures.”

Most of them had no matric, had no jobs or were informally employed before they turned to the illegal wildlife trade.

“Yes, I was fully aware that my decision was illegal, but I was encouraged to take the risk to make ends meet for my family,” said one offender.

Most (66%) were between 22 and 35 years old and almost half (48%) were South African, while the rest were Mozambican (38%), Zimbabwean (12%) and Chinese (1%).

More than 80% did not reach or finish high school, 38% were unemployed and 54% were influenced by peer pressure.

The lifestyle of peers who profited from wildlife crime looked as if it were worth risking their safety and freedom for.

“It was peer pressure that got me into this. My friends were older than me and they used to poach. They were driving cars and I wished to be like them … but I was fooled, and I regret what I did,” one man said.

Behind bars, many expressed their regret for the negative impact on their families.

TRAFFIC research officer Sade Moneron, author of the new study, said: “Simple messages underlining the often-unreported personal consequences on both offenders and their families could be used to deter individuals from engaging in illegal wildlife trade.”

More than half of them took part in the poaching side of the supply chain, with 14% providing transport, 13% involved in sales, 11% with processing and storage, 11% recruitment and 4% acting as lookouts or informers.

To break the chain of the illegal wildlife trade, high-level players should be targeted, the study recommended.

“It is paramount that the arrests and prosecutions of such individuals increase,” said Moneron.

Providing basic services and jobs, particularly for the “communities most at risk of being exploited by criminal networks for illegal wildlife trade” was also needed to disrupt this trade.

“There is a need to engage these communities as equal partners … to prevent and combat engagement in illegal activities,” said Moneron, and co-authors David Newton and Adam Armstrong.