Tuesday, 2 June 2015

On the horrors of poaching

It's heartening that so many people are angry about the horrors of wild animal poaching in Africa and the utterly despicable 'sport' of trophy hunting.  There's little I find more revolting than those narcissistic, over-privileged pin-heads who travel to Africa to kill virtually captive animals for what they deem to be 'sport'. 

The idea of killing elephants for their ivory or rhinos for their 'horn' or any other example of monstrously wasteful, cruel slaughter of other species fills me with grief and rage. 

So, I'm supportive of animal rights activism and kudos to Ricky Gervais who has been a powerful influence via social media in taking a stand against these monstrous activities.

However, I do get disturbed by the incessant flow of graphic images of extreme human cruelty against animals. I acknowledge that such images raise awareness of, and anger about the appalling destruction of the world's wild life - and the millions of domestic victims as well - but they do little to expose the roots of the matter and they don't help people to an understanding of what actually needs to be done to stop it. 

A while back Ricky Gervais tweeted a photo of what he described as a  'poacher hunter' - a heavily tattooed, muscular young woman toting an assault rifle almost as big as her.  

People, whose individual footprint on the planet is probably many times that of an entire African village, whooped with delight at the idea of the foot soldiers of the world's most destructive and wasteful empire using their martial skills and technology to 'hunt' African poachers. 

They seemed unaware of the irony in the fact that a lot of the poachers these Americans are said to be 'hunting' are poor Africans who illegally hunt elephants and rhino to feed the fetishistic desires and obsessions of very rich, non-Africans. 

As it happens, the decorated ex-soldier turned 'poacher-hunter' who got some folk on Twitter all aflutter is actually an ex-US army diesel mechanic turned model for American arms manufacturers and traders. The photo was from a series of shots promoting guns and associated military and para-military accoutrements. 

The organisation she now works for is a charity set up by an American ex-soldier to deploy other US army veterans to protect African wild life by training local rangers.  So, Kinessa Johns and her colleagues are not 'poacher hunters' but 'ranger trainers' which doesn't have quite the same bush cred.

The charity also claims that the activity helps those ex-soldiers who have PTSD developed when serving American global interests in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I'm surely not alone in seeing the irony in psychologically damaged working class, white, surplus to requirements defenders of global American interests taking their people hunting skills and hardware to Africa to train some Africans to defend some African wild life against other Africans. 

Before Europeans enslaved millions of Africans and colonised and divided up the entire continent to suit their imperial ambitions, Africa's diverse peoples lived in relative harmony with all those species that we, in the developed world, now get emotional and sentimental about.  

People from the first world were the enslavers, the colonisers, the collectors, the exploiters and the habitat destroyers. They were, and still are, the trophy hunters. It is mostly wealthy white people who own and manage the wildlife farms where wealthy white inadequates can pay to shoot captive big game. 

We in the developed world, as the inheritors of the wealth and privilege of empire, have a very different relationship to the wild life of Africa from that of  the peoples who were subjugated by empire. 

People from the first world, having killed off much of their own indigenous wildlife and - in pursuit of imperial ambition destroyed vast swathes of the habitat of third world animals - now want to dictate to third world people how they should manage those animals which remain. 

Of course, we in the developed world, having learned from our masters' appalling mistakes, need to take immediate action to stop other countries from repeating them. 

But a disturbing number of people look at the damaged and depleted world their political and economic masters have created and conclude that the problem is there are too many humans and they are destroying animals and their habitats. 

The corollary for them is that, to protect the animals, we need fewer humans. No prizes for guessing where those humans deemed to be surplus to requirements mostly live and what social class they occupy.

When Gervais suggests to his followers on Twitter that Chinese men need to be told 'poachers' teeth' are a better virility enhancer than rhino horn, he's not only taking the easy route, he risks tapping into a deep vein of racism. 

The developed world grew rich and powerful by sucking the life blood out of Africa and today, the developed world - including its new manufacturing heart, China - is still sucking the life blood out of it.  

What Gervais and others need to get to grips with is the fact that, if we really want to bring about change, we need an equally furious and wide spread condemnation of the developed world's continued exploitation of Africa's agricultural, mineral and oil wealth.

We need equally powerful demands - of governments and corporations - that Africans be allowed to manage their own resources, to invest the revenue from them in viable communities, food production, health care, education, housing and jobs instead of the bulk of the wealth being siphoned off by first world transnational corporations and the reactionary and corrupt domestic elites those corporations help keep in power.

Sentiment over endangered animals needs to be balanced by sentiment over impoverished humans - and the common root for these linked evils needs to be exposed. That is not easy but, if we are to put a stop to the plunder of this finite world, it has to be done.

A good start point is to look at how our own prodigal life styles, aspirations and expectations help determine the fate of these animals. 

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