“Growing up on a farm in Africa in the sixties, poaching was a big part of farm life.
Our farm was one of the closest farms to the major city of Lusaka, capital of Zambia. We raised Angoni cattle, hardy local cattle, with immunity to many common cattle diseases, they were coveted by the local people to whom cows represented wealth.
They were also desirable to the locals, housed in villages close to the farm, as a food source.
And so every weekend we would mount our anti-poaching patrols, knowing that was the time that poachers would break through our fences to reach the angoni cattle.
The poachers would come in the dead of night, armed with old muzzle loaders that fired a single round and could be heard from afar, the sort of gun associated in romantic books with pirate stories.
Our job as the anti-poaching unit, was to listen for the gun shot and then close in on the poachers, as they skinned and cut up the animal, before they made their get-away with the meat.
Often they would flee with some of the meat to get away quickly, hiding the rest of the meat under bushes, with the intention of returning the next night to haul away what they had left.
If we found hidden meat we would set an ambush, keeping quiet and lying low through the day, waiting for the poachers to return.
The sad part of all this is when we did catch a poacher, he invariably turned out to be a poor subsistence farmer, trying to supplement his food supply. We would turn the poacher over to the police who would impose a small fine or a short prison sentence.
That was then! Today poaching is big business. Especially when it comes to elephants and rhinos.
An ounce of ground rhino horn sells for more today than an ounce of gold!
The local subsistence farmer has become part of the poaching syndicate’s front line troops, armed with the latest armory and anti-detection devices. He earns more for his labor in poaching one elephant than his predecessor did in a lifetime of poaching.
And similarly, the modern day anti-poaching unit bears no resemblance to our amateur efforts to combat poaching on the farm; infinitely more sophisticated with infra-red surveillance, radios and drones.
And then there’s tourism. Now the world’s largest single economic sector, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism is also helping to contain poaching.
Simply by tourists visiting wildlife areas, their presence serves as a deterrent to poachers, who prefer to remain unseen and go to places which are sparsely populated, but where there are elephants and rhinos.
Anyone taking a safari can therefore feel that they are doing their small part in helping to combat poaching.
The ultimate weapon to reduce poaching is education of those buying ivory, some of whom don’t realize the elephant is killed to get its tusk, while to others, ivory is a status symbol.
And here again, tourism plays its part, helping educate others when tourists see elephants in the wild for themselves and marvel at their complex family structures, so similar to the way our own families are organized.
So to those of us in the safari business, it is a rich reward to know that every time we send someone on safari, we are helping to conserve Africa’s wildlife in our small way.
Safari Jim “Musings on Africa”