The social economy of rhino poaching: Of economic freedom fighters, professional hunters and marginalized local people

Annette M Hübschle
  • Current Sociology, October 2016, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/0011392116673210

Why do people poach?

What is it about?

This article captures the lived experiences of poachers, conservators and communities living in or close to conservation areas. Existing research suggests the entry of organized crime and the endemic poverty of people living next to parks as drivers of poaching. However, the drivers and enabling environment of poaching are more complex in the case of South Africa's biggest protected area, the Kruger National Park and the adjacent Limpopo National Park - also known as the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The socio-political and historical context and continued marginalization of local people are significant factors facilitating poaching decisions at the grassroots level. Green land grabs and the systematic exclusion of local people from protected areas, as well as the growing securitization of anti-poaching responses, are aiding the perception that the wild animal is valued more highly than black rural lives. As a consequence, conservationists and law enforcers are viewed with disdain and struggle to obtain cooperation.

Why is it important?

The article reflects on empirical evidence gathered from people living near parks, poachers and conservators. Structural and historical drivers as well as ill-conceived conservation practices provide an environment for poaching to thrive. A key recommendation suggests that the future of protected areas and wild animals lies in the hands of the communities that live near them and have to cope with the impacts of human-wildlife conflict.


Dr Annette M Hübschle
University of Cape Town

During my doctorate, I followed rhino horn from the source to the market with the objective of trying to understand why the supply chain is so resilient despite the myriad measures implemented to disrupt it. While much of the international focus is on demand reduction strategies in wildlife markets, attempts to disrupt horn supplies are relegated to tactical anti-poaching measures (including the securitization and militarization) and criminal justice responses. Communities living near protected areas are often framed as 'poaching communities.' I argue here that local and indigenous peoples are the most important change agents at the source as they have to live with the wild animals. By giving local people a voice in this article, I hope to contribute to a nuanced understanding of their lived experiences, systematic exploitation and questionable assumptions of the dominant conservation regime in South Africa.

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