, Volume 90, Number 4

Jasper Humphreys and M. L. R. Smith

The rhino-poaching crisis in South Africa raises questions about whether it should be tackled through judicial processes or by the application of hard-power methods. The poaching of wildlife has traditionally been met with a harsh response to send a clear message of punitive deterrence. While the reaction of the South African authorities has been no different, the contemporary threat posed by poaching intersects with, and is complicated by, wider concerns such as border security and immigration. In many respects, this has led to what can be termed the ‘rhinofication’ of South African security. South Africa has a long political tradition that relies on force rather than dialogue, negotiation and reform. Yet, the hard-power response to protect the rhino and other large fauna, though necessary at one level, often runs up against the economic frustrations and temptations of a large, predominantly black, under-class, which for generations has been excluded from wildlife management and conservation by white ‘exceptionalism’. Poachers are thus transformed through their counter-cultural actions into what Eric Hobsbawm termed ‘social bandits’. While this social chasm lies at the heart of the ‘rhino wars’, it is clear that in practical terms the lack of a political/poaching settlement in the form of a racially inclusive conservation strategy almost certainly guarantees their continuation.

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