elephants

The images are hard to get out of your head — the bloodied faceless elephant, the mangled hornless rhino. Sadly, these wildlife poaching incidents are increasing in number. In 2011, more than 25,000 elephants alone were killed for their tusks for the lucrative black market ivory trade that has a strong consumer base in Asia, according to the African Conservation Foundation.

Many countries around the world are thinking of new ways to deter these cruel killings and the dangerous rebel organizations that often fuel the hunts, like the al-Shabaab. According to Co.Exist, the U.S. government has invested $10 million to assist African anti-poaching efforts and another $80 million has been invested by the Clinton Global Initiative.

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African countries are also trying to do their part by increasing ranger numbers and instituting strong policies to thwart poaching activities. Tanzania, in particular, has a new bill in the works that would strengthen the country’s weak penalties for wildlife crimes. But the nation’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki, feels that even more extreme measures should be taken.

“Poachers must be harshly punished because they are merciless people who wantonly kill our wildlife and sometimes wardens,” said Kagasheki at the end of an International March for Elephants via All Africa, “The only way to solve this problem is to execute the killers on the spot.”

Kagasheki’s comment has the conservation community divided. While some agree that such measures should be instituted, others believe it would violate human rights and would lead to an escalation of violence.

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Knowing his comment would draw backlash, Kagasheki added, “I am very aware that some alleged human rights activists will make an uproar, claiming that poachers have as much rights to be tried in courts as the next person, but let’s face it, poachers not only kill wildlife but also usually never hesitate to shoot dead any innocent person standing in their way.”

Over the years, poachers have become better organized and  gained access to more deadly weapons. A wildlife park’s weapons and manpower pale in comparison to a poaching army. According to the Thin Green Line Foundation, more than 1,000 rangers have been killed over the last 10 years while protecting animals.

Tanzania’s poaching problem certainly doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Co.Exist reports that poachers kill 30 to 60 elephants a day in Tanzania and, from 2009 to 2011, the country was ranked the top exporter of black market tusks.

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But do these figures warrant a “shoot-to-kill” policy for wildlife poachers?

World Wildlife Fund’s country director for Tanzania, Bell’Aube Houinato believes they don’t.

“It is very true that poaching has taken such an alarming route and it’s obvious the government is getting worried. It’s important the punishment for poaching is a deterrent, but killing poachers is not part of the measures we have been advocating. It would lead to an escalation of violence; it’s very difficult to control who is actually killing. There are law enforcement and judicial systems and they should be made more effective,” said Houinato to The Guardian.

Yet, law enforcement and judicial system processes are already long and drawn out and are even slower in developing nations like Tanzania. While strengthening and speeding up these processes may be the most ideal approach, it’s not necessarily the most effective.

So, to shoot or not to shoot? It’s a difficult question, and perhaps one that has no clear, correct answer. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Do you believe shooting poachers on the spot is an appropriate determent method? If so, tell us why and if not, what other solutions would you propose?

Image source: Brian Snelson / Wikipedia Commons