The Far East and poaching in Africa

The Far East and poaching in Africa

Lions once roamed the entire breadth of the globe, then humans arrived and the king of the jungle began to fade off the face of the globe. The advent of the colonising human anywhere in the world, it seems, leads to the demise of the indigenous populations of some of the more prominent members of the animal kingdom (which ironically include the selfish human). Whether for self-aggrandisement (where animals get killed to be kept as trophies), religious or mythic purposes, and medicinal pursuits, animals are hunted to extinction to satisfy some human want that upon closer look and scrutiny is simply nonsensical.

From the venom of the mamba and other poisonous snakes being drunk for the sake of power, to the annihilation of entire elephant herds for the sake of jewellery, to the now disgusting habit of believing and holding the false notion that lion and tiger claws and teeth can cure certain chronic rheumatic illnesses, the practice of killing animals to serve some human urge should have stopped a long time ago. It has never been confronted; only pretence at doing it has been going in the political speak of the passing ages.

First to go were the big tuskers in the early days of colonialism of the continent of Africa. Though elephants are essentially matriarchal, the presence of the old bulls in the herd keeps the young bulls in check. Without the presence of the old bulls, the young bulls act out of control and out of tandem with the hierarchical system that ensures that the herd keeps to the patterns that sustain them throughout the seasons on the long migrations to the different grazing pastures and waterholes.

The big tuskers (usually male bulls) became the first victims in the systematic annihilation of the majestic animal species for the sake of making an ivory ring here, an amulet there, and some other item of human embellishment. Naturally, the tusks on the male are larger than those of the female, and this means that the bull becomes the target of the poacher aiming to sell the tusks on the black-market. A practice that began in the days of colonialism goes on unfettered, there are too few animal conservation groups to stem the massacre of animals; there needs to be the involvement of the government and the judiciary when it comes to the conservation of animal species.

Greenpeace is not strong enough, AWF is not powerful enough, the UN and other international organisations and governments need to make a concerted commitment to the preservation of animal species in the world. It is plain hypocritical to be talking global warming and then keeping silent when 16 lions are hacked for their teeth and paws, like it occurred in the first week of 2020 in South Africa. The talk about preservation and conservation of the environment should be one that is aimed at fostering change in human habits and attitudes when it comes to animals and plants.

Termed as exotic, many an endangered animal and plant species have been hunted and harvested into extinction because there was no commitment on the part of the humans who did not understand the repercussions of their deeds or were just too greedy to realise the danger of their acts. The time has come now to confront the culprits head on and name them as the perpetrators of acts that put the well-being of the global climate. One cannot just mow down a top of the food-chain predator without any other measure of controlling the prey’s proliferation which may harm the environment.

The human from the Far East has always had strange culinary tastes, and the appetite of the continent whose population explosion is frankly out of control threatens the stability of the world. Shark populations dwindled to endangered levels because they were being harvested for their fins (shark-fin soup is a delicacy in Japan and is served in traditional Chinese cuisine at weddings, and banquets and as a luxury item).

Tiger populations were hunted for their teeth, paws, and skin to this point where the estimate puts their total population at a measly 3 000. The attention of this strange human practice of killing animals for their parts has come to this point where lions have become the prime target, and sixteen of them were hacked after being fed poisoned chicken at a private game reserve.
The usual lie is that they are used in traditional African medicine (muti), but the truth is that the Far-East and South-East Asia are the prime markets for many of the endangered animal species whose parts are then used in cuisine or traditional medicine. No government in Africa has ever confronted countries that include China, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and others on the scourge of their strange practices on the animal populations on the continent of Africa.

Reliant on the financial and other forms of aid from the Asian countries, the poor (cowardly) African political leader would rather extend a begging bowl than to address the real danger of the unchecked poaching of endangered animal species vital to the maintenance of the ecosystem. The poaching is funded by the countries of interest, whether legally or via the illicit black-market, but no one will ever stand up and speak in frank terms and ask why there seems to be no cooperation when it comes to the killing of animals for their parts that end up at someone’s table at any of these Asian countries. An article in The Star (26 May 2019) by Don Pinnock revealed that after a four-year probe into rhino poaching that the rifles used were of Czech origin. These CZ (Ceská Zborojvka Uhersky Brod) rifles were designed to kill big game, and were used in the large-scale poaching of rhinos at the Kruger National Park.

Rhino horn is used in traditional Far-Eastern medicine, apparently to treat a plethora of illnesses that include fever, rheumatism, gout and other disorders (which male impotence heads). This means that an animal that takes years to grow a single horn is killed just so that it forms part of a concoction to treat a condition that can be treated with a simple regimen of drugs that can be bought over the counter and without prescription. What does this say about those who engage in this practice?

Rhinos and kingship have always been close in Basotho regnal customs and traditions. Only the king could carry the rhino horn; it is both a sceptre and a symbol of peace. Wherever and whenever there was a dispute the dropping of the rhino-horn kerrie (club) meant that the judgement had been passed and whatever altercation had been going on had to stop.
That we Basotho are keeping quiet as animals that are of such tremendous symbolic value to us and our customs is hypocritical. They may not roam this land as they used to as presented by the early explorers of this land of Moshoeshoe (the old Lesotho that stretched from the Vaal to the sea) as portrayed by R. C. Germond in his 1967 Chronicles of Basutoland , but they still hold a meaning dear to us and valuable to our clan identities. Every clan in this here land bears some animal that is totemic to all members of the clan. This means that whoever is killing our animals for their own private use infringes on our cultural identity, and there should be appropriate acts for the prosecution of figures that engage in such heinous practices as the killing of animals for the sake of individual aggrandisement and personal interest. It is a crime against the environment of this world; it is a crime against the humanity that relies on the flora and the fauna to have climatic conditions conducive for the survival of the human race.

Symbolic and totemic significance of animals varies across the cultures of the different races of the world, and usually, the animal, the plant, or some other natural landscape feature stand as the central figures. The English have the three lions adopted by Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century as their symbol which they bear as the standard in their national flags and in the different sport teams. It is however ironic that early English explorers to Africa would kill lions for sport and keep them as trophies hung on walls as stuffed effigies after taxidermists had fashioned them.
The times are changing, the herds on the plains are getting smaller, the prides are dwindling, and the murders of crows will themselves soon fade as there will be no carrion to scavenge after the apex predators are dead and gone. It does not make sense to think that killing an animal for food or medicine benefits the few individuals. The repercussions stretch far beyond the creature killed, they actually extend to the little ant that feeds on the bones lying in the veld under the blue African sky on the open savannah. We shall surely perish if we do not make Asia aware of the negative impact of their culinary and medicinal practice on the environment of our ancient and sacred continent.

The reality of the matter and actual fact is that our politicians on this continent are on average illiterate individuals elected into office by a people that are not aware of the danger of ignoring the true nature of the simple things. It is always about who wins the poll, never about how we shall be in half a century. It is as if time will soon end and people therefore have to finish everything before the final sun sets.

The truth however, is found in the jest by Jorge Luis Borges, “Hurry, hurry we have a few million years left!” the fact is simple; time is not about to end, we still have quite a long time to go before oblivion. It is not wise that our children’s children shall see all these creatures that form a part of our identity only in pictures or hear tales of them like we do when it comes to creatures such as dodo, the quagga, the tlokwa and other animals that were hunted into extinction to serve some private human appetite. It is not a lie but a fact that the rampant poaching that is going on is there to serve some private interest, and the governments that do not prosecute the perpetrators are in fact accomplices. Our silence against the practice means we are accessories to the crime.

There are those feasts (banquets) where people feed till they are bursting at the seams, none of them ever questions items on the menu, and rather the fascination is with the exotic nature of what is in chafing dish. What we do not understand is that the more expensive or rare it is means that it is probably endangered. It is time as well that we begin to question what is placed on our plates, otherwise we shall end up with a world where Planet of the Apes shall become a reality.

Everything that is evolving develops a defensive attitude dependent on the realities in its environment. Animals are not naturally man-eaters, but the continued killing of their numbers may lead to a scenario where they are no longer human-tolerant. It is time we began to question each other’s culinary, medicinal and other habits, to investigate in-depth the possible repercussions of our deeds.

The man in China drinking some rhino horn concoction, or the family in Vietnam eating orang-utan hands or gorilla hands and feet fail to see danger of their macabre feast. I have always held the simple notion that he who eats a primate shall soon graduate to eating other human beings as Charles Manson did, as Ed Gein and all the other serial murderers did. The old Native Amerindian saying that:

Whatever you do to the animals, you do to yourself…
Rings true when one looks at the current state of the world and the extended droughts followed by storms. No one listened in the 1950’s when the first warnings about global warming and greenhouse gases were made: we are experiencing the results of our obstinacy at this point in time.

Dian Fossey is one of the best human beings whose story I have ever come across, and her words always ring true if one observes the current trend where animals are being killed without restraint. Those that poach do not realise the truth that the real value of life cannot be measured in banknotes, it is in actual terms so valuable that it is priceless: because it benefits all and not just one. The devil’s transaction between the exotic medicine-man or restaurant-owner and the poacher shall surely land us all in hell. The East should begin to acknowledge the full extent of their deed and accept their guilt in furthering the scourge of poaching. They should listen to the words of Dian Fossey that state:

When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.
The East should stop funding the poaching in Africa if they are well-meaning, if they mean what they say that they need to see the continent progress. Lions should be there, rhinos should be there, pangolins should be there, and so should all the other creatures that God made to live side by side with us.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

Previous threat of extinction for Medical plants
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