Maybe it didn’t strike me as soon as it should have, maybe I was a little slow, but soon it became impossible for any of us to ignore – the epidemic of poaching and trophy hunting devouring wildlife like raging berserkers. As astounding and dreadful as it is, it seems as though we or our children might never see a lion or a leopard or an elephant or a rhino again, except for those with the sad empty stares that come with captivity.
This would be an anthropogenic extinction with a vengeance, one motive, resulting in the horrors of poaching, being solely to feed the displaced narcissism of status conscious idiots by offering, say, rhino wine at a party in order to impress bosses with similarly limited intelligence. The horn as status symbol, and the rarer it gets, the higher the status value – until, of course, it disappears altogether. And then what? Who’s next up for the starring role?
The other motive, trophy hunting, is equally moronic – to earn bragging rights by shooting the biggest and the best and sticking the trophy on the den wall. ‘Mastering’ a lion or an elephant provides a type of ego satisfaction hunters might find hard to get elsewhere, but be in no doubt, whatever is claimed by these psychopaths (for they share so many features in common with serial killers), they have to go after the biggest and the best, for only these will suffice to demonstrate their superiority over the beasts of the wild. So it is that elephant tusks and mountain sheep horn curls have been found to be decreasing in size as a result of selective trophy hunting – artificial selection, if you wish.
These twin pressures between them, poaching and trophy hunting, are eliminating a heritage which we all should be able to share and wonder at, and hunters/poachers have no right to deprive us, or generations to come, that their shallow self-serving need is greater.
Since I’ve written before in the crime/thriller genre about animal welfare topics– I can’t think of a decent term for this sub-genre, except eco-thrillers (any improvement on this is welcome!) – such as the world of dog-fighting and the granting of personhood for great apes, it seemed very natural to tackle trophy hunting and poaching. The intention of writing in thriller form about animal welfare/rights issues is to (hopefully) provoke concern among those who might not normally take much interest, to expand the support to prevent such horrors.
The more I researched this, the more evident it became that the whole business was at once straightforward and horribly convoluted. Straightforward because the motives are clear cut, the objectives unambiguous but complex because of the labyrinthine connections, spanning the world, and embracing no end of human trash more than happy to enrich themselves at the expense of our fauna.
The parallels with drugs or trafficking in humans or arms are quite stark in that all leave a wake of devastation, all involve bottom feeders at one end of the scale and kingpins, like drug barons, at the other. All ensnare the greediest of humans who allow nothing to get in their way of making money. Remember the late Roger Gower recently killed when his helicopter was brought down by gunfire from a poaching gang (3 elephant carcasses were found nearby). Many brave rangers are murdered by poachers.
One of the qualities demanded of successful trophy hunters or poachers, like those of drug dealers, is indifference to anything but their own selfish desires. At least one study found that sport hunters can be narcissists, impulsive, manipulative and somewhat psychopathic — that is, demonstrating a lack of empathy or remorse for the animals (don’t forget those posed pictures with the slaughtered victim proudly stuck up on Facebook) – and it is well-known that psychopaths who are serial killers all too often start with animals. The likes of Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz (the “Son of Sam”) started out torturing animals.
We need to be wary of these people, but they do furnish interesting material for a story. There’s fertile ground here for fashioning a tale built around the brave attempts to prevent poaching and pseudo-trophy hunting.
Before researching I hadn’t realised that there were so many museum thefts across Europe to steal rhino horn (see the recent case http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/29/chinese-artefacts-fourteen-men-convicted-british-museums-rhino-horn; http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160306-wildlife-trafficking-crime-blotter-rhino-horn/ ). Even safari parks have been targeted. Nor did I know that jihadi groups found poaching rhinos and elephants a lucrative source of funding; nor that the Triads are involved in many forms of poaching from abalone to ivory.
The effects on our fabulously diverse fauna are catastrophic, and make no mistake this is a war, and like all wars there are many fronts. So we, too, must fight on all fronts and this story is a small contribution since I’m not brave enough to face these cruel monsters in person.
– Penny Morgan
After graduating in Zoology from King’s College, London University, I went to Bristol University’s Psychology Dept. to complete a PhD in Animal Behaviour. Later, in Southampton University, I did Post-Doctoral Fellow research into both sleep and bird behaviour. Later (after my children were of a school age), I started the new Psychology Advanced Level course at Peter Symonds’ 6th Form College, now one of the largest in the UK. I have published scientific papers and contributed chapters to a book (‘Social Behaviour in Birds and Mammals’, Academic Press). During the course of researching various aspects of my first book, Prime Witness (about apes gaining ‘personhood’ rights), I became absorbed by the legal issues, so I enrolled in a LLB course (London University) and obtained an LLB in 2003. I have since written two more books – Blood Wood (about illegal logging) and Devil’s Dogs (dog fighting) – and am in the process of completing a fourth (Trophy, about poaching rhino horns). I have contributed articles to the Journal of Animal Law Welfare (the journal of the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare), and Protect (the magazine of the League Against Cruel Sports. I’m currently Vice President of the League Against Cruel Sports.
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