Culture

On Poaching and Justice

This morning, I spotted this story on Twitter:

Johannesburg (AFP) — A suspected poacher was mauled to death and eaten by a pack of lions close to the Kruger National Park in South Africa, police said Monday, adding that little was left of the victim’s body.

The remains were found at the weekend in the bush at a private game park near Hoedspruit in the northern province of Limpopo, where animals have been poached in increasing numbers over recent years.

“It seems the victim was poaching in the game park when he was attacked and killed by lions. They ate his body, nearly all of it, and just left his head and some remains,” Limpopo police spokesman Moatshe Ngoepe told AFP.

A loaded hunting rifle was found near the body on Saturday morning. Police are trying to establish the victim’s identity.

Last year, several lions were found poisoned near a farm in the same province with their heads and paws sawn off.

Lion body parts are used in traditional medicine.

Here was my succinct response:

I am unmoved. First of all, I am a firm believer in the “looking for trouble” school of justice. If you try to rob a bank, and you’re shot in the process, I will shed no tears for you. Likewise, if you illegally try to hunt a lion, and the lion gets the upper paw, that’s fine by me.

Part of the reaction seems to be that people think I should never take the side of an animal over a human. They seem to think that because animals don’t have the same rights as people, it’s outrageous to take satisfaction when the lions’ offense put points on the board, as it were.

As I explained in a follow-up tweet, I have no quarrel with capital punishment for confirmed poachers of endangered animals, particularly elephants, but also other charismatic megafauna. This is not an argument about animal rights (though I do think the intelligence and social complexity of elephants makes killing them for sport or trinkets particularly grotesque). Put aside aesthetics or philosophy, these animals are incredibly valuable resources for developing countries in Africa and Asia. Poaching is a dire threat to their survival. Certainly, shooting poachers on sight is justifiable as a matter of property rights and/or deterrence (this poacher was on private land, by the way). Hanging convicted poachers is a thornier proposal on pragmatic grounds — but, in principle, it bothers me not at all. Of course, if you oppose capital punishment, you’ll disagree. But that’s not my position.

I certainly think capital punishment for people who cruelly poison these animals to the brink of extinction so some rich poltroon in China can have some “traditional” boner treatment or have an exotic rug is more defensible than executing someone for buying or selling drugs, yet capital punishment for drug crimes is common in many countries.

I do not like big-game hunting, but as a matter of law and, in some cases, conservation, governments can give hunting licenses to people who feel the desperate need to shoot an elephant or tiger. I think that’s grotesque, but that’s my personal moral and aesthetic judgment. Some decent people disagree, and that’s fine. But if you want to protect your ability or right to slaughter these animals, you too should be appalled by poaching. (Meanwhile, hunt all the deer you can. I couldn’t care less.)

Lastly, let me say a word for considerations that fall outside of typical cost-benefit analysis. These animals make the world a more wonderful place. They are among the most glorious of God’s creations. Even if you don’t feel that way, it’s certainly true for children all around the world, in every generation. If we wipe them out, it will be permanent. And the world will permanently be a shabbier place.

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