An article published yesterday on NIO, “It’s War!!! Prelude to a Poaching Strike,” documents the military-style war on animals that is already underway.

South Africa is considering using its national defence force unmanned drone helicopter to "target" rhino poachers, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said.

by Steven Best, Ph.D

Gangs of killers in battle fatigues. A focused and implacable intent to kill and slaughter the innocents. A high-tech massacre waged from land and air. An attack so sudden, rapid, and forceful, nothing could stop it but another armed squadron. This is the defense of animals, extensional self-defense, and protection of fragile ecosystems by any means necessary.[i] Granted, these measures often are initiated by governments, not liberation movements and vigilantes, and the aim is to guard “natural resources” of interest to the state rather than to protect the animals out of respect for their inherent value and right to live unharmed. But armed soldiers and citizens keeping watch over animals, engaged in gun battles with poachers and warding off helicopter attacks on rhinos, is a dramatic escalation of stakes and tactics and could easily spread into large-scale war about and over nonhuman animals.

Rhino poached for its horn

In fact, some Brazilian tribes have taken up armed struggle against exploiters to protect their forest homes and their traditional way of life, as in the early nineteenth century Luddites throughout England attacked the agents and machinery of industrial capitalism, first through sabotage and then armed struggle. Increasingly, “green thinkers are now coming to a surprising conclusion: In exceptional circumstances, they say, the only effective way to protect the environment may be at the barrel of a gun.”[ii]

Thus, in matters of life and death, in conditions of do-or-die, with animals and the earth under attack by ruthless killers, a violent and armed struggle over animals and nature has already commenced, and will become more intense as species extinction and climate change themselves grow more serious. Indeed, for all the hypocritical condemnation of activists as violent terrorists, in three decades of heated direct action warfare there have been virtually no attacks by activists on hunters, fur farmers, and other exploiters; rather, all of the violence, beyond the incredible pogrom against nonhuman animals, has come from speciesists and exploiters attacking animal rights and environmental activists.

Poachers shot dead

But what is the endgame of this dangerous dialectic of attack and counter-attack, and of the perilously vague and open tactic of achieving one’s goals “by any means necessary”? Does it inexorably lead activists to fight the terrorism and omnicide of the global corporate-state complex with violence, armed struggle, and urban guerilla warfare? A detailed discussion regarding the ethical and pragmatic issues of violent resistance is out of place here for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is presumptuous and wrong for anyone living now to dictate how future generations should fight amidst increasingly desperate conditions.

A more fundamental question concerns the need to recognize the importance of contextualism and pluralism, acknowledging a variety of tactics is needed, and that one or a combination of tactics is to be decided according to analysis of specific situations in space and time, not through rigid application of universal rules.


[i] “African conservationists ‘shoot to kill poachers'” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-10992502). On armed struggle and casualties to save rhinos, see “Two poachers shot dead in Kaziranga,” December 13, 2010, (http://www.zeenews.com/news674174.html).

“Two rhino poachers were killed in a gun fight with wildlife
rangers at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam on Monday, officials said.

A wildlife warden said a group of four to six poachers entered the park
early Monday and were waiting for a rhino herd near the Agoratoli range.

“A team of forest guards chased the poachers and soon there was a gun fight
between the two sides,” he said.

The firefight continued for about 30 minutes, killing two poachers.

“A massive hunt is on with forest guards looking for the other members of
the group,” the warden said.

A rifle, a large quantity of ammunition, jungle boots, food and raincoats
were also recovered, he added.

This is the second major success of forest rangers this year. Four rhino
poachers were killed and seven arrested in May.

“We are happy with the way our forest guards are fighting an organised
poaching syndicate active in the park. We cannot ignore the help from local
villagers living on the periphery of the park in our fight against
poachers,” Assam Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told a news agency.

The 430 sq km park is home to the world’s largest concentration of
one-horned rhinos. As per the 2009 census report, some 2,048 of the world’s
estimated 3,000 one-horned rhinos lumber around the swamps and grasslands of
Kaziranga.

Nine beasts were killed so far this year, while 18 rhinos were killed in
2008 and 14 in 2009. Between 1980 and 1997, some 550 rhinos were killed by
poachers in the wilds of Kaziranga, the highest being 48 in 1992.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which many believe contain aphrodisiac
qualities, besides being used as medicines for curing fever, stomach
ailments and other diseases in parts of Asia.

Rhino horns are also much fancied by buyers from the Middle East who turn
them into handles of ornamental daggers, while elephant ivory tusks are
primarily used for making ornaments and decorative items.

A rhino horn sells for up to Rs 1.5 million per kilogram in the
international market, according to officials of the forest department.

Five Rhino Killers Shot Dead in Kruger National Park, South Africa: Encouraging news in the battle to protect rhinos.

http://www.rhinoconservation.org/2011/01/11/five-rhino-killers-shot-dead-in-kruger-national-park-south-africa/

[ii] “Martial Law of the Jungle,” December 21, 2008, The Boston Globe (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/12/21/martial_law_of_the_jungle/).