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Did American conservationists in Africa go too far?
April 1, 2010 1:36 PM   Subscribe

A fascinating piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker investigates the anti-poaching activities of Mark and Delia Owens in Zambia's North Luangwa National Park. Goldberg's essay focuses on the uncertain circumstances surrounding the killing of an alleged poacher by an unidentified member of Mark Owens' team of park scouts that was broadcast on national television in 1996.

In the broadcast, Owens tells [Meredith] Vieira, “I love life in general so much that to be brought to the point of having to extinguish human life to protect wildlife is a tremendous conflict and contradiction. But give me another solution. It’s why we still have elephants here.”

[Owens] later wrote, “I was not speaking of Zambia in particular, but of Africa in general. . . . I merely stated that I regretted that humans were sometimes killed in defense of wildlife; not to imply that I was doing it, or Zambia’s game scouts were doing it.”

But in another exchange Vieira asks him specifically about his work with the scouts of North Luangwa, who Owens says would not tell him if they had killed poachers. “You’re the one who’s helped the scouts reach the point where they’re capable to go in there,” she says. Owens replies, “Well, that’s true, but I’ve laid that question to rest for myself. I say, I’m not the one pulling the trigger.”
posted by jckll (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's all too common for whites in Africa to place a higher value on the life of an animal than of a black person.
posted by Flashman at 2:20 PM on April 1, 2010


It's all too common for whites in Africa to place a higher value on the life of an animal than of a black person.

Although this has always been true, I think the question of poaching, and the use of force in preventing it, has also always been more complicated than that on every continent. Dire punishments for shooting the King's deer are a plot staple for stories like Robin Hood, for example, and horse rustling (which isn't poaching, but isn't totally unrelated, either) remains a risky pursuit to this day.

So while I think the original documentary sounds like some pretty crappy journalism (based on the snippet in the "killing" link), I'm not that bothered by the use of deadly force to protect wildlife in some situations.
posted by Forktine at 3:16 PM on April 1, 2010


I just read that today. Amazing article. There is suspicion that Owens' son killed the poacher.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:31 PM on April 1, 2010


I'm not that bothered by the use of deadly force to protect wildlife in some situations.

Without due process of law? Count me out of that.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:32 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's even more common for individual humans, black or white or whatever, to place a higher value on their temporary and minor personal gain than on the life of an individual endangered animal, and more importantly, placing a higher value on their gain than on the continuing existence at all of that animal species. Humanity would get along just fine without poachers, of whatever race. We could in theory get along just fine without elephants too, but the poachers wouldn't stop there; their unwillingness to just stop is what makes them poachers.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:40 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth Without due process of law? Count me out of that.

No-one expects you to leave your comfortable bubble of law, Ironmouth, where he who is right may be expected to occasionally triumph. If you can come up with a way of blowing the bubble ever larger, to encompass the whole world with its warmth, that would be wonderful. But what to do in the meantime, that is the problem.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:46 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not so long ago, the US imposed a death sentence (either legal or "western rough justice") on cattle rustlers and horse thieves -- and that's for poaching domestic animals. The populations of many of Africa's wildlife species have fallen by 90 percent in the last few decades and many are in danger of extinction in the wild. I don't know the point of Goldberg's essay except to trash the reputation of a couple who spent their lives working for conservation, much as Dianne Fossey was maligned after her death (at the hands of poachers) for being too arrogant and caring more for gorillas than people. It's a thorny question of how to protect wilderness areas all over the world and balance the needs of locals with a wider perspective on the accelerated rate of extinctions caused by humans. This article seems merely an ad hominem attack based largely on hearsay by people who weren't keen on the Owens.
posted by binturong at 4:04 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


“I was afraid that someone might do something to my child/house/vehicles if they found out,”

Chris Owens really loves killing men/dogs/anything.
posted by geoff. at 4:11 PM on April 1, 2010




What due process? If you walk into your local bank with a shotgun in your hands, do you get due process, or do you get shot?
If you warn an armed person and you don't have overwhelming force, you may just provoke a firefight and put more lives at risk.

It seems pretty obvious that, in some situations, possession of a weapon implies criminal intent.

We should have UN troops patrolling these parks with helicopters and night vision arresting people, but nobody will pay for that so, we have local rangers shooting without warning.
posted by Megafly at 5:34 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did you guys read the same article?

But there is no evidence in “Deadly Game” that the alleged poacher was heavily armed, or armed at all, when he was shot, and it is by no means clear that Zambia tolerated the killing of poachers.

They just shot a guy in the forest because he was there. There was no evidence he was a poacher, there was no evidence he was even armed.

If anything, the man who was killed was hunting for bush meat for his family, the only source of protein for the local population. The article clearly showed that the greatest danger to the elephant populations, by far, was legalized ivory trade which stopped nearly a decade before this incidence.

It was not as if they were at the end of the world, the scouts could have easily carried the dead body back to camp to conduct a thorough investigation. They didn't do this, they "left it for the animals." Did they get a name at least, so they could alert the family? Search him for any identifying documents? No because what they were doing was illegal, in a country with laws and the Owens know that, which is why they haven't been back.

If anything their behavior after the killing only serves to indict them even more. The mother pleads with Goldberg not to talk to her son, even going so far as to concoct some story of him dangling from a helicopter harness? Not to mention how Chris Owens killed and wounded two dogs, and compiled a string of assaults since he came back to the United States?
posted by geoff. at 7:36 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


This article seems merely an ad hominem attack based largely on hearsay by people who weren't keen on the Owens.

Like the ABC cameraman with no vested interest in saying one thing or another who was actually present at the incident in question?

For me, the article seemed like a disturbing portrait of an arrogant, somewhat unbalanced man, who used a national park as his own personal fiefdom and its employees as un-trained, illegal shock troops. Someone who was unafraid to lie or at best grossly misrepresent his role and actions within the park, and used his power and funds to exert pressure on anyone who disagreed with him and his vision.

The subsequent 'retractions' by former employees, coupled with the disturbing behaviour of his own son - and his efforts to cover it up and minimise it - paint a pretty disturbing picture to me. This is not to understate the challenges of doing that kind of work at that time in Botswana, however two wrongs most emphatically do not make a right.
posted by smoke at 8:21 PM on April 1, 2010


Great read. I've always been amazed at the ability of the old British Raj types to love _Africa_ without appreciating Africans in general. It now makes perfect sense; you develop an emotional fixation on something, and then go on to either de-humanize people, or as is the case here, convince yourself that things are somehow different in the bush, and that laws somehow don't apply because of exigencies.

This is, of course, is not to doubt the Owens' passion for conservation or their love for Africa which clearly shows through in the article, which frankly is the best part.
posted by the cydonian at 8:53 PM on April 1, 2010


. It's a thorny question of how to protect wilderness areas all over the world and balance the needs of locals with a wider perspective on the accelerated rate of extinctions caused by humans. This article seems merely an ad hominem attack based largely on hearsay by people who weren't keen on the Owens.
posted by binturong at 4:04 PM on April 1


The challenge is global imho previously.
posted by infini at 12:51 AM on April 2, 2010


Perhaps there might be a way to both save the animals and their environment and also keep them safe from poachers.

For instance, you could populate the area with something that was lethal to humans but harmless to the animals—something too small to shoot but too plentiful to eradicate. Something microscopic would be ideal. A pathogen, or possibly a parasite. What could possibly go wrong?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:14 AM on April 2, 2010


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