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Poverty, joblessness drives wildlife poaching in South Africa: study

A report published and compiled after interviews with 73 convicted wildlife offenders in SA's jails concluded that 70% of them were forced into crime to make a living.

A vet removes the front horn from a rhino to prevent it being poached. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Most people convicted for wildlife poaching and trafficking in South Africa commit the crimes due to poverty and joblessness, a study by an international wildlife conservation group has shown.

A report published Thursday and compiled after interviews with 73 convicted wildlife offenders incarcerated in South Africa's jails, concluded that 70% of them were forced into crime just to make a living.

"A variety of reasons led offenders to become involved in illegal wildlife trade, one frequent motivation being a desire to provide for their families given the lack of viable legal economic alternatives," said TRAFFIC.

One study respondent told TRAFFIC: "I just wanted to give my children a better life than I had".

Another said he just wanted to send his "first born to school so that he could get education. I wanted him to have the opportunity which I was denied as a child".

"If I were working, I would not have gone and done this," regretted another respondent.

Yet others took the risk just to keep up with well-to-do friends.

"My friends... used to poach. They were driving cars and I wished to be like them," said another, adding "so I ended up doing illegal things. I was fooled, and I regret what I did."

Offences committed included poaching, transporting, processing, storing and selling the illegally-gotten wildlife commodities.

Seventy-four percent of the surveyed offenders were serving sentences for rhino-related offences and the rest for crimes linked to abalone and cycad trafficking.

South Africa, which for years has battled a scourge of rhino poaching fuelled by insatiable demand for their horns in Asia, is also facing high unemployment levels of more than 30%.

At least 8,200 rhino have been poached for their horn in the past decade in South Africa, according to TRAFFIC.