There is an all too familiar story in Africa. It is one of poverty, exacerbated by a lack of education and subsequent unemployment, often fuelled by a voracious foreign market eager to exploit these circumstances. The net result is a culture of poaching – the illegal “harvesting” of natural resources, either for direct subsistence or further sale, all in an effort to feed and educate a poacher’s family. The rewards are scant for those locals who risk life and limb and the cycle is a tremendously difficult one to break.
Students at the Singita GrumetiEnvironmental Education Centre (EEC) were recently given a very stark glimpse into that world by a most unlikely champion of the anti-poaching fraternity – a hardened and once-feared poacher named Shaban Andrea.
A skilled hunter of much repute in the local communities, Mr Andrea’s grade 7 level of education precluded him finding gainful employment in the formal economy of Tanzania, so he exploited his primary skill to tremendous effect. His poaching exploits crossed international borders and his “hit list” included elephant and rhino, amongst other vulnerable and protected species. Despite his efficacy as a poacher and his position as a leader of one of East Africa’s best-known poaching gangs, he still struggled to feed, let alone educate, his growing family. Most of the money he earned was used to bail him out of jail following two separate arrests by Singita Grumeti Fund scouts who patrol the 350,000-acre conservation area adjacent to the Serengeti National Park.
After being arrested a third time, he was inspired to hang up his rifle and look for work outside of the world of poaching. The Fund saw his potential and offered him an opportunity to work with the Anti-Poaching Unit. After negotiating a reduced sentence and serving his time, Mr Andrea was released and appointed to the Wildlife Monitoring and Research team where he has worked ever since. For the first time in his life, he earned an honest wage and with hard work has been able to build a home for his family and is very proud to have two sons currently at university.
Beyond the personal success of this story, the opportunity that Shaban Andrea was given by Singita has had a far-reaching effect on the young minds that listen to him recount his experiences whilst at the EEC. He leaves the learners with a short and simple message: that there is simply no benefit to the killing of Africa’s wildlife and that the future lies in their protection.
The problem of poaching in Africa remains a complex one, one that requires a multi-faceted and often unconventional approach in the search for solutions. Through a very human act of giving a man a second chance, Singita has exposed an invaluable resource in the fight against poaching – a man with a story.