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Literature review of Green Violence: Rhino Poaching and the War to Save Southern Africa’s Peace park

In Green Violence: Rhino Poaching and the War to Save Southern Africa’s Peace park, Bram Büscher, and Maano Ramutsindela describe the types of green violence and its history. In their description of Material Violence, they state their position that Warfare has direct and indirect material effects on nature and people, it can violate and conserve nature, both of which outcomes often have major impacts on the livelihoods and security of people living around the conservation area.(Büscher & Ramutsindela)This standpoint has good reasons and logic and has been mentioned in many different academic articles. Many scholars agree that green violence (regardless of which form) should not be legitimized. In License to Kill: Contesting the Legitimacy of Green Violence, Robert Fletcher argues that the legitimization of green violence could challenge the law and ultimately create Eco-terrorism.(Fletcher)

Many people have a strong pessimistic view of Green Violence and believe it is violating human rights. In an article published by Yale Environment360, Green Violence: ‘Eco-Guards’ Are Abusing Indigenous Groups in Africa, author Richard Schiffman interviews an anthropologist, Jerome Lewis, to conclude that indigenous human rights are being seriously abused by Eco-guards committed in the name of conservation. Most intuitively, indigenous people have been beaten and had other serious injuries inflicted on them by eco-guards. In nature reserves, a great deal of money is spent on arming these eco-guards. When these eco-guards are armed, they behave like a militia group, abusing their armed power and clashing with local communities. Many local villagers are wrongly accused, and the eco-guard will arrest or beat them whenever they find meat in the villagers’ homes. (Schiffman)

Not only the physical aspect but also the life of the indigenous people and the local cultural diversity that is destroyed by this “violence”. By taking away indigenous people’s right to hunt and gather, environmentalists have criminalized the indigenous population and their right to livelihood. In the process, many of the men could no longer provide food for their families and they were forced to work on farms as day laborers.

The impacts of green militarization on indigenous peoples are comprehensive, Robert K. Hitchcock concludes similarly in his analysis of The Impacts of Conservation and Militarization on Indigenous Peoples published in Human Nature. Conservation and militarization efforts have led to a reduction in land and resources available to indigenous people, higher levels of poverty, increased socioeconomic stratification, and lower levels of physical well-being. In this article, Hitchcock explains the causes of this phenomenon and describes how southern African nation-states are impacting indigenous people through several different conservation approaches. Coercive conservation and fortress conservation are two conservation methods that can largely affect the lives of indigenous people. With the former involves more green violence, including arresting, detaining, and sometimes torturing those accused of taking natural resources illegally; or executing suspected “poachers”. The latter is to remove indigenous people from the land where they have lived for generations.

Unlike the previous two, Community-Based Conservation is a more moderate and widely welcomed conservation approach among indigenous populations, it allows local people to benefit from wildlife through jobs, income, and wild animal meat . This strategy is aimed at allowing humans to benefit from the exploitation of resources in the habitats in which they live. (Hitchcock) This approach respects the habits and traditions of the indigenous people and makes certain compromises. Indigenous groups do not consider their actions to be damaging to the environment. They have a different definition of forest conservation than the outside world, which is the result of their cultural values developed over thousands of years. In the views of many indigenous groups in South Africa, the forest is seen as an abundant resource from which they make their living. Keeping the forests abundant is therefore their biggest task, and it can help increase the biodiversity in the forests.(Schiffman) The San people living in Zimbabwe and Mozambique subscribe to this view, they see themselves as “conservationists par excellence”. They argue that they get only what they need to survive, and that they do not overexploit natural plant and animal resources.(Hitchcock) Differences between indigenous and outside philosophies are a major source of conflict. However, from a scientific point of view, further analysis is needed to determine whether the hunting and gathering activities of the indigenous people actually affect the environment. Due to their increased demand for natural resources caused by the growth of the indigenous population, it is now likely that the facts will be different from what the San people themselves believe.

This is not an irreconcilable conflict,  Jerome Lewis, an anthropologist who has studied indigenous people and environmental issues in South Africa for 26 years, proposed an interesting solution in the interview with Schiffman, he has a whole system of promoting conservation from below, and calls it extreme citizen science. He believes that it is better to empower indigenous people themselves than to allow green violence and militarization to destroy local biodiversity or ruin local indigenous’ life. how about giving indigenous people the right to manage their own land. Because they have lived here for generations, they have the strongest will to protect this place. However, Lewis is not as 100 percent optimistic about this solution as the San, who believe that indigenous people also make need mistakes when it comes to conservation and that they too need to learn. But the good thing is that they will always live on that land and gain experience. This process will also require the help of local governments. Overall it is a more complete, scientific, and systematic approach to Community-Based Conservation.

In addition to the significant negative impact on indigenous people, another controversial point of green violence and militarization is that it does not deter poaching in real situations, but only makes it worse. While local villagers are beaten and abused the big commercial poachers are not stopped, and the big organizers of illegal wildlife poaching tend to be wealthy, well-connected individuals who sought to gain from the illegal wildlife trade. (Schiffman) What’s worse is that local poaching becomes more prevalent whenever there is war or violent conflict. This idea is repeatedly mentioned and argued, this phenomenon is mentioned in the article by Büscher and Ramutsindela, and the story was also played out during the civil war in Angola. People and animals were both destroyed during the war. The devastation was caused both by liberation forces and the South African Defense Force. Ivory and rhinoceros horns were traded openly or smuggled through various channels, mostly to Asia. The proceeds were used to fund clandestine operations and other actions in favor of South Africa’s dictatorship. (Hitchcock)

In addition to war, which can lead to both sides of the conflict profiting from poaching, militarized conservation in peacetime can be counterproductive to conservation efforts by intensifying conflicts between local populations and authorities. In the article Why militarized conservation may be counter-productive: illegal wildlife hunting as defiance, Rebecca Witter presents the “defiance theory” which is due to the intensification of the conflict between the local residents and the rangers, the local residents are no longer willing to submit to the local authority’s regulation of environmental protection and continue to engage in illegal fishing and hunting. In Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park, such problems are ongoing. Local residents are fearful and angry about law enforcement actions for environmental purposes, as well as the rangers themselves. They seek to eliminate their own involvement in illegal hunting by questioning the legality of the rangers’ actions and focusing on their injustice. (Witter) In general, green violence only prevents indigenous people from carrying out their daily hunting, while deliberately ignoring those who really mean large-scale poaching. And when violence and war occur, poaching only gets worse.

In conclusion, scholars generally have a negative attitude toward green violence. First of all, it is because Green Violence is involved in a lot of abuse and beatings of the local people simply because they are doing the hunting activities that sustain their daily survival, just like their ancestors did in the past thousand years. This negative impact further makes the lives of the locals worse. Secondly, green violence has not been an effective solution to the poaching problem at all, but has been exacerbated by the war and the conflict between the people and authority. Jerome Lewis offers a potentially more effective and peaceful solution that we need to think more about it.


Hitchcock, R. K. (2019). The impacts of conservation and militarization on Indigenous Peoples. Human Nature, 30(2), 217–241.

Schiffman, R. (2020, March 17). Green violence: ‘eco-guards’ are abusing indigenous groups in Africa. Yale E360. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from

Witter, R. (2021). Why militarized conservation may be counter-productive: Illegal wildlife hunting as Defiance. Journal of Political Ecology, 28(1).