School of Social Sciences

Modus Operandi of rhino poachers in KZN examined in Masters research

Ms Catherine Jakins received her Masters in Social Sciences for research on the motivations of rhino poachers in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Funded by the Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority, the study investigated the personal experiences of convicted rhino poachers in the province.
Ms Catherine Jakins

The primary motive for rhino poaching was found to be financial, as individuals living in extreme poverty in KZN are often recruited by organised criminal syndicates operating outside the province and paid to poach rhinos for their horns. The modus operandi was found to be simple and consistent with that of rhino poachers operating elsewhere in South Africa.

‘A desire for rehabilitation programmes in prison was expressed by offenders, and is considered to be extremely valuable. Increased economic incentives and adequate conservation education programmes need to be urgently implemented in communities surrounding protected areas,’ said Jakins. ‘It is hoped this will be considered by conservation authorities when making decisions about poaching prevention in KZN as their decisions impact greatly on the lives of many.’

One of the biggest obstacles Jakins had to overcome was locating convicted rhino poachers within the Correctional Services system, as they do not fall into one definitive crime category under current South African law.

‘They are often convicted of a range of crimes from unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition to trespassing and hunting of a protected animal. They do not fall under a specific ‘rhino poaching’ category and tend to fall between the cracks of the Correctional system,’ explained Jakins. A handful of rhino poaching offenders was eventually identified and interviewed.

The second challenge was that, ‘Many of those interviewed denied any involvement in rhino poaching and claimed to have been falsely arrested and accused, despite ample court evidence to the contrary. Although I found this very frustrating, I had to respect their wishes to deny the opportunity to answer the questions,’ said Jakins.

She thanked her family, friends and supervisor for their support. Her mother, Lee said, ‘We are beyond proud of her achievement! Many years of hard work has resulted in her reward of a great mark.’ Sister Kirsten added, ‘We are super proud! We all knew she could do it with her determination, work ethic and ambition.’

Jakins advises other students to ‘Be realistic about your passion and your abilities, especially at a Masters level. I am grateful for my passion for this topic because without it, I don’t think I would have pushed through the difficult times. Listen to your supervisor! If they tell you it’s going to be a slog; believe them.’

Jakins plans to pursue a PhD in the near future. She is currently working for a non-profit organisation, using her skills as a Conservation Criminologist to assist in their awareness campaigns. ‘I enjoy this work and hope to grow in the organisation to become a leading professional in my field,’ she said.

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Dr Clayton Hazvinei Vhumbunu at CODESRIA’s General Assembly Conference.

UKZN Research Fellow presents paper at CODESRIA General Assembly Conference

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From left: Mr Niq Mhlongo, Mrs Shantha Maharaj, Ms Darniel Small, Dr Patricia Opondo, Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, Mr Mbuso Khoza, Dr Saleem Badat, Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, Professor Nogwaja Zulu and Ms Xoliswa Zulu

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Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize and academics Professors Ernest Khalema, Maheshvari Naidu, Nobuhle Hlongwa and Nogwaja Zulu recently met with Dr Saleem Badat of the Andrew W Mellon Foundation to discuss their research projects that were made possible through funding from the Foundation.