The Woman Who Hunts Poachers

Photo credit: Kinessa Johnson and True Activist

Editor’s Note: DGR does not endorse Kinessa Johnson or VETPAW, and views significant parts of their work as problematic (e.g. pervasive use of nationalistic propaganda, an implicit white saviour narrative, and echoes of imperialism). However, this phenomenon is interesting and worth discussing.

by Liam Campbell

Kinessa Johnson is a heavily tattooed U.S. military veteran, she is also an experienced firearms instructor and mechanic. After completing one tour in Afghanistan she joined VETPAW, an NGO that focuses on providing training and resources for park rangers and anti-poaching groups that protect endangered species. According to Johnson, park rangers in Africa face extreme danger “they lost about 187 guys last year over trying to save rhinos and elephants.” VETPAW’s response is to send U.S. combat veterans to provide specialist training, in hopes that they can help park rangers reduce both poaching and their own casualties.

According to Johnson “after the first obvious priority of enforcing existing poaching laws, educating the locals on protecting their country’s natural resources is most important overall.” Although this perspective has an implicitly patronising tone, there is also some validity in it — park rangers are often under resourced, which results in poor training and inadequate equipment. Sending rangers highly-trained specialists makes sense, as does sending them better equipment. What gives me pause about a group like VETPAW is how they’ve framed their mission:

“VETPAW is a group of post 9/11 US veterans with combat skills who are committed to protecting and training Park Rangers to combat poaching on the ground in Africa.

We employ veterans to help fight the increasing unemployment rate of this group in the US but also, and most importantly, because their skills learned on the frontlines in Afghanistan is unrivaled. These highly trained service men and women lead the war against brutality and oppression, for both human beings and the animal kingdom.”

What stands out to me is the combination of nationalistic buzzwords and the patronising framing. Why specify “post 9/11 US veterans?” Because those are all trigger words for American nationalism. It’s also problematic that their mission frames U.S. veterans as champions who opposed “brutality and oppression.” Last, but not least, is their use of the phrase “animal kingdom” which is a subconscious frame implying an inherent hierarchy (where, presumably, either humans or a christian god presides at the top).

To me, this phenomenon is reminiscent of proto ecofascism, the first seed of a new form of fascist movement that wraps itself in nationalistic flags and hides behind the morality of environmentalism. It’s also concerning that groups like VETPAW would have an obvious appeal to combat veterans who are interested in hunting economically desperate Africans, under the guise of charity.

From the a Deep Green Resistance analysis perspective, this is a complex issue. It would obviously be better to quietly and respectfully provide resources to indigenously-led groups but, on the other hand, if organisations like this end up resulting in tangible reductions in poaching, that may be better than nothing. What do you think about this issue? Let us know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “The Woman Who Hunts Poachers”

  1. I believe it’s always healthy to remain skeptical about the combination “U.S. military” and “environmental protection”. Why would this group of US vets be so altruistically concerned about the well-being of African elephants and rhinos? How is this org funded? Will they keep combating only poachers, or who’s the next planned target? So many questions.

  2. Sounds good doesn’t it. the REAL problem with poaching etc is that HUGE CARTELS are at the root of it. One person worked almost 5 years uncovering it. He finally got a big guy to get the court treatment in front of a judge with an official to testify against him. When he was called to testify he waffled and couldn’t exactly say this was the man he had seen etc etc etc……Obviously they got to him thru his family who would all be dead IF………………… and so it goes. Trophy hunting is not the problem. Poaching is not exactly the problem but I bet the cartel pays them to do it, so raise their standard of living and whatever else it takes to make it unprofitable to risk their lives poaching. We all know why they do so how can they be blamed. THE CARTELS ARE THE PROBLEM. When the one written about in Esquire who even went undercover at great risk – its the issue with Keanu Reeves in black on the cover pretty sure – is confronted with a pile of tusks worth 30 MILLION from one big deal, the other stuff people scream about fades into insignificance.

  3. The pressure of extinction mounting on these magnificent wild animals is coming from many different directions today. There is a growing competition for habitat, land and water resources between the African people and the wildlife . Wildlife has a tendency to wander out of the artificial “park” boundaries and into human settlements unwittingly causing chaos & destruction for the people there. Extreme poverty is forcing the Africans into poaching for food and to supply the “cartels” with the wildlife products that are in huge demand on the open market. Catastrophic climate chaos is slowly rearraigning the habitat creating existential problems for the people & the wildlife. There are many more angles to this complex & multivariant problem that all pose a threat to the wildlife’s continued existence in Africa.
    The whole concept of a “game reserve” as a place for wealthy, white males to “bag” trophies or for modern day tourists to take photographs is a holdover from the European colonial era in Africa which does not settle very well with the local African populations. Usually the profits gleaned from legal and illegal activities do not benefit the local Africans at all. Africans tend to be disdainful of the whole concept of a “game reserve” as a holdover from the colonial past.
    Macho & fascistic, predatory American militarism is not the answer to this complex multifaceted problem.

  4. While cartels and the various markets for these items are at the root of the problem, we can’t forget that the people doing the actual poaching aren’t killing animals for fun. They are trying to feed their families in a post colonial mess. There are very few things I would refuse to do to take care of the people (and animals) who depend on me.

    So I think that should be the main focus – helping to empower people so they can develop their own alternatives. I think there’s definitely a place for armed groups like this – but they should be going after the buyers, not poor Billy Bob who needs to buy medicine for his child.

    You also make a great point about the “white savior” mentality that makes this kind of thing so appealing to first world people. There’s a little bit of this in all of us, so we need to wrap our minds around it before trying to go “help” in situations like this.

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