Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner
began in 2014 when a man died climbing a scarlet macaw nest in the Moskitia
region of Honduras, and I beheld the grieving family and village members
as they wept beneath the tree from which he had fallen. Seeing their love and
memory of this man naked before me, it opened up a deeper understanding of the
ways of poachers. The poacher’s surviving family came to me with the remaining
macaw nestling (one had died at the base of the tree with the man) and asked me
to examine the chick and make recommendations for its health. I did this despite
knowing that the bird was doomed to captivity and the illegal wildlife trade.
That year I visited several village homes where parrots lived that had been
snatched from the wild. I spoke with these people, who loved their birds,
though they did not treat them very well, due to ignorance and cultural
the following years more and more villages have stopped poaching parrots and
more and more of them have confessed to me that they were once robbers of
nests. These are the same people who are working with me for the conservation
of their endangered scarlet and great green macaws, and yellow-naped amazons. Some
tell me that they don’t need to take a nest or two every year because they
receive stipends for their conservation work as nest and population monitors
and rangers. The son of the man who died told me that working for conservation
“allows me to love the birds.”
it is 2017 and I find less and less difference between myself and poachers.
Yes, some poachers and their extended poaching families are poaching as a
business, hardened to the needs of the parrots and other wildlife, and to their
own village community who asks them to desist, but they won’t. One family can
literally take out hundreds of endangered parrots in an area in a year, causing
much damage. But people do not poach just for monetary gain. There are a host
of other needs they meet when they tear apart avian families, and sometimes
burn or chop down trees to gain access to the towering nests.
their needs helps us have choice on how to connect with them and develop
conservation strategies that have greater chances of success as we seek to
value the needs of all involved. Understanding the needs of others helps us
understand and accept not just ourselves, but all of humanity. We need this
understanding and acceptance for the long haul of nurturing ourselves and all
who poach are also meeting their needs for:
Respect – climbing trees is
a difficult and dangerous task, and the climbers are admired. They also gain
respect from their families who appreciate the income.
Meaning – poachers are
making a living, or supplementing their living, and find meaning and purpose in
the goals of hunting wildlife. In some instances, they are carrying on a
multigenerational family tradition, as well as thousands of years of a culture
that has always had parrots and their feathers in trade, as well as in the
cooking pot and adorning their clothes and headdresses.
Flow – poachers spend a lot of
time attuned to wildlife and nature as a whole, and such a focus allows one to
flow with the pursuit of doing something you are good at, and which has
meaning. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as the "state
of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and
the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity
that nothing else seems to matter."
Kinesthetic joy – using
one’s body to move through the forests and savannas, often hiking many miles in
one day, climbing trees, and sometimes running from rangers brings one into
full use of one’s body and interacting with the world
Connection – trading in
wildlife gives you something to talk about and a way to connect with prospective
buyers and other poachers. Some, but not all poachers, also connect, if not
consciously then in an embodied way, to the birds they must handle and feed. It
is not often an empathetic connection that considers the needs of the animal,
but it a connection none-the-less. Touching, listening to, talking to and
feeding these birds is all part of the connecting experience.
Nurture - though
poachers do not always nurture their birds, they must feed them, which meets
the need to nurture. They realize that the people who will take care of the
young birds – their families at home,
potential buyers, or others to whom they gift a bird – will also enjoy caring for the bird. They are
also nurturing their family by having an income.
Beauty – there is nothing
like a flying scarlet macaw, whose long tail contains rainbow colors beyond
reckoning. How can there be that much beauty in one bird? The poachers, I
believe, are hunters of beauty made incarnate in flesh.
entertainment – there is a thrill to hunting and interacting with the unknown
and mysterious world of wildlife.
Contribution and efficiency
– poachers earn income for their family and are pleased with how many birds
they can take in a season.
Looking over this list of needs I
see that it is not so very different from those of bird owners, veterinarians,
and conservationists. The pursuit of wildlife, either to protect or to ravage,
meets similar universal needs that exist in all of us.
So, it should have been of no
surprise to me when one of the local firefighters told me of a low nest that is
easily climbable, which they did, and how he and the other wildfire patrollers
commented that they wanted to take the birds and have them in their home, I
exclaimed, “So do I!” (and quickly added that I could not because it is not
good for the birds). Someone did end up poaching those chicks a few weeks later,
and I mourn for them, and for all of us. For when I see pictures of chicks in
nests, especially young yellow-naped amazons, I find myself wanting to hold
them and have them around, all the time, and that desire has dangerous
Understanding our needs and the
strategies we take to meet these needs, as conservationist or poacher, helps us
move on to choices where neither's needs trump the other, nor the birds
with which we are so strongly entwined. Maybe there are other ways we can meet
these needs in people, that might mitigate
their desire to poach, such as training them as conservationists, that might
also mitigate their desire to poach. With different options, they and we can choose
liberation, for ourselves and for the parrots we covet.