Rethinking the Nature and History of Conservation

Written by
Morgan Kelly, Princeton Environmental Institute
May 2, 2017

White Hunters, Black Poachers: Africa and the Science of Conservation. Photo by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications.

White Hunters, Black Poachers: Africa and the Science of Conservation

A photo of a lone white rhinoceros is projected onto a screen behind Jacob Dlamini, a Princeton University assistant professor of history, as his students argue the justification of using violence against the poachers and criminal syndicates who illegally hunt the animal for its iconic horn—and the moral authority non-Africans have to push for those measures.

"What is it about poaching that makes someone automatically surrender their right to life?" asked William Lathrop, a senior majoring in religion and pursuing a certificate in environmental studies. "How do we determine that people no longer have a right to life?"

"Are we making poachers into vermin and treating them the same way?" asked Clare Jeong, a junior studying history and environmental science. Myesha Jemison, a junior majoring in Spanish and Portuguese, replied, "The difference between poachers and vermin is that we hold humans to a social standard."

"What would you say to a poacher who asks, 'What's a rhino mean to you?'" said sophomore Nicole Kalhorn. "How do you answer that?"

Dlamini created this class, "White Hunters, Black Poachers: Africa and the Science of Conservation," which he taught for the first time this semester, to encourage these exchanges. He developed the class with support from Princeton's Program in African Studies. His goal is to help students understand the cultural and political assumptions that underpin conservation, but are often passed off as science, he said.

Read more at News at Princeton.