Edge Effects: “Poachers” and Uncanny Animals on the Borders of South Africa’s Kruger National Park

Loading Map....

Date(s) - April 14, 2017
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

BSB 103, Behavioral Sciences Building

Categories No Categories

Edge Effects: “Poachers” and Uncanny Animals on the Borders of South Africa’s Kruger National Park
Dr. David Bunn


This talk is about the changing boundary management of one of the world’s most famous game reserves. It begins with an examination of wildlife fences in Africa as places of complex human-animal exchange. We then consider local beliefs about witchcraft and the uncanny actions of dangerous animals on the edge of conservation areas. Drawing on long-term oral historical research, we look at accounts of threshold-haunting lions, in testimony by retired and active duty field rangers, and Mozambican migrants who still walk across the park at night. Kruger’s boundary management moved through many historical phases, during and after apartheid. Today, border control is increasingly in the hands of the military, as a response by the South African government to worldwide pressure to combat soaring rhino poaching.  The talk concludes with consideration of the historical and political drivers of rhino horn trafficking, plus the varied solutions being proposed: shoot-to-kill protocols, farming of rhino, and community co-management of wildlife resources. At the heart of the debate, is a fierce disagreement about the meaning of poaching, and what is often termed the “war on poaching”. For communities east and west of the national park, and for Kruger officials themselves, however, an older rhetoric around witchcraft, protective magic and human-lion transformations, is once again being pressed into rhetorical service to explain this new conflict.

This talk is sponsored by the Department of English and the Department of Anthropology.  The event is free and open to the public.

Date: April 14, 2017
Location: Behavioral Sciences Building, Room 103
Time: 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.

About the Speaker

Dr. David Bunn recently  joined the Natural Resources Ecology Lab [NREL] from his position as Director of the Wits Knowledge Hub for Rural Development at Wits Rural Facility, one of the largest and most prestigious rural research bases in Africa.

David Bunn’s research and teaching is strongly interdisciplinary in nature, drawing on spatial theory, political geography, and cultural anthropology. He has worked for many years on the relationship between communities and protected areas in the savanna biome. His long-term research projects in South Africa’s Kruger National Park include reference to the political economy of borders, interactions between Mozambican refugees and lions, and Southern Africa’s wildlife economy. Exploring the intersection of race, ethnicity, and conservation management, he has produced films and studies of early African game rangers.

Outside academia, he has worked in government and environmental trusts, pursuing environmental justice for the groups that border protected areas. Current interests include land conflict in southern Africa, and on gendered authority over communal rangelands. Beyond that, he is interested in human-animal conflict; trans-boundary conservation areas; neo-liberalism and nature; environmental film and writing; anthropologies of nature; indigenous knowledge systems; and environmental area studies (Africa, South Africa, Australia, India, and elsewhere) with an interdisciplinary and social sciences emphasis.