OPINION: You wouldn't want to be the next knucklehead who trudges into the dock of any southern courthouse charged with poaching.
Not with all the attention being given recently to the rising scale of the problem.
It's the sort of thing that is liable to get a judge thinking about the need to send a message.
Then again, there are worse things than having the court treat a poaching charge seriously.
Like having a court treat such a charge as an almost inconsequential addition to a more serious one of, say, endangering, wounding or killing someone else.
And whether or not the poachers acknowledge as much to themselves, that's the real danger that police and farming representatives have been citing in recent times. Collectively the authorities could scarcely have done more to broadcast fair warning of the risks and consequences.
In the cases of injury or death, those penalties go far beyond whatever the courts will thump the offender with. The social stigma and the guilt are liable to burn long and hard.
It's reached the stage where the wider public has its dander up about the the whole issue. Even from an animal welfare viewpoint, things are getting ugly out there, following the death of 500 sheep near Riversdale. They appear to have smothered after being disturbed by an intruder and crammed into a narrow gully.
Police are still investigating that one. If they catch those involved, their names will be widely broadcast and long remembered as a result.
Stupidly dangerous spotlighters have also been causing alarm after DOC workers found themselves in the target light near Piano Flat. That incident prompted further accounts of farm workers and their houses being spotlit.
This can set up an instant of hideous danger, not badly described by Winton Constable Steve Winsloe recently: "It takes one poacher to see a glint of an eye that may not be an animal and they pull the trigger".
The significant community mobilisation against poaching goes way beyond lamentations in the media, the erection of warning signs and even the installation of surveillance equipment.
In places like Central Otago anti-poaching schemes have reportedly been operating well. The likes of the Shut the Gate on Rural Crime initiative have opened up the possibility for anonymous Crimestoppers dob-ins, and at the same time rural police have been making it known for landowners not to be shy about calling them out of bed.
Vigilance is needed. Vigilanteeism isn't.
So there's been lots of activity against poaching, though it must be said that the courts have hardly been crammed with the consequences to date.
But as the public mood gets steelier, that's shaping up to change. The rural community is increasingly getting its act together.
And the stakes are high enough that a poacher would be needing an extraordinary lack of imagination not to get the sense that he needs to pull his woolly head in if he doesn't want his own darkened activities to be illuminated big-time.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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