A large percentage of black poachers from South Africa and Mozambique will visit a witchdoctor before going to poach, a South African antipoaching expert said.
“Witchcraft is big among the poachers,” the antipoacher who asked not to be named said.
“He’ll bless them and bless their firearm and give them some power.”
Poachers pay witchdoctors to tie pieces of magic string around their arms, waists and the barrel of their rifles to make them believe they can’t be killed.
The witchdoctors also put spells on the poachers to make them believe they are invisible to antipoaching soldiers.
The belief in witchdoctors, also called Muti men, is widespread throughout African culture.
“The use of muti in all forms of violent crime in SA is common. Marijuana is also used very commonly,” South African wildlife vet, Dr Karen Trendler said.
“Pangolin scales are believed to make poacher immune to bullets. Poachers have been arrested with scales in their pockets,” Ms Trendler said.
Dr Trendler, who specialises in treating the mutilated faces of rhinos that have survived poaching attacks, often finds evidence of black magic at the crime scene.
“We have found various odd packets of muti at poaching scenes. We have no idea what the contents are but they are tiny little bundles with plant and animal matter inside. Some are in plastic others in animal skin.”
Dr Trendler said a large number of witchdoctors supply muti for poaching.
Every village has a muti man and Johannesburg and Durban have big muti markets.
“Most of the products used are from wild animals so this has other conservation impacts,” the wildlife vet said.
The antipoacher said he once caught a rhino poacher in Mozambique who believed he could turn himself into a tree.
“They’ll even mark rhino after they’ve shot them. They’ll slash their eyes because they believe then they can’t see them and they can’t send messages to the next rhino,” he said
“There are rhino carcasses all over the place that are slashed across the eye.”
“There is also an increase of rhino being sold for muti purposes. Historically and culturally rhino was not used in Southern Africa but availability is developing a market, Dr Trendler said.