Document Type


Publication Date



The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is one of the most acute global conservation challenges. This paper examines what is driving young men to enter the rhino horn trade while advancing theory on environmental conflict. We show how the illicit rhino horn economy is a telling instance of environmental conflict—largely between ground-level hunters and increasingly militarized state conservation forces—that emerges from a context of radical inequality. We examine how practices ranging from labor migration and sidelining rural development to biodiversity conservation itself have profoundly transformed the Mozambican-South African borderlands from which many hunters originate, in turn generating poverty, exclusion, and vulnerability across the region. Juxtaposed against the wealth afforded by rhino hunting, this changing agrarian political economy has created an enabling environment for the rhino horn economy to take off. Illicit hunting, in other words, has become an attractive albeit risky livelihood alternative. We close by examining two questions that broaden our understanding of both environmental conflict and IWT: under what conditions might poverty lead to environmental harm and to what extent should such conflict be read as resistance that can bring about more just ends.

Copyright Statement

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in The Journal of Peasant Studies online on August 30, 2021, available online: