We sat in the slivered shade of the acacia tree outside of Serengeti National Park. Deus, a 30-something Lutheran pastor, used a stick in the sand to tally the income he generated per month from poaching. He paused after drawing an equal sign. “I preach in church every week,” he said, smiling. “Except when I’m hunting, of course.”

“Church?” I asked. “Doesn’t your denomination see poaching as sin?”

“Oh no,” he replied. “God gives us every animal.”

I stared at him, and he sensed my unease at his benediction of an illegal activity. “Don’t worry,” he said, patting my knee reassuringly. “I pray over every animal I kill. I thank God for each and every one.”

Of course, I knew that God loved the world, but it dawned on me then that Deus’s comment exemplified Thomas Moore’s simple idea in Care of the Soul. “If you don’t love things in particular, you cannot love the world,” Moore wrote, “because the world doesn’t exist except in individual things.”

I was idealistic when I met Deus during my research on human-wildlife interactions in 2007, and the particular thing I loved was wilderness—one unencroached on by poachers. John Muir and Henry David Thoreau’s wilderness: large landscapes unspoiled by human habitation and development. Places to escape to, to unclutter the mind and rejuvenate. Jesus valued wilderness, I reasoned, seeking it out on several occasions. So as a grad student in my mid-20s, I sought it out myself in Tanzania, embarking on a research expedition in the unspoiled wilderness of sub-Saharan Africa.

Everybody Poaches

When I first began interviewing subjects ...

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