Wildlife poaching is among the quandaries the global society is facing today. The illegal activity has garnered attention internationally founded on the serious ramifications of the practice. It is among the human activities that are a threat to the natural resources. The negative consequences of poaching are also the basis for the global endeavors to counter it. Research has been carried out to establish the ramifications of poaching towards the end of putting to an end the negative practice. From research, it is possible to identify the prevalence of poaching, and the consequences to the environment and the society in general. Following the negative effects, it is also critical to look out for the current policy solutions to the problem and recommend some ways of addressing it. Therefore, the reality is that wildlife poaching is a serious issue necessitating immediate solution.
Defining Wildlife Poaching
Researchers have investigated the issue of animal poaching, highlighting the criticality of the problem (Bergman, 2009; Pastor, 2010). Most of the definitions highlighted condemn the problem; hence, informing the reasons for taking the dilemma seriously (Estrada, 2014, Challender & MacMillan, 2014). A definition of poaching, as offered by the Encyclopedia of Earth is an unlawful hunting, capturing, and killing of animals. The practice takes place through various ways. It also amounts to failure to observe regulations for lawful harvesting of animals, leading to unlawful killing (Challender & MacMillan, 2014). Lemieux (2014) looked at poaching as a lethal criminal action against wildlife. However, while the crime is perpetrated against animals, humans and the environment experience the effects. Hence, poaching is a crime that should be prosecuted like other criminal activities. In fact, the crime is entrenched within the legal code for individual countries and the global community.
Pastor (2010) established that poaching is a practice involving prohibited or unsanctioned hunting. In the definition, there is an aspect of specificity in the animal species that are being hunted. The author also provided two main purposes for the practice. The first reason is the killing of animals, while the second motive is for profits. Challender & MacMillan (2014) have proved from research that some people hunt particular species to experience the challenge involved in hunting them down, or simply to boast about being able to kill the rare beast. In fact, this kind of poaching has led to the killing of some of the endangered species. Other people poach because of the commercial interests associated with selling the animals in the black market, which has thrived internationally (Lemieux, 2014). On the hand, poachers hunt and kill animals to benefit from some of their body parts, such as ivory tusks of elephants and rhinos. It is worth noting that poaching has caused serious concerns internationally based on the serious effects the practice has globally.
Prevalence of Poaching
The statistics on poaching depend on the individual country and the specific animal being poached. In some countries, poaching is more prevalent than in other nations, hence indicating that some animals are at a greater threat of being killed. Globally, elephants are amongst the animals that are under threat of poaching for the value of their ivory tusks (Lemieux, 2014). Figure 1 indicates a pile of tusks harvested from the animals.
(Source: Maisels et al., 2013).
From the figure, it is obvious that to achieve such a huge pile, elephants in hundreds must have died. Archie & Chiyo (2012) estimated that 50 to 100 elephants meet their death on a daily basis because of their ivory tusks. According to the International Rhino Foundation, out of the dozens of rhino species that existed on the earth at some point, there are only five species left (Haas & Ferreira, 2016). On the plains of Africa, there were over 100,000 black rhinos, but currently, the whole continent has just 2,207. Most of the animals have been killed in the process of harvesting their horns. It is also predicted that, without effective measures of negating the practice, the animal populations will continue to diminish or even lead to complete extinction.
Besides the elephant and rhino, other animals are in danger of extinction due to poaching. Haas & Ferreira (2016) estimated that poachers have killed at least 5,940 African rhinos beginning from 2008. Just like the poaching of elephants, rhino poaching has reached a crisis point. Statistics provided by the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) under the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission have indicated an increase in the number of African rhinos poached by the close of 2015 (Koen et al., 2016). The increase has been noted for the sixth consecutive years, with at least 1,338 rhinos being poached across the continent in 2015. In South Africa, the population of rhinos has remained the largest, but the animals are in danger following an increase in the level of poaching in the country. Figure 2 below indicates the exponential rise in poaching from 2007 to 2015. During 2015, 1,175 rhinos were killed in the country, marking a minor increase from the figure of 1,215 rhinos recorded the previous year. In fact, this was the only period since 2007 that a decline was noted.
(South African Department of Environmental Affairs, 2016).
Eliason (2012) revealed that sea turtles are among the victims of illegal poaching. The animals are killed for food, while their skins and shells are used in making things such as sunglasses, jewelry, instruments, tourist trinkets, and wall hangings. Still, a fast decrease in the number of African lions has been reported. The poaching of the animals has been implicated on the readiness of the Westerners and Asians to pay well for the head trophies of the animals. Another reason has been the increased demand for fast revenue by the impoverished Africans. The Enkosini Wildlife Sanctuary reports that there has been an increase in the hunting of the animals for sport. Other targeted animals for sport are primates. Many species of birds are being poached for their beaks, some of which are used in the production of drugs (Pires & Clarke, 2012). In addition, sharks, as well as other sea animals, are captured and killed for food (Purcell, Hair & Mills, 2012). In fact, the list of the animals targeted for poaching is increasing on a daily basis.
Prevalence in the United States
In the United States, the animal that is at great risk is the mule deer, which is killed for sport purposes. The population of the mule deer’s population has been fluctuating drastically for many years now. The population was increasing during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. In fact, the population increase during the time was because mule deer were not at threat of cougars and wolves, which humans had already killed. The peak of the population was in 1980s at approximately 300,000. Within the last decade of the 20th century, a decline in the population of mule deer and blacktail deer was noted (Lemieux, 2014). Indeed, the population of whitetail deer also declined. It is worth noting that in the United States, the decline in the population of animals is primarily based on the sport, especially hunting, unlike in Africa where animals are in danger because of the economic interests of the poachers. The population of deer has declined in different parts of the country, including Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado (McWilliams, Meier & García, 2016). However, these are not the only states in the country where poaching is common.
Prevalence in Other Countries
Vira & Ewing (2014) elucidated that Africa is the most affected continent when issues of poaching are considered. Each passing day, almost 100 elephants meet their death through poaching for their ivory tusks. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cities) produced a report indicating that there are 80 percent of ivory seizures happening in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Events from the recent past have revealed that the increased number of ivory captured in Kenya was on its way to China. In only one Tanzanian Park, the Selous, 67 percent of elephants have been killed over a period of only four years (Kideghesho, 2016). Continuing reports and surveys are indicating that in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is almost complete extinction of elephants. A recent audit in Uganda avers that 1.3 tons of ivory went missing from the stockpile in the country. In Tanzania, a UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) showed that there is a huge connection with China in relation to trafficking of ivory. The reality is that there has been an increase in the loss of animal lives in Africa due to poaching.
Gabon has over 50% of forest elephants in Africa, with more than 40,000 in estimated population. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Minkebe Park in Gabon was home to the vast population of forest elephant. The park has lost approximately 11,100 animals within under a decade because of the ivory trade-driven poaching. Surveys carried out in the recent past have revealed that two-thirds of elephants in Gabon have disappeared beginning of 2004. It is estimated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) that most of the lost animals have disappeared in the past half a decade. In just three years, ivory-hunting poachers have seen approximately 100,000 deaths of animals in their hands in the name of poaching. Central Africa is the greatest affected part of the continent regarding poaching of elephants, resulting in a decrease of 64% in only a decade. The elephants in Africa are in the danger of extinction based on the increased poaching.
Leading Reasons for Poaching
Von Essen et al., (2014) suggested that there are various reasons for poaching, but they can be classified into two groups, for sports purposes and poaching for economic reasons.
Especially in the Western nations such as the United States, hunting for sport is very common. For example, the decline in the population of various species in the United States is due to the killing of animals for sport drives. In Oregon, the poachers are rural societies who go to the woods to kill animals for fun. The poachers use firearms in killing the animals, some of which the meat is used for food. Yasuda (2012) elucidated that it is common for Americans to go out hunting, which simply means killing animals for enjoyment. For some of these people, hunting has developed into a habit that has become very difficult to break. In fact, there are licensed hunters who have the legal authority to hunt and kill animals, but these people are restricted to certain seasons of the year. The population of deer in Oregon has gone down from the peak at 300,000 to 216,000, with poaching being the main reason for the decline.
Poaching for Economic Reasons
The second main reason for poaching is the profit making aspect. Von Essen et al., (2014) established that, internationally, there is a lucrative business for some important parts of animals. Bergman (2009) revealed that poaching is the third most lucrative illegal businesses in the world, following drugs and arms, and human trafficking. The business is estimated to be worth between $10 and $20 billion per annum. Poaching is perpetrated for getting ivory, pelts, and animal parts, which are viewed as being worth some money. Lemieux & Clarke (2009) have indicated that poachers are primarily skilled hunters residing in impoverished parts of the world. On the black market, some animals or animal parts are worth a fortune. Additionally, some poachers are feeling more secure in their endeavors given that they have formations in the form of organized criminal organizations that allow for ease in getting the money and evading law enforcement. For the profit making drive, many animals are being killed because of their different parts that are valuable, especially in the cosmetic field.
Poaching is done for the purpose of getting different parts of the animal for sale. Elephants ivory tusks are the leading parts for sale in the black market internationally. While tusks could be obtained from government stockpiles, this is not the leading contributor of trade in the tusks. Poaching of African elephants is the main contributor towards the trade. Illegal trafficking of the ivory on the black market informs the increasing carcasses of elephants across Africa. Therefore, Yasuda (2012) felt that stopping poaching is the most effective way of ending the ivory that flows out of Africa to the rest of the world (Leonard, 2005). Ivory is a great business in the West and Asia, primarily because of the products that are manufactured from it, including jewelry and carvings as symbols of status. The prospects of getting money from the products are driving the West and Asian markets, leading to the increase in the practice.
The world has witnessed an increase in the demand for ivory as Duffy, et al. (2016) established in a survey. The efforts to meet the demand are the primary reason for the death of about 50,000 elephants per annum. The problem is that the death of these animals is mainly unsustainable. The prices of ivory in the China’s black market and other countries run around $1000 per pound. In a recent study, poachers are estimated to have killed almost 30 percent of the savanna elephants in East Africa between 2007 and 2014. Between 2002 and 2013, poachers slaughtered almost two-thirds of forest elephants in Central Africa. In 18 sub-Saharan countries, it is estimated that there are below 400,000 elephants left (Wyatt, 2016). In fact, if the trend continues, the animals will be completely wiped out of the face of the earth. Elephants take long to mature and their gestation period is long. Therefore, the rate at which they are being killed is faster than the frequency they are capable of reproducing, explaining the potential for their extinction.
Worth noting is that the elephant tusks are not the only parts of animals that are harvested through poaching. Rhino horns are also useful parts that underlie the increase in the poaching, and the danger posed to the rhino population in the world. The horns are harvested and sold for use in the Eastern traditional medicines (Koen et al., 2017). The horns are also used in the making of dagger handles and for other uses including in carvings. The rhino horns are highly prized, going up to $40,000 per kilogram. Evidently, the price is much more than that of gold. The animals that are believed to have some medicinal value are poached to bring income within the black market. The tiger is the common victim in this form of poaching. In fact, the poached animals have a ready market in the different parts of the world, which has resulted in a serious problem globally (Wyatt, 2016). More animals will be killed because of lack of effective measures to control poaching as well as the aspect of a ready market for the animal parts.
There are many other minor reasons for poaching besides the profit-driven reasons and for the sports. However, although they are minor reasons, their effect on animal population is serious. There are some tribes in different parts of the world where poaching is carried out, especially as a form of sacrifice during the rituals as well as to produce good omens. In some parts of China and other Asian countries, poaching is perpetrated out of the conviction that some parts of animals, such as tigers have medicinal value. Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM) is one of the main reasons for poaching in the country (Gordon & Cook, 2013). Regardless of the increased use of the approach to treatment, there is no empirical evidence of their effectiveness. Tigers are also used in China for other reasons besides medicine, including food and spiritual value. In addition, there are people who feel unsafe when the animals are living within their environment and end up killing them for the perception of safety. Finally, some societies will hunt down and kill animals for the game meat.
Link Between Poverty and Poaching
Evidently, although poaching occurs in other parts of the world, including the developed countries, the profit-driven poaching primarily occurs in Africa. Duffy & John (2013) highlighted a strong relationship between poverty, poaching, and trafficking. Poaching that occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa has poverty as one of its driving factors. Leonard (2005) suggested that the prospects of getting quick cash have led to the increase in the killing of elephants and rhino in the continent. Using the connection to the organized crime, and the ease with which the parts are sold, informs the prevalence of the illegal business. It makes a lot of economic sense to the poachers that by simply killing an animal, they will have ready cash waiting for them. The reality offers the incentive for the decision to kill the animals (McNall, 2015). Corruption, amid poverty, also allows for the ease with which the animals are killed and sold. The poachers are prepared to take any risk because of the prospects of getting out of poverty (Duffy & John, 2013). For this reason, as long as there is no strong and effective law enforcement, poaching will continue into the future.
Poaching in Africa occurs frequently compared to the other parts of the world since extreme poverty characterizes the region. The huge sums of money that poaching and trafficking fetches is the driving factor for the corresponding high levels of poaching in the continent (Duffy & John, 2013). The animals that fetch the most amounts of money for the poachers are elephants and rhinos, rendering them the most victims of poaching. In fact, together with the money collected from animal poaching, other ritualistic purposes use parts of animals or whole animals. Animals are also used in distinguishing hierarchies; setting apart the peasants from the members of the higher levels in the hierarchy. For instance, it is common for a king in Uganda to sit on the skin of a leopard on the throne (Duffy et al., 2016). In fact, leopard skins in Uganda are normally believed to exhibit special aspects of magic, and they have varied applications in the performance of witchcraft.
Effects of Wildlife Poaching
As it is evident from the research, poaching is a serious predicament to the locals and the international community. There has been a noted drastic decline in the number of animal species because of extreme poaching. Poachers destroy the natural resources and the beauty of the environment because of the illegal and dangerous practice (Gore et al., 2016). Animals are a critical part of the ecosystem, and whenever any act is perpetrated that disturbs their numbers, the effects are experienced throughout the ecosystem. The predators versus prey equation highlight the serious impact of altering the populations of animals. A good indication of the serious destruction of the animals is the effect on the population of tigers over the past seven decades. There has been the complete extinction of three out of the nine tiger species, including the Bali, Caspian, and the Javan. Efforts by conservatists to save tigers have not yielded results (Liberg et al., 2012). Unfortunately, the populations of all the species have continued to decline, creating an additional destruction of the ecosystem.
The poaching of elephants, for instance, distrusts a part of the ecosystem that is critical to the other organisms. According to Pastor (2010), sustenance of all the organisms and the optical conservation of the environment are highly dependent upon the balance of the entire organism. On the contrary, poaching upsets the equilibrium, with serious ramifications on the environment and the other organisms that depend on it for survival. The idea indicated by Chiras (2014) is that when humans remove the predatory animals from the equation, the practice leads to an increase in the prey animals. The result is normally the destabilization and decrease of vegetation. In the same way, removing or reducing the prey animals from the equation has the potential to create a drop in the numbers of predator due to a decline in food supply. Therefore, it is critical that all the organisms in the equation remain naturally balanced to avoid the detrimental effects. When this balance is not maintained, the entire ecosystem suffers due to the unsustainable levels of poaching.
All the animals in the ecosystem are important. The indication of the reality can be achieved using the case of elephants, the most endangered species of the recent time. Most of those involved in the business of poaching and selling tasks may not understand the actual implication, potentially because of a lack of understanding of the significant role played by the animals in the environment. Elephants are viewed as the cornerstone species within the landscape of Africa. McKinney, Schoch & Yonavjak (2007) added that the animals have an important role to play in balancing the other species within the ecosystem. In fact, no animal that does not have a part to play in maintaining the balance. One of the important roles of elephants is generating the nutrient-rich manure; hence, replenishing the depleted soils. They are also responsible for creating salt licks, high in nutrients that are used by the other animal species. Elephants remain the iconic species within the ecosystem, highlighting the need for conserving them.
Elephants are simply used as the example, but the reality is that all animal species are critical for the thriving of the ecosystem and the environment. The failure to understand the importance of the animals due to ignorance is the foundation for the negative effects being experienced. Becker et al., (2013) considered the cost of the ignorance of the poachers and their quest for easy money. While there is no way of indicating with certainty what might be the impact on the environment following the complete depletion of the animals, it is more important that the world does not reach to that point. On the same note, Gil (2015) avers that elephants have both social and economic value, which will vanish with a complete depletion of the animals. The same applies to all other species within the environment. Any possible value of the animals to the ecosystem will disappear with their disappearance.