The poor man living in a hut with a pregnant wife and 3 skeletal children. One perhaps with a tear running down a sunken cheek, the wife begging the husband to find them enough for a meal. Finally, in exasperation the man reluctantly sets off on a dangerous, one-time mission to take part in killing an elephant or rhino. The few dollars will feed his hungry family for a week (if he makes it back alive).
Is this what you imagine when you think of a poacher?
Think again. Although poverty is one aspect of poaching and can be a reason, it does not account for all of it. In fact, wealth is the driving force behind the most destructive killings: mainly our elephants and rhinos.
There are two types of poachers:
1) Subsistence Poachers – they target small game, have low technology, and hunt for food.
2) Commercial Poachers – they operate with organized groups for rare animals (elephants/rhinos) and utilize advanced technology.
Individuals who poach in poor communities are doing it for one of two reasons. Either they need the meat, in which case it is usually smaller animals who typically do not have as much effect on the ecosystem, as it is usually less often. Or there is a wealthy source seeking parts from an animal, such as the ivory of elephants or horn of rhino, and this has a more devastating impact on the environment. In the second case, obviously without the demand, there would be no poaching.
In 2012, the wildlife monitoring network Traffic, issued a report showing a direct correlation between the rising income in Vietnam and the rising demand for ivory and horn. In addition as a use for “medicinal cures”, it has become the status symbol of the elite in Vietnamese society, used during business deals and social gatherings, the rhino horn is ground to a powder, mixed with water and drunk.
With horn and ivory worth their weight in gold, it is the prized commodity taken and sold by everyone who can get their filthy hands on it.
So while the rich business men are vying for ego boosts in Vietnam, there are poaching syndicates taking advantage and making this a business of their own. These syndicates are equipped above and beyond the occasional villager poaching for his family, they have militia training, equipment and resources at their disposal.
Some of these groups are involved with organized terrorist groups such as Somalia’s Al-Shabab, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Darfur’s Janjaweed. One group in Sudan, the Séléka rebel coalition is suspected of the 2013 mass slaughter of 26 elephants at the Dzanga-Ndoki national park in the CAR. The previous year, the same group was responsible for 300 elephant deaths.
In addition to subsistence and commercial poaching, in a 2013 study done by Evidence on Demand, the lines sometimes become blurred into what they term as a hybrid poacher.
For example: the rise in commercial hunting for bushmeat shows how traditional subsistence poaching has been transformed in response to the arrival of logging companies in remote forests where a workforce has to be fed. Likewise, the Chinese construction camps who allegedly seek ivory, and possibly bushmeat would fall into that category.
Sophistication, technology, and an expanding market make for ambitious and deadly modern-day poachers. But poaching has no ethnicity, age or economic barriers. It is an equal opportunity evil in which the end is always the same. With 96 elephants and nearly 3 rhino a day being slaughtered, it hardly matters WHO is killing them, just that they are.