The Many Faces of Poaching

poacher arrested with bush meat

Poacher arrested with bush meat.

The Poacher:

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.

game farmers in sa part of rhino poaching ring

S.A. Game farmers convicted in rhino poaching ring.

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.

Chumlong Lemtongthai

Chumlong Lemtonthai, convicted rhino poaching ringleader

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.

seleka rebels in CAR

Seleka rebels: The CAR president has ordered the dissolution of the group.

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.

your greed my extinction

Categories: Rhino Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Poaching

  1. Pingback: The Many Faces of Poaching | GarryRogers Nature Conservation

  2. Great post. All I can think is what a pack of sociopaths — killing for status and symbolism. Only a person driven by ego would do such a thing.

  3. Thanks for the post. I believe it’s important, however, that one further differentiate between two very different, so-called “subsistence poachers.”

    I’d argue it’s vital to make a distinction between (1) those who still live in traditional, subsistence economies–in remote, rural economies like, for instance, Papua New Guinea–where they “poach” animals in order to survive in the same basic ways that their–and our–ancestors did, AND (2) those who live in far more developed, urban economies–where the majority of the population work for a living (and they thus purchase their meat products in marketplaces, and most of that meat was raised/farmed solely to be sold and eaten).

    I do not believe it’s fair to label the first example as poachers; it’s merely subsistence living done out of necessity. In the latter example, however, there happen to be a minority of individuals who opt to kill animals “to survive” mostly (but not always) because they likewise have opted to remain outside the urban economies around them; hence, they elect not to participate in those economies as gainful workers and they frequently use that as their excuse to kill animals (arguing that they don’t have the economic wherewithal to purchase meat in a manner more common to an urban, developed lifestyle).

    In sum, I don’t think these two types of “subsistence poachers” are equal–or should be lumped together–because the latter embarks upon poaching as a result of not participating in the wider economy; the former, on the hand, makes no such decision because he/she has no choice to make given their societal norms.

    Thanks again for this post.

    • Good point Martin. There is a difference between hunting and poaching; hunting to feed one’s family vs taking animals who are “off limits”. The main issue is with commercial poaching, which involves Africa’s endangered species such as the rhino and elephant.

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