Recently a research organization in Switzerland called the Small Arms Survey reported on weapon trends in relation to elephant and rhino poaching. Here are the highlights from that report (via Rachael Bale @ National Geographic):
No one’s tracing guns. The Small Arms Survey found that weapons and ammo collected at poaching sites are rarely entered into Interpol’s firearms tracing system, even though doing so could help law enforcement track criminal networks as well as build cases against major players.
“It’s difficult,” Carlson said. “A lot of African countries do not have the capacity to carry out the types of forensic activity that is required.”
Governments need to do a better job securing seized weapons. There have been at least a couple of cases where guns seized by police in Mozambique later showed up at poaching sites. That means either the police did a pretty bad job of storing the weapons in the first place, or they actually helped leak the weapons to the poachers.
It’s just too easy to get a gun in Africa. Aside from leaky stockpiles of seized weapons, there are plenty of other ways for poachers to get guns. Wealthy Sudanese businessmen have been known to provide guns, night vision goggles, and other equipment to poaching teams, the survey researchers were told. Sometimes it’s the military itself using state-issued guns to do the illegal killing. And there are plenty of people willing to trade guns for ivory. A 2015 National Geographic investigation found support for the claim that Sudan’s military trades guns to the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in exchange for ivory, and other armed groups in Central Africa are also suspected to be trading ivory for guns.
Military-style rifles are cheaper. Large-scale poachers tend to prefer hunting rifles—with their long range and ability to take down an elephant or rhino with a single shot—the report says. But assault rifles and light machine guns are really growing in popularity, especially among the highly organized poaching groups. Military-style weapons in the vein of Kalashnikovs are cheaper (so is their ammo) and easier to come by than hunting rifles. Guns have been documented coming from Libya, Angola, Burundi, Mozambique, Sudan, and South Sudan.