Facing Illegal Poaching: Supply and Governance

By Maya Suzuki, GLOBUS Correspondent

An “astonishing number of pictures of dead elephants”, describes Thato Raphaka, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (Leithead, 2019). Provoking, the evidence was taken in one of the last elephant sanctuaries in Africa, in northern Botswana. Eighty-eight carcasses of elephants, most of them with their tusks removed, were observed in one “hotspot” area. Yet the government denies any allegations of prevailing illegal poaching within its borders. The big question is, why does poaching persist to this day, when the looming threat posed to the population of endangered animals is widely recognised, and what can be done about it?

The first and most persistent driver of illegal hunting is its pure economic incentive. A study by Knapp (2012) reveals that, in the case of Tanzania, the monetary returns from poaching (US$ 425 per annum) was far more attractive than the income from legitimate business, trade and sales (US$ 258 per annum). For the many who struggle to eke out a living on a daily basis, bushmeat sales are an important source of income. So substantial, in fact, that the benefit exceeds the risk of getting injured or the cost of arrest. Not to mention the ubiquity of the undernourished population (Alphonce, 2017); prisons are seen as a place of promised food security.

The degree of effectiveness of traditional anti-poaching measures such as arrest and prosecution of poachers remain in question. According to Wilfred (2010), it can work to discourage the act in the short run. Nevertheless, Meduna et al (2009) see it as a failure. What both agree, though, is the importance of improvements in the living conditions of the local people. For the particular example of Tanzania, policies that support the financial problems of households is paramount to sapping the motivation of these poachers in the long run. This can be achieved through a number of measures, such as the provision of free education, or construction of reliable infrastructure that facilitates and builds the resilience of the local industry.

In Botswana, political influences determine the fate of the elephants (Leithead, 2019). Although there is no data available, since the ban on elephant hunting in 2013 under the former president, many rural communities believe that the number of instances of elephant invasions to farmlands has increased. There is every incentive for the government to lift the ban to win the votes – and the initiatives have taken place – at the expense of lower reputation as a luxury safari destination. Foreseeing the consequences of the loss of the species, the intention of the government and the medium- to long-run societal benefit do not match. Just like we have the Bank of England independent from the government, the conservation of endangered animals should be controlled by a third party free from any political background.

The burden should not be all laid on the country. We all are responsible for protecting biodiversity as one whole international community. Some developing countries might seek financial assistance in resolving the fundamental causes for long-term conservation. Trade bans are not sufficient; even after the 1973 and 1989 the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(CITES) Asian and African ivory trade bans, it still persists (Stiles, 2004). Rather, extensive and systematic data collection, monitoring and protection should be carried out. Constructing a detailed database of the market for endangered species will provide clear insight into what policies are needed (Schneider, 2008). A coordinated effort among crime reduction experts, scientists, conservationists and policymakers are essential.

Header Image: David Clode on Unsplash


Alphonce R. (2017). ‘Addressing the mismatch between food and nutrition policies and needs in Tanzania’. Africa Growth Initiative. [Online] https://www.brookings.edu/wp…/10/erh-tanzania-policy-brief.pdf

Bryce E. (2015). ‘Critically endangered pangolins rescued, then sold as food’. The Guardian. [Online] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/world-on-a-plate/2015/feb/20/critically-endangered-pangolins-rescued-then-sold-as-food

Knapp E.J. (2012). ‘Why poaching pays: a summary of risks and benefits illegal hunters face in Western Serengeti, Tanzania’. Tropical Conservation Science, 5 (4): 434-445. [Online] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/194008291200500403

Leithead A. (2019). ‘Botswana elephant poaching ‘no hoax’’. BBC. [Online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-47321241

Meduna A.J., Ogunjinmi A.A. & Onadeko S.A. (2009). ‘Biodiversity Conservation Problems and Their Implications on Ecotourism in Kainji Lake National Park, Nigeria’. Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, 10 (4): 59-73. [Online] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266946670_Biodiversity_Conservation_Problems_and_Their_Implications_on_Ecotourism_In_Kainji_Lake_National_Park_Nigeria

Schneider J.L. (2008). ‘Reducing the Illicit Trade in Endangered WIldlife: The Market Reduction Approach’

Stiles D. (2004). ‘The Ivory Trade and Elephant Conservation’. Environmental Conservation, 31 (4): 309-321 [Online] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/environmental-conservation/article/the-ivory-trade-and-elephant-conservation/11AA17383DA8020753C862F226151F88

Wilfred P. (2010). ‘Towards sustainable Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania’. Tropical Conservation Science, 3 (1): 103-116. [Online] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228662463_Towards_Sustainable_Wildlife_Management_Areas_in_Tanzania

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