Updated: Apr 19, 2018
by Elizabeth Jordan, Science Writer
Our planet’s wildlife is threatened and a global response is necessary to protect it.
Rhino poaching has continued to decimate the species. Over the past ten years, forest elephant populations in central Africa have declined by roughly 80 percent in areas that are supposed to be protected. African lions are faring no better. This must stop.
The illegal animal trade harms wildlife, ecosystems, economies, and national security. Some of the most targeted animals are keystone species whose declining numbers inordinately disrupt ecosystems, and the adverse effects of animal trafficking can impact far-reaching corners of the globe.
In 2013, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) urged countries involved in all aspects of the illegal trade to coordinate a proactive response to protect these animals. The illegal animal trade is a global network, and it will take a united effort from countries all over this world to save our global treasures.
Who are the Poachers?
Some poachers are part of extensive and sophisticated criminal networks that generate substantial revenue from the illegal wildlife trade. These poachers traffic animals, guns, drugs, and humans. For this reason, many countries view poaching as a threat to national security and treat it as such. According to researchers at George Mason’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center, while Africa is ground zero for wildlife crimes, most poachers are not from Africa. This is an international crisis requiring collaborative global solutions to combat the activities of both groups and individuals from within and beyond their borders.
Who are the Buyers?
Poached animals and their products are shipped all over the world, and rapidly developing economies tend to see an increase in demand within their country. China, Vietnam, and other parts of Southeast Asia are well-known and established markets for poached goods. China is one of the most prominent destinations for ivory where it is carved into jewelry and other trinkets. Some cultures also use rhino parts in alternative medicine, and elephant ivory is considered a status symbol.
Law Enforcement Solutions
Many experts agree that international law enforcement is needed to successfully prosecute foreign nationals who commit wildlife crimes and to create protected, multinational areas to curtail cross-border poaching.
In the previous year, China implemented stricter ivory trade laws and recently banned it entirely. US environmental organization WildAid CEO Peter Knights said China’s efforts seem to have had an effect.
“The price of ivory has gone down to a quarter of what it was during its peak,” said Knights, “so that’s going to impact poaching on the ground and in fact, it already has in Africa.”
Interpol, the international organization that facilitates global police cooperation, works with local law enforcement and customs officials to help fight poaching. They train these officials on information sharing, criminal investigations, interrogations, and legislation.
The US Department of Justice also trains judges and prosecutors in several African countries in methods needed to trace assets and prosecute environmental criminals effectively.
Each country offers a unique perspective on the crisis and assists in a global response to this pandemic to the benefit of both themselves and their neighbors. Cooperation between multiple countries substantially increases the success rate of operations.
Park rangers, outnumbered and ill-equipped, are usually the only ground forces against well-armed poachers. Ranger work is extremely dangerous due to the constant threat of violence. President of the International Ranger Federation Sean Willmore reports that, globally, about two rangers are killed every week.
This doesn’t have to be the norm. A coordinated push to teach rangers special operations skills is currently in effect. British troops are deployed to two national parks in Malawi to mentor and prepare local conservation protectors, effectively doubling the number of highly trained rangers. These troops provide sustainable law enforcement information analysis, bushcraft, tracking, and infantry training.
US soldiers and military veterans also consult with and help park rangers. Veterans Empowered to Protect Wildlife (VETPAW) is a US nonprofit that utilizes military personnel and their skill set to combat poaching. Non-profits such as the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) train both male and female rangers and offer military-style solutions to fight the trade.
These efforts seem to be helping. South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which traditionally experiences the most poaching globally, has seen a decline in poaching incidents for the first time in a decade.
Community Approach to Conservation
Local communities form the backbone of conservation efforts as they know their lands best and can best spot outsiders who may threaten the animals. However, the future success of these communities must align with the success of these species, and to that end, many conservation groups sponsor education services to promote wealth and success in the communities. In addition, successful conservation models tend to implement a community-based approach that emphasizes education and microlending to help break a cycle of poverty.
No single country can fight poaching, nor should the responsibility be shouldered by a few. Whether the solution is law enforcement, military, education or community-based approaches to conservation, it takes a coordinated international effort and a united global front to combat the poaching tragedy. A concerted effort promises more protected areas and fewer animals abandoned to the black market.
John R. Poulsen, Sally E. Koerner, Sarah Moore, Vincent P. Medjibe, Stephen Blake, Connie J. Clark, Mark Ella Akou, Michael Fay, Amelia Meier, Joseph Okouyi, Cooper Rosin, Lee J.T. White. Poaching empties critical Central African wilderness of forest elephants. Current Biology, 2017; 27 (4): R134 DOI:
“Buying Ivory Is Illegal in China, WildAid and Yao Ming Inform Consumers.” Wildaid, 27 Dec. 2017, wildaid.org/buying-ivory-is-illegal-in-china-wildaid-and-yao-ming-inform-consumers/
Cowdrey, David. “Great News as the UK Government Confirms Ban on Ivory Sales.” International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, 3 Apr. 2018, www.ifaw.org/united-states/news/uk-ivory-trade-ban-confirmed