Poaching – the cruelty driven business

Injured monkey in front of fence, wounded red forehead and nose, cruelty of poaching.

During these recent years, there has been a mobilization around the world to help fight a problem that is getting as dangerous as drug trafficking. Wildlife poaching is causing a baffling decline in the number of animal species in the wild. Iconic creatures like rhinos, tigers, gorillas, lions are now threatened in the wild because of poaching. It is estimated that approximately 100 African elephants are hunted per day for their tusks [1].

What is poaching?

Poaching is the illegal killing, hunting and capturing of animals for meat and selling or using of body parts for profit. It includes

  • killing animals out of hunting seasons (on land, air and water);
  • hunting on reserves or protected areas without permission;
  • trailing animals outside of hunting hours;
  • using illegal materials to hunt (like dynamites);
  • killing and/or injuring an animal which is protected by the law;
  • assassinate animals for body parts only such as horns and skin;
  • capturing protected animals for personal use, trophies and experiments.

Put simply, poaching is the killing of animals without permits.

Wildlife trade

Wildlife trade is the exchange of wildlife products, animals and plants, in parts or whole, for monetary or material gains. Every day, animals and plants are taken from their wild habitats and transformed into shoes, baskets, pets, medicine and much more. Wildlife trade reaps in the billions of dollars per year; it is estimated to be around 100 billion Euros in the EU alone [2].  

Legal wildlife trade

As the name says, legal trade in wildlife is the exchange and/or selling of animals and plants from the wild on a legal basis, that is, with permits. It is overseen by governing bodies of local countries and the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), internationally. In this respect, wildlife commerce can be tracked and monitored so as to prevent over-exploitation of resources and its subsequent extinction.

Illegal wildlife trade

Over the years, illegal wildlife trading has escalated to dangerous levels. Wildlife traffic on the international black market is worth billions per year. Illegal wildlife trade is the exchange or sale of animals and plants without legal permits. Resource sustainability and existence are not considered, thus, threatening species to extinction, like the African elephants. 

Why is poaching such a problem?

1.      Extinction

When animals are poached, it is done in an unsustainable way; this often results in a dramatic decline the number of species until it disappears altogether. Furthermore, if the organism in question is found in only certain regions of the world, it leads to the complete loss of a species like the Dodo on Mauritius Island.

2.      Destabilize ecosystems

In a natural environment, all animals and plants occupy specific niches for the proper functioning of the ecosystem. Keystone species are those that play an integral part in shaping and forming the environment. African elephants, for example, shape forests, dig water holes and disperse plant seeds miles away from their original locations. Removing elephants disrupts the way in which the African forests function. For instance, when seeds don’t reach the ground, trees do not sprout.

3.      Change in gene pool

As more animals are hunted and killed for specific body parts (tusks, whiskers, scales), those without these traits have better survival chances. Over the years, the animals that do not possess these characteristics are favored to live, thus eliminating the need for these genes in the species general gene pool.

4.      Damage economic components of a nation

Wildlife tours and sightseeing is a major source of income for many people in Africa and Asia. Not only is the economy directly tied to the animals, but to the hotels, markets, shops and craft industry also. Fewer animals to none at all results in less income.

Three giraffes standing in savanna on dry grass and green bushes at the back.
Safaris and wildlife tours attract a lot of tourists per year.

5.      Insecurity

Once tourists hear of wild poachers threatening animals in certain countries, they will be reluctant to visit; this impacts the economy of the nation as well.

6.      Cruel ways to poach animals

Most of the time poachers are only after specific parts of an animal, like the skin or the horn. To obtain these, they often hurt the animal cruelly when they use snares; shoot them and let them bleed to death or by infection; use lethal drugs; and torture them. Equally true is the fact that poachers often kill animals that do not have monetary values for them such as de-horned rhinos because they are shooting from a distance [3]. In this way, more animals die for no gain.

7.      Threats to local fauna and flora

Animals and plants are closely monitored at a country’s entry point because of the threats that foreign live organisms pose. They can either become invasive species and kill native ones or they can carry diseases.

8.      Spread of diseases

When poachers smuggle animals and plants into a country, these can carry foreign microorganisms to the homeland. Viruses can spread to humans and cause diseases just like avian viruses have done [4].

9.      Emotional stress

Many animals relate to their peer in the same way humans do. African elephants, for instance, have strong emotional ties with their families. When adults are poached in front of calves, they are traumatized. Sometimes, when given the proper care and attention, they make can it through life. More often than not though, children of victims die due to the emotional stress that the savage death of the parents has caused.

Adult elephant, helping calf with its trunk, standing on a rock in the brown river water to cross with herd of elephants at the back
Adult elephant helping calf to cross water

10. Poaching encourages other poachers

Poaching is becoming a huge money making-industry. When other people see the amount of money that it’s bringing on the black market, they go for it. More and more poachers inevitably mean greater dangers to our wildlife.

Brown bear in background with words why is poaching a problem written
Why is poaching a problem?

What drives poaching?

a.      Lack of knowledge

Ever since humans have learnt to make tools, they have killed animals for food and clothing. In many parts of the world, traditional hunting is still ongoing. Most of the time, though, the villagers and tribal people are unaware of the consequences of their acts nor that the animal in question does not exist somewhere else.

b.      Traditional medicine

Many learned nations, however, believe in the properties of certain plants and animals to cure diseases. While components of medicine are indeed extracts of living organisms, some people favor traditional medicine and would rather use whole plant and animal parts. In Asia for instance, many people believe that rhino horn can treat fever, rheumatism to snakebites [5]. Even though there is no scientific evidence to back this assertion, since horns are made up of keratin just like our nails, citizens in Vietnam, China, Malaysia to Korea believe deeply in these remedies.

c.      Trophy hunting

Eager and persistent hunters have trailed lions, rhinos, elephants from north to south only to get the joy of killing them and getting a head/horn/skin/teeth trophy out of our wildlife. With more animals endangered and threatened with extinction, the lust for trophies has increased.

d.      Poverty

Sad but true is the fact that poaching is actually done by people who need money to bring food on the table. While the market for poached animal parts is enjoyed by the rich, it is the poor villagers who are driven to this illegal business for petty money. The state of poverty that the Malagasies are in, for instance, forces them to poach the critically endangered lemurs for meat [6].

e.      China’s new economic market

However, the recent poaching crisis has been aggravated by the emerging economic situation in China. A change in the wind for the Chinese has resulted in a lucrative demand for ivory and rare animal parts on the market. Ivory trinkets and animal skins are traditionally possessed by the rich in China. In view of their new wealthy status, the Chinese are craving for these materials. Though trade in these wildlife products is banned, an illegal black market is fueling this traffic like crazy [7].

How to stop poaching

  1. Get and share information – it is vital for each and every one of us to get informed about poaching issues so that we can share it with others who are unaware of the crisis.
  2. Donations – conservation campaigns require funds; training and equipping rangers also cost a lot. If it is possible for you to donate to protect endangered species, do so.
  3. Stop the demand – the driving force behind poaching is the market demand. Don’t buy things that are made from poached organisms; go for their alternatives instead. Buy certified and eco-friendly products. Do not hesitate to ask the seller the place of origin of the products.
  4. Report – if you are aware of wildlife crime or poaching near you, report to the responsible body of your government!
Dead bird on rock with words 'how to stop poaching', get and share information, make donations, stop the demand, report written in green circles
How to stop poaching


1. World Elephant Day. Why care? Why World Elephant Day? [Online]. Available at http://worldelephantday.org/about/elephants [Accessed 29/01/2019]

2. The journey towards sustainable trade. Traffic. [Online] Available at https://www.traffic.org/about-us/legal-wildlife-trade/ [Accessed 30th January 2019]

3. De-horning. (2017). Save the Rhino. [Online]. Available at https://www.savetherhino.org/thorny-issues/de-horning/ [Accessed 30th January 2019]

4. Influenza (Avian and other zoonotic). (2018). World Health Organization. [Online]. Available at https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(avian-and-other-zoonotic) [Accessed 30th January 2019]

5. Rhino horn use: Fact vs Ficiton. (2010).  PBS. [Online]. Available at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/rhinoceros-rhino-horn-use-fact-vs-fiction/1178/ [Accessed 30th January 2019]

6.Brulliard, N. (2010). Would you eat this lemur? PRI. [Online]. Available at https://www.pri.org/stories/2009-11-21/would-you-eat-lemur [Accessed 29th January 2019]

7. Kirschke-Schwartz, E., Null, S. and Guynup, S. (2016). Wild laws: China and its role in illicit wildlife trade. Wilson Center. [Online]. Available at https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/wild-laws-china-and-its-role-illicit-wildlife-trade [Accessed 30th January 2019]

8. Image source, https://pixabay.com/

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