The recent cruel slaughtering of the beloved thirteen year old Southwest African lion named Cecil, a collared subject of Oxford University researchers, who was lured outside the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe at night by hunters into private land only to be shot with a bow and arrow and later killed, skinned and beheaded for display as a head trophy, ignited an international uproar and social media frenzy, forcing the controversial topic of animal poaching to be addressed.
Living in the United States (U.S.), it may seem as though the illegal hunting and killing of animals is far removed from our reality. Sadly, the U.S. is the second country, after China, in its demand for illegal wildlife parts. Even if the animals are not being killed, the majority of the animals that are captured are being sold through black markets to buyers in the U.S., who are often wealthy collectors that enjoy “exotic pets.”
According to a National Geographic article, in a study conducted in 2008, “[t]he United States is the world’s second-largest retail market for elephant ivory products, behind only to China.” Today, it is estimated that there are fewer than 725,000 elephants left worldwide as a result of humans’ voracious appetite for ivory. Other animals that are even closer to the brink of extinction include tigers, leopards, rhinos, gorillas, turtles and whales.
Why do people poach wildlife?
The Society & Natural Resources, an International Journal, breaks down the motivating factors for poachers into the following: (1) commercial gain (wildlife crime is a multibillion dollar industry), (2) household consumption (i.e., powerful traditional medicine), (3) recreational satisfaction, (4) trophy poaching, (5) thrill killing, (6) protection of self and property, (7) poaching as rebellion, (8) poaching as a traditional right, (9) disagreement with specific regulations, and (10) gamesmanship.
Why is poaching such a problem?
Poaching is a global concern for various reasons, which extend beyond the notion of merely preserving the existence of certain animal species. In addition to the drop in animal populations, poaching causes potential catastrophic effects on local communities and on the environment as well as affect human populations. Poaching negatively alters ecosystems, disturbing the delicate balance between the different species of animals in a given region, which may cause an over-abundance of certain prey animals and the destabilization and decline of vegetation. It undermines efforts made by countries to protect their natural resources. Illegal wildlife trade is often times run by global crime syndicates that also finance terrorists, traffic illegal drugs, arms, blood diamonds and even people. Over 1,000 park rangers worldwide have been killed by well-armed poachers. The United Nations (U.N.) has also linked illegal fishing to human trafficking.
What efforts are being done to eliminate poaching?
Amid the global outcry over Cecil the lion, the U.N. has recently issued its first resolution against the illegal wildlife trade. The U.N. is calling for its member states to bolster their respective anti-poaching and trafficking laws to protect several endangered species.
China is also taking a stand against the illegal sale of ivory in its country. In a recent speech, China’s minister Zhao Shucong, responsible for the state forestry administration, announced that China would “strictly control the ivory trade and processing, until eventually halting commercial processing and the sale of ivory and its products.” This is surely a step forward in ending the slaughter of African elephants by poachers, especially since they face extinction, which is bad news for everyone.
Within the past year, the U.S. too, has taken action to combat wildlife trafficking. In February 2014, President Obama issued a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which identifies three priorities for stemming illegal trade in wildlife: (1) strengthening domestic and global enforcement; (2) reducing global demand; and (3) building international cooperation and partnerships.
The lucrative black market trade of poaching and illegal animal trafficking is a serious global concern. Some of the most popular areas for poaching internationally include the rainforests in Brazil, as well as areas in Western India and South Africa, where some of the most exotic and iconic wildlife reside.
Many animals that are poached daily are endangered or have recently become endangered species. They are killed and mutilated in many instances for single body parts, such as tusks, pelt or bones for money.
In an era of dwindling wildlife, it is important to realize that the extinction of a single species can have a major and irreversible impact on the ecosystem and on the environment. As responsible and conscious world citizens, we should coexist with animals and not bring any unnecessary harm to them. Animal welfare deserves our attention and consideration.
For more information concerning worldwide organizations seeking wildlife preservation, please visit:
- International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), http://www.iapf.org/?gclid=CjwKEAjwxYGuBRCtoqjkrIPDqDwSJAAnd-rCwMcvFCFixJT54V_vE7MUdaH-gmSI4sxQChP4aACXHxoCB2bw_wcB
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF),
- Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS),
- The WILD Foundation,
- The Humane Society of the United States
- African Wildlife Foundation, https://www.awf.org/campaigns/poaching-infographic/
 Kelly Hearn, U.S. One of Largest Ivory Markets, New Study Says, National Geographic News (last visited August 4, 2015), http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/05/080505-us-ivory.html
 Ken Dermota, Animal Trade Giving Drugs Run for Money in South America, Christian Science Monitor (1995).
 Monica Medina and Johan Bergenas, Five Myths about Illegal Wildlife Trafficking, The Washington Post (April 17, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-illegal-wildlife-trafficking/2015/04/17/b43182fe-e3a1-11e4-b510-962fcfabc310_story.html
 For a full list of endangered species, please visit the World Wide Fund (WWF) at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/directory?direction=desc&sort=extinction_status.
 Randi Jeannine Pokladnik, Ph.D., Roots and Remedies of Ginseng Poaching in Central Appalachia, (2008).
 Meghan A. Pastor, Legal, Moral and Biological Implications of Poaching and Illegal Animal Trafficking on an International Scale, Salve Regina University, (April 1, 2010), http://digitalcommons.salve.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1047&context=pell_theses (discussing the importance of animal rights).
Monica Medina and Johan Bergenas, Five Myths about Illegal Wildlife Trafficking, The Washington Post (April 17, 2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-illegal-wildlife-trafficking/2015/04/17/b43182fe-e3a1-11e4-b510-962fcfabc310_story.html. As illegal trafficking of animal parts has skyrocketed, so has the sophistication of poachers.
 Simon Denyer for the Washington Post, China calls on US to follow its lead in eradicating ivory trade, The Guardian Weekly, (June 5, 2015, 6:13 EDT) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/09/china-us-eradicate-ivory-trade (The Guardian Weekly incorporates material from the Washington Post).
 Office of the White House Press Secretary, FACT SHEET: U.S. Support for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, The White House Briefing Room, (August 4, 2014), https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/08/04/fact-sheet-us-support-combating-wildlife-trafficking
 Giovanni, D. “Taking Animal Trafficking Out of the Shadows”. Innovations. 2006:25-35.