The Elephant in the Room: Impacts of Illegal Poaching on African Nationals

The year 2013 was a grim one for peace and governance on the African continent: inequality soared, conflicts in the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic came to a head, and the numbers of elephants and rhinos illegally poached set records in many countries. While the last item may not immediately appear connected to issues of governance, on the contrary, poaching represents cause for concern in many countries because of its far-reaching implications. Poaching, primarily resulting from foreign demand for ivory, equates to the theft of economic opportunity from African citizens and multiplies the risk of violent conflict, corruption, and instability on the continent.

Most obviously, illegal poaching has a direct impact on the tourism industry in many Sub-Saharan countries. Villagers in northern Kenya took up arms against local poachers not because of an underlying sense of altruism, but because of the collective realization that wildlife in the region is “worth more alive than dead” due to the associated tourist revenues the animals represent. Safaris in many African states compose a central pillar of tourism industries, much of which goes directly into surrounding communities, providing a significant source of income for rural inhabitants.

Perhaps even more worrying than the potential loss of tourist dollars, however, is that poaching gangs represent sophisticated criminal syndicates. As previously alluded to, a considerable amount of money results from the foreign demand for ivory. Funds from ivory sales are commonly used to purchase weapons, in turn fueling regional conflicts. Armed groups, including the Lord’s Resistence Army in Uganda, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the janjaweed in Sudan, have all been linked to the illegal ivory trade. Even when not formally associated with armed groups, poaching contributes to other activities detrimental to development: corruption, violent crime, money counterfeiting, and general instability. In many instances, poachers and park rangers engage in violent shootouts, accounting for an unforeseen loss of human life. Though laws against poaching already exist, the huge demand and potential for quick economic gain often proves too enticing for would-be poachers to ignore.

Concentrated on the African continent, poaching is a transnational crime, disproportionately impacting African nationals. Illegal poaching presents a considerable problem for resource-limited African states on a number of levels: provision of physical and economic security to citizens, preservation of national treasures, and prevention of the rise of a homegrown international criminal enterprise. The international community has the opportunity to subdue the poaching epidemic in Africa while simultaneously promoting economic well-being and security on the continent.


About maisiepigeon

DC native in Denver. Second-year graduate student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, with concentrations in Sub-Saharan Africa and global health. Love travel, animals, warm weather, and Baltimore sports.
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5 Responses to The Elephant in the Room: Impacts of Illegal Poaching on African Nationals

  1. findleyjn says:

    Elephants aren’t the only ones in the room. A recent study published in PLOS ONE stated that the West African lion, smaller in build than those in East and South Africa, are approaching extinction. While protected parks were initially a safe haven for these lions, poaching has become more prevalent inside the parks, using the ‘bushmeat’ for local markets.

    “Parks in West Africa have simply not had the resources to prevent retaliatory killings or poaching, said Henschel. “When we looked at the 21 management areas, we realized that six of them had no operating budget at all, and compared to the big game parks in South and East Africa, they are all understaffed. These ‘paper parks’ are systematically being stripped by poachers.”

    Funding, education, and international cooperation are a few of the suggestions to curb the poaching of these lions. However, governments have been reluctant to offer financial support because they do not see a short-term return on their investment. Perhaps the governments of West Africa can learn from East and Southern Africa that ‘wildlife is worth more alive than dead’ and work with conservation organizations to create a solution to the approaching extinction of the West African lion.

  2. Interesting topic, Maisie. I agree with Jessi that international cooperation is very much needed with regard to poaching. The demand for ivory is coming from outside of the African continent–and in particular, China, where Ivory is considered a luxury good. Because this is an international market, international solutions are needed, especially since those most affected by this trade have very few resources to adequately deal with a problem that threatens their own economic viability. Also, it’s interesting you bring up the connection to transnational crime and how poaching funds conflict activity. Perhaps if this issue were reframed as a security issue, the international community would be more responsive?

  3. kenneycj says:

    Very interesting post, Maisie. I agree with all the statements that this is an international problem but also think that African states have to take ownership and responsibility for the issue as well. Given the interconnected nature of poaching between the supply on the African continent and the demand elsewhere in the world, ameliorating the problem cannot solely fall to the international community outside of Africa; any long-term resolution would have to come both from within and without.

  4. Great post. I see a vicious cycle here. Countries (such as in West Africa) lack the capacity to secure and protect national game reserves. Poachers who benefit from this weak security likely enjoy impunity given weak judicial systems or, as you mentioned, governments unwilling to act.These are the same countries where safari tourist dollars are needed the most. And thus, lost revenue feeds into the cycle by restricting capacity to secure game reserves. I agree with the above poster, this is a problem that must be addressed from both the supply and demand sides.

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