against wildlife, has very grave consequences for the species targeted and their habitats. But the clear environmental implications it has, also illustrate just as clearly how our environment is inter-connected to our society and economy. Indeed, poaching has environmental, social and economic impacts. The consequences to wildlife are not only devastating; they are also pervasive. It is estimated that species population have declined by an average 40% between 1970 and 2000. And the second-biggest direct threat to species survival, after habitat destruction, is wildlife trade¹.
Poaching is a lucrative, even if highly illegal, business: it is now the fourth most lucrative transnational crime after drugs, arms and human trafficking, worth between 10 and 20 billion dollars each year². But it also has a high environmental cost. Among its critical implications is not only the killing of the animal itself and the impact on the numbers of the wider species population but also the wider impacts to the biodiversity of the ecosystem. In Africa, poaching has led to the extinction of wild rhinoceros in Mozambique, most of western Africa, and many other regions across the continent reducing their population by around 97% over the last 100 years³. A similar story emerges in Asia with tigers, a species that was commonly found across most of the continent which is now suffered a decline of 97%.
Ecosystems also suffer from poaching activities. For example, elephants, a species highly prized by poachers, is critical to its local ecosystem sustaining other organisms and helping to maintain the vegetation of the ecosystem. Much more generally, the removal of predatory animals can result in an over-abundance of prey animals resulting in the destabilization and decline of vegetation; similarly, the decline of prey animals can lead to drops in predator numbers because of a reduction in food supply³,⁴.
In economic terms, the extinction of a species can have a negative economic effect on a local community’s tourism industry. The area not only becomes less attractive to potential tourists, but it also means that there is an increased change of “tourist boycott”. A boycott could have a detrimental effect on a community’s economy since restaurants, hotels, rentals, and other attractions would suffer. To illustrate the potential impact, it is worth nothing that sub-Saharan Africa attracted 33.8 million visitors in 2012. If Africa was to lose this iconic species, this would in turn create a huge financial impact which would also result in significant job losses particularly for its tourism industry which currently employs around 8 million people⁵.
Beyond the environment and the economy, poaching can have tremendous consequences on local communities and beyond. Not only does it stand to threaten more traditional ways of living but it also relies on profiting from state weaknesses and corruption. This creates an inherent interest among poachers and criminals in actively undermining state economic development – a particular problem in a number of already vulnerable countries in the developing world. It is important to note however that poaching is linked to beliefs that parts of animals have unique medical properties. In this respect, it can be argued that these traditional beliefs which are not substantiated scientifically, have created a demand for a lot of the precious parts of animals that are being poached, for example elephants’ ivory or rhinos’ horns. On a slightly different note, the impact poaching can have on human can be significant and the emergence of numerous zoonotic diseases has been linked directly to wildlife crime. For example, the outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong has been traced to human contact with and consumption of poached meat available on black wildlife markets³,⁴.