September 7th, 2016
The challenge of controlling the poaching of endangered species is comparable to the challenges of the drug trade, writes Gary Potter, a criminologist at Lancaster University in England. He points out that just as harsh crackdowns on drugs have led to resentment within affected communities, harsh penalties for poaching lead to resentment among the impoverished communities that make money from the practice.
Both illegal cultivation of drug crops and poaching will continue, he writes, so long local as populations are poor and demand is high.
Alarming data shows that the population of elephants in Africa has declined 30 percent in the past seven years, indicating that despite severe penalties, poaching has continued, fueled by the illicit ivory market.
The common failure of crackdowns on both poachers and coca farmers is that they fail to remove the poverty that drives people to resort to these professions, Potter points out. He notes that both poaching and drug-crop cultivation are typically concentrated in “geographically remote and economically undeveloped areas beyond the effectible reach of governments and their police forces.” He also warns of the dangers of militarized efforts to combat both poaching and the drug trade, as these often result in criminal organizations arming themselves.
Potter cites one case of poachers successfully being blocked by Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda, through the construction of an electric fence surrounding the 70 square-kilometer sanctuary, and the deployment of armed guards. However Potter sees the limitations of such an approach: “We can’t build fences everywhere or employ enough wardens to offer all rhinos this level of protection.”
Instead, a “harm reduction” approach to poaching (though here the analogy with trafficking breaks down) probably looks a bit more like the efforts of Big Life—an NGO which operates in Kenya, creating alternative career options by hiring locals to work as rangers.