Legal, well managed hunting is one of the strongest conservation methods worldwide and helps to mitigate one of the largest threats to wildlife: illegal poaching. Illegal poaching is perpetrated all over the world but is especially rampant among some of the most endangered species, especially in Africa. While all poaching is wrong, the issue is not always black and white. Poaching can occur out of desperation from individuals providing meat for their families or retaliatory killings from human wildlife conflict, but the majority is perpetrated for purely monetary reasons due to the high value of some species on the black market. A proven solution to poaching, well-regulated hunting significantly mitigates poaching through enforcement resources, community employment and ownership, and redistribution of game meat.
Poaching is killing an animal illegally, on restricted land, and often for purely monetary gain. Because of this, the most poached species are not for meat, but for other “resources” they provide. The most targeted species are elephant, black and white rhino, and pangolin due to their high value on the black market. Elephant tusks, rhino horn, and pangolin scales are heavily trafficked items for a variety of reasons ranging from art to traditional medicines.
Rural communities in Africa, who sustainably hunted game meat for thousands of years, are now often restricted from hunting traditional animals. When individuals poach for the meat an animal provides, it is referred to as bushmeat poaching and constitutes the lowest numbers of poaching incidents. This is often due to the lack of high-quality protein sources in rural areas, especially if legal hunting is banned. International hunting provides large quantities of legal game meat to communities and as a result nearly eliminates bushmeat poaching.
Another type of poaching is retaliatory killings of dangerous or “problem” species. For example, wolves in the United States and lions in Africa frequently pose threats to livestock, causing significant monetary damage. Retaliatory killings occur when individuals or communities are seemingly faced with few or no other options. When species become unsustainable for an area, hunting can mitigate issues and provide species with a high value, much higher than when they simply cause problems.
Finally, the truly reprehensible type of poaching is for species to sell parts on the black market. These are often highly organized, gang-style operations which make enormous amounts of money trafficking the parts internationally. The wildlife trade is especially rampant in Asian countries, as things like rhino horn and pangolin scales are used in traditional medicines. It is a problem around the world, however, especially with elephant ivory since the trade was banned. While exact numbers remain unknown, hundreds of thousands of animals are killed each year, making it one of the largest threats to already-fragile populations. Whether it’s pangolins in South Africa or tigers in India or sea turtles in Australia, poaching for the wildlife trade is an urgent international issue.
In stark opposition to poaching, hunting is a legal, ethical, and well-regulated activity which ensures best practices for species and habitat. Hunting revenues are used to employ communities, conduct species and habitat studies, maintain ecosystems, and provide sustainable game meat. Countless studies have shown that hunting improves both communities and wildlife, and when hunting is banned, poaching drastically increases.
So how does hunting stop poaching? First, hunting reduces illegal offtakes of bushmeat by providing game meat to local communities. Additionally, hunting brings employment to remote and rural areas, providing quality livelihoods and investing the communities in their wildlife. The community developments provided by hunting create a high value for wildlife, much higher than a poached animal. Revenues from hunting provide for anti-poaching rangers and equipment and protect the wildlife of large land areas. Hunting concessions have a direct interest in keeping poachers from their lands, and often extend their operations into national parks or other rural areas. For example, one operator in Zimbabwe spends an average of $85,000 a year on anti-poaching efforts. From 2010 to 2016, their efforts led to an 80% decline in elephant poaching in an important border region (For more statistics, visit the 101 Facts on the International Hunting page). Areas around the world with the healthiest and largest wildlife populations consistently have the best hunting programs and the lowest poaching numbers.
Poaching is antithetical to ethical hunting, which is why hunters contribute more than anyone to anti-poaching efforts. Expanding hunting leads to higher community welfare, lower human-wildlife conflict, and strict and effective anti-poaching measures. SCI will continue to be First for Hunters as we fight for legal hunting, community management, and anti-poaching efforts around the world.