Poaching Essay

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P oaching is the act of stealing animals or plants from areas in which they are protected. The motive for poaching may be food or economic gain. The latter reason has gained in significance since the beginning of the 20th century, when international trade in animals and plants was stimulated by rising demand and prices and, concomitantly, falling supply of the creatures involved. The intensive poaching of, for example, elephants and rhinoceroses, for ivory and horn respectively, have led to the almost catastrophic decline in numbers of those animals. This has had a broad negative impact on the environment in which they live.

Poaching may provide a profitable living for many people but, in addition to its illegality, it is not a sustainable practice as market forces lead to the extinction of the creatures concerned. In many countries in Africa and elsewhere, there is constant conflict between poachers and local authorities seeking to stop the poaching. Violence is often a part of this conflict because of the availability of weapons customarily used in capturing animals, and because of the high stakes nature of the activity.

Poaching extends around the globe. In Siberia and Myanmar, poachers aim to log precious hardwoods; in many oceans, illegal whaling takes place for culinary purposes. In British waters, fishing boats from mainland Europe and farther away take large catches of the dwindling supply of fish in acts that many people consider poaching. It is estimated by some that there will be no more edible fish in the world’s oceans within two decades. However, these figures are contested. Most economically important fish species have quotas imposed to try to prevent overfishing, but while sustainable quota levels are also contested, it is apparent that many involved in fishing are routinely exceeding their quotas, while also destroying many other species through bycatch. The value attached to fish products in some markets justifies the risks that poachers take.

The prices of abalone, shark’s fin, and tuna in some East Asian markets represent attractive opportunities for would-be poachers. The same is true for those who seek to kill and harvest body parts from animals for use in traditional remedies and tonics, such as those in Chinese medicine. Although markets have opened in other countries, rapidly rising affluence in China has made it particularly significant in the context of poaching. A number of Chinese people have responded to increasing affluence by seeking to obtain expensive medicines and exotic bush meat. It is believed that the crowding together of so many different species of animals in unsanitary surroundings in southern China brought about the conditions in which the lethal virus SARS first originated.

Designating poaching as illegal requires that property rights of some sort be enacted by the state, both to regulate access to land and to give the state rights to ownership of animals and plants within designated areas. Alternatively, private property rights can be used by landowners to claim the same protection from poaching. In countries such as Britain, where an aristocratic elite has historically dominated land ownership, poaching was legally met with armed responses. Poachers, who were motivated primarily by hunger, were liable to severe punishment and even execution. Landowners’ control of the creatures resident on their lands has contributed to popular revolutions in a number of countries. In recent years, attempts to end poaching have focused both on prevention, possibly through the use of armed wardens and high technology monitoring equipment, and on persuading potential poachers to undertake other activities.

Since the absence of suitable alternatives led people to take up poaching in the first place, reducing poaching often means developing new forms of work and income for local people. This can be an expensive undertaking and some people will consider it unfair when extra resources are devoted to people who have turned to crime. An additional way of inhibiting poaching is through education and through ratification of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the relevant international contract.


  1. Carolyn Fischer, “The Complex Interaction of Markets for Endangered Species Products,” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (v.48/2, 2004);
  2. Anne Borge Johanessen and Anders Skonhoft, “Tourism, Poaching and Wildlife Conservation: What Can Integrated Conservation and Development Projects Accomplish?” Resource and Energy Economics (v.27/3, 2005).

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