Using Conservation Techniques to Stop Poaching of Wildlife

The following was a term paper written for my conservation biology class in collaboration with Hallie Draegert


It is a well-known fact that the human population is increasing in size. The growth of one population, the humans, tends to impact other populations negativity. In this case, the concern is the impact it has on wildlife populations. As long as wildlife and human populations coexist problems will arise.  These problems can occur in response to tension between local human communities and the attempts of organizations working to conserve native populations of animals. Often these organizations seem to forget that the local’s livelihoods depend on exploiting the local animals. This has led to the creation of conservation models that do not work because they did not consider the local politics.

One of the most common crimes committed is poaching. Poaching has led directly to the extinction of many species and induces stress, on currently stable species. This could make future extinction of the population an issue that needs to be addressed. Since poaching is a serious problem for highly stressed species, it is critical to work to prevent the crime. There are many current techniques used to reduce and combat poaching. However, the issue has not been fully resolved. This is likely because only a single model is in use at a time in an area.


Methods used in some models include conservation criminology, DNA forensics, getting public opinions on the issue of conservation to discovering the motives of poachers, letting the public create conservation models, and the Kenyan Wildlife Service model. Each has its drawbacks and need further research. This will hopefully show how the management gap in conserving species can be eliminated.  Examination of the current techniques individually could lead to collaboration. By utilizing one technique to reduce the drawbacks of another causes great improvement in combating poaching can be made. Ideally the use of a combined method is applicable worldwide to stop the poaching of species who are at the greatest risk for extinction.


The management of wildlife in recent years has become a difficult problem to solve. With poaching and related wildlife crimes are on the rise, observation of techniques used in management of at risk species has also increased (Karanja, 2012). The severity of the issue is seen in the following statistical examples; long term research shows that 60 percent of mortality occurring in adult wolverines and 46 percent of mortality in adult lynxes has been caused by poaching (Zabel, 2011). Frightening statistics, like these, are commonly seen in areas such as Namibia and Kenya. This can have a large impact on already struggling species due to added stress being placed on animals, which already face issues related to having a small population size. The stress intensifies when poachers, acting independently of one another, overuse a certain species for short-term benefits leading to a “tragedy of the commons” (Pires, 2011). Finding solutions to this issue is a struggle for many conservationists and is currently a hot topic in the area of research.

Tragedy of the commons occurs when individuals use common resources for personal gain. There is no incentive for them to allow resources for others therefore leading to the mass depletion of resources.

– Lauren Schramm

There are many people involved in this management issue. Governments often oversee conservation and wildlife protection at some level. In some nations, the government is even required to take action in response to poaching issues (Snively, 2012). What laws created by governments often overlook is the direct impact that poached animals have on the local community. For example, elephants are often blamed for destroying crops that are essential for local families, to survive both economically and nutritionally, making them a target for poaching (Wellsmith, 2011). Even when direct contact with the animal population is lessened, the effects of poaching are still felt through the degraded environments that poaching create. This paper will review the current methods of combating poaching. Highlights of the research help display the major benefits and drawbacks of each method, as well as the result when multiple methods are combined to further aid in the fight against poaching.


Poaching is one of the most impactful wildlife crimes committed. A wildlife crime is a general term used to address any actions that harm wildlife. According to Interpol, “Wildlife crime is the taking, trading, exploiting or possessing of the world’s wild flora and fauna in contravention of national and international laws” (Pires, 2011). When the crime committed is intended to kill the animals it is no longer classified as a wildlife crime, but is more specifically called poaching (Karanja, 2012). In order to get an in-depth look at the issue at hand, it is essential to differentiate between wildlife crimes and poaching (Wellsmith, 2011). Since poaching has a significant impact on wildlife populations and needs to be address immediately to help to protect species at high risk of being extinct, emphasis has been focused the causes of poaching and the ways in which they are prevented.

Areas such like Africa, particularly Namibia and Kenya, serve as examples for the study of poaching and the consequences the management of poaching creates on the wildlife. African animals are often valued for the price of their body parts, such as ivory or fur, by the poachers. The issue of poaching in Africa has been around for decades. However, there are fluctuations in the number of poaching crimes committed based on factors such as the increased value obtained from the selling of these animal products. It is the job of governments and conservation groups to help control the sale of these items. Therefore, they must help protect animals from poaching.

Current state of knowledge:

For much of the 20th century areas around the world have used protected areas as a conservation technique. A protected area’s goal is to achieve long-term conservation of a geographical area. They do so by implementing management through various laws and regulations. While protective areas serve as a source of income, by providing the area with tourism, in rural areas conflict often arises because of strict regulations that are placed on the protected areas. When protected areas are set up in rural areas of developing countries, the effect that it has on the local resident human population is over looked. For many local villages, success comes from dependence on the renewable resources and wildlife that are being conserved by the protected areas (Wilfred, 2010).

Denying these people access to such resources brings about feelings of hostility towards conservation efforts. In terms of wildlife conservation, this often leads to poaching. Poaching is one form of exploitation that leads to a decline in wildlife populations. Exploitation occurs when the value of the animal being poached is necessary to sustain the community. In addition, exploitation can occur because of the demand in the black market for items such as hides and tusks. To understand the relationship between local communities and poaching in protected areas research was conducted to find the driving force behind poaching.  Research done in small towns along a game preserve in Ugalla found that the prosperity of the community greatly influenced the amount of poaching that occurred. When locals were supplied with sheep or cattle, livestock that provides a higher source of income, the frequency of poaching decreased drastically. In contrast when laws were implemented without any compensation poaching occurred as “retaliation due to loss of peoples’ lives and livestock” (All Africa Global Media, 2013).

In Namibia research was also done to reveal the feelings of local people and their stand on poaching. This model of conservation is known as the polling locals model. It provides additional insight in management practices that will be most effective in a given region (Kahler, 2012). Researchers discovered that, unlike their predictions, most of the local people (93.1 percent) were aware of the local hunting laws (Kahler, 2012). This shows education in the local population will not always prevent future poaching. Therefore, factors other than knowledge of the laws influence poaching. The researchers discovered that the two primary motives of locals to poach were income generation and food (Kahler, 2012). Therefore by increasing income and availability of food poaching can be reduced.

Polling the local people on area’s conservation concern has provided better insight on motives behind poaching. Poaching of an area can be a product of organized crime or a simple need for more income and food. By polling the local people, governments will be able to see if local populations will support their conservation efforts. It has been shown that a ban on the trade of at risk species will mean nothing if the local people do not support the issue (Pires, 2011). Discovering if there is support for a ban on poaching practice can help aid in better management decisions. In addition, in order to regulate poaching, one needs to find out what opportunities are created for poaching (Pires, 2011). No one of course knows these opportunities better than the local people. There are of course drawbacks to this model of conservation. For example, there is no way to prove that the locals will be truthful in their answers to the questions. In addition, it can be time consuming and the information obtained may not be able to be effectively incorporated into conservation laws and models. This can result in conflict between the local people (who feel they are not being listened to) and the conservation groups (who have a hard time changing their methods).

Conservation criminology is a fairly new approach used to address poaching. The goal is that a solution can be implemented to help create unity in the views of both local communities and conservation agencies. This field uses a wide range of research techniques to aid in resolving crimes involving natural resources, wildlife and ecosystems. The first step in the process is to research the issue, to gain an understanding and knowledge of the influencing factors. Then the findings are used to create policies and decide what legal action needs to take place to help reduce the issue.  By using a multidisciplinary approach three main disciplines are applied: criminal justice and criminology, risk and decision analysis, and natural resource conservation and management (Gibbs, 2009). Implementing an approach that integrates all three disciplines help a variety of conservation concerns and risks be addressed by the overlap in each area of expertise. As seen in Ugalla, to facilitate a long term solution to the problem, more research is needed. Through research, the reasons for why such crimes occur are uncovered. Policies can then be created that address the core issues behind the crime.

Despite there being better relationships between locals and conservation efforts, poaching still occurs. Radicals and individuals involved in black market trade do not respect laws and poach in areas that are not highly monitored. For these reasons, some claim that the most effective way to combat this type of poaching is to use the DNA of the poached animal. In most cases, the DNA contains defining genetic factors that are commonly found in only one area. This is how researchers are able to use DNA to discover the source of where the animal was poached (Wasser, 2008). If poaching hot spots can be discovered, this could considerably aid in conservation efforts by making police enforcement reach maximum effectiveness. Stopping poaching at its source is necessary because once the animal is removed from an area; it enters into a complex network of international trade (Wasser, 2008). From that point on poached animals are almost impossible to track.

Because a limited numbers of law enforcement professionals are required to patrol a large area, a high percent of poachers are never caught. The low catch rate means that only about 10 percent of all known environmental crimes end up in court (Wellsmith, 2011). Identifying poaching hot spots may change where law enforcement patrol to help protect areas that are at an increased risk of being poached. In order for this model to be effective, many DNA tests would have to be constantly conducted to ensure that these locations do not change. This is extremely costly compared to other conservation methods. While using the DNA of poached animals is necessary in revealing major areas poaching occurs in, it is not effectively in preventing the crime or detecting smuggling strategies.

In Namibia and Laguna Salada-Mori Point (United States), the public has been allowed to take a hand in developing conservation. The public designs of a conservation model to be used in each area are shown to be highly successful (Hankins, 2007). The success comes from multiple factors, first and foremost, the public knows the area and the local politics the best. Locals are able to design a conservation model more effectively than an outsider who does not have the firsthand knowledge of the area. In Namibia, the public is also the conservation staff (Snively, 2012). This helps to address the issue of understaffing, which is present in other conservation models. For the people of Namibia, where there are limited jobs, this model helps to create more job opportunities which then in turn can lead to more public support of conservation (Snively, 2012).

The practice of conservation can often clash with lifestyles of the local people. Up to 19 percent of income is lost in Indian and African households close to reserves due to the killing of livestock by protected carnivores (Zabel, 2010). It is essential to remember that many people’s livelihoods depend on the animals of that area. Therefore, if the local people are not provided with an economic alternative to poaching they cannot change their ways. By using inside information on poaching given by locals, the poaching of that area can be reduced.

In many cases, the knowledge that poaching has been committed almost never reaches the authorities. By using a model in which there is a positive relationship between locals, who feel it is their responsibility to protect the wildlife, and officials more crimes will be reported. In Laguna Salada-Mori Point, this model was used to protect a rare garter snake and its main food source the red legged frog. Many locals watched frog and snake habitat, and if they saw possible danger contacted police. This has led to an increase in the frog population and therefore an increase in the snake population (Hankins, 2007). In taking a route other than the traditional “top down management” approach, the goal is that the locals will have more trust in the government. In return they put their support behind the belief that the practice of conservation is worthwhile in benefiting the community.

Red Legged Frog
Source red_legged_frog_3_reesman_odfw
Author Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife

As seen in many of the conservation models, there is no one approach that effectively eliminates poaching. “Management issues are multidisciplinary in nature and they need pragmatic, integrated and coordinated approaches” (Mugisha, 2004). An area that has shown excellent success in this multidisciplinary approach is Kenya. Compared to the country’s past, the current method of Kenya to prevent poaching is extremely effective.  The Kenya Wildlife Service was created in 1989. It helps protect various species and stop the prevalence of wildlife crimes. In the past the country had experienced widespread poaching (Karanja, 2012). Currently the program focuses on the use of strict and modern management and uses aspects of conservation criminology to have specialized units for dealing with wildlife crimes (Wellsmith, 2011). This insures that crimes are taken seriously. The model also invests in training and building their law enforcement. This helped create an educated task force that can educate and make the public aware of the seriousness of the crime (Karanja, 2012). Kenya Wildlife Service also pays farmers who have had their livestock harmed by wild carnivores (Zabel, 2010).  This helps to internalize people’s value of the animals commonly poached.

While the program has been found to be successful in the conservation of several species, it is far from being perfect. Some take advantage of the system by choosing to move to areas with high amounts of protected carnivores to receive more funds from this program than they normally would receive. This has proved to be a main expense for the program which makes conservation under this model costly. With such strict laws in place to limit public access, little to no revenue is gained through the program (Zabel, 2010).Support from outside individuals is often decreasing as well. This is because many who support the cause want to be able to see the animals. Under this program public interaction with the wildlife is not looked upon highly.


 There are still many areas of conservation that are unknown or need further development in the realm of poaching. In order to find a conservation method that effectively mitigates poaching, an understanding of the criminal behavior of why people poach needs to be addressed. Conservation criminology allows an exploration of the motives of poachers and works to research poaching. This insures that certain critical factors are not overlooked. Alone this model will not work fully. Community based conservation techniques also need to be implemented. This will help gain insight of the locals and address their needs from the effects of conservation of protected areas. It is not, however, just locals that poach. Therefore tracking mechanisms, like DNA marking of poached animals, can be used to find patterns in the movement of poached animals and serve to bring attention to areas in need of more protection.

It is knowledge and practice of multiple areas of conservation that will help with the long term protection of at risk species in various areas worldwide. By continuing to develop new conservation techniques and following their progress researchers will be able to gain valuable knowledge. It is important that support comes from both locals and government officials in developing new conservation methods and models. When working together collectively, they can help continue the practice of conservation, and punish those who do partake in wildlife crimes as serious as poaching.

Literature cited:

Gibbs, C., Gore, M.L., McGarrell, E.F., and Rivers III, L. (2009). Introducing Conservation

Criminology: Towards Interdisciplinary Scholarship on Environmental Crimes and Risks.

British Journal of Criminology. 1-21.

Good Relations with Communities Minimize Poaching. (2013). AllAfrica.Com.

Gore, M. L. (2011). The Science of Conservation Crime. Conservation Biology.  659-661.

Hankins, D. (2007). The Public Role in Conserving Species. Endangered Species Update. 24,


Kahler, J. S., and Gore, M. L. (2012). Beyond the Cooking Pot and Pocketbook: Factors

Influencing Noncompliance with Wildlife Poaching Rules. International Journal of

            Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice. 36(2), 103-120.

Karanja, D. (2012). The Role of the Kenya Wildlife Service in Protecting Kenya’s Wildlife.

George Wright Forum. 29(1), 74-80.

Mugisha, A. R., and Jacobson, S. K. (2004). Threat Reduction Assessment of Conventional and

Community-based Conservation Approaches to Managing Protected Areas in Uganda.

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Pires, S. F., and Moreto, W. D. (2011). Preventing Wildlife Crimes: Solutions That can

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Wasser, S. K., Clark, J. W., Drori, O., Kisamo, E., Mailand, C., Mutayoba, B., and Stephens, M.

(2008). Combating the Illegal Trade in African Elephant Ivory with DNA Forensics.

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Criminal Policy and Research. 17(2), 125-148.

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