Poaching is the illegal hunting, killing or capturing of animals, a practice that occurs in a variety of ways. Poaching can refer to the failure to comply with regulations for legal harvest, resulting in the illegal taking of wildlife that would otherwise be allowable. Examples include: Taking without a license or permit, use of a prohibited weapon or trap, taking outside of the designated time of day or year, and taking of a prohibited sex or life stage. Poaching can also refer to the taking of animals from a gazzetted wildlife sanctuary, such as a national park, game reserve, or zoo. Most countries enforce various sanctions on the hunting of wild animals, and international controls, such as bans, restrictions and monitored trade, are all aimed at controlling poaching. However, it is important to note that hunting, under specific regulations, is in fact often permitted in designated game preserves.
Reasons for poaching
Humans and their ancestors have hunted for over 400,000 years. Historically, hunting has played an important role in leadership, community formation, language development, and tool use. While primitive humans relied largely upon hunting for food, the agricultural revolution (approximately 10,000 years ago) reduced the need for survival hunting in most parts of the world. Hunting has continued, however, for several reasons, and poaching remains a possibility wherever hunting is an important part of the economy or culture. Animal products, such as hide, ivory, horn, teeth and bone, are sold to dealers who make clothes, jewelry and other materials from them. In some African and Latin American societies, animals are poached for game meat. In Congo, for example, monkey meat is sold in the open market, and in North America, white-tailed deer is hunted for food.
Some animals have religious value and are used as totems and in witchcraft. For example, among the Banyoro, Baganda and Batooro of West and Central Uganda, the king traditionally sits on a leopard skin. Many tribes in Congo consider leopard skin a symbol of magic, and many witch doctors in the region use these skins to show their powers. Many animals are killed for ceremonial purposes, such as cleansing a bad omen, asking gods for rain, etc.
Animals are also believed to be a source of local herbs and have medicinal value. For example, it is believed by some Lendu in Eastern Congo that the lion’s liver cures skin diseases, and it is also used as a poison. Mbuti pygmies of Western Uganda and Eastern Congo are said to use snake poison on their fighting arrows. Animals in the developing world are also hunted as vermin by communities that leave near forests and game parks. The aim is to kill the animals and stop them from encroaching on farms.
Hunting for sport is also practiced in various nations. Though most of it is controlled, illegal sport hunting is common in developing countries. Many sport hunters keep the animals as trophies.
No matter the reason why an animal is killed, all types of hunting or poaching have led to extinction of species, and if uncontrolled many more animals will become extinct.
Methods of poaching
These are cable wires of different lengths which are tied on trees to trap animals. The snare is put in such a position that it traps the animal around the neck. The wire strangles the animal as it struggles to free itself. Snares are used by poachers in national parks in Kenya and Tanzania.
Spears and dogs
A more traditional method involves chasing and spearing animals with the assistance of dogs. The dogs disorient the animal and in some cases actually subdue it. A dog may have a bell tied around its necks, which startles the quarry from its hiding place.
The net is spread at one end of an area, and the poachers, sometimes with the assistance of dogs, chase the animals towards it. The animals get trapped in the net, and the poachers spear them.
Pits are dug to trap large animals such as elephants, buffaloes and zebras. The pits are dug across the path of the animals. The pits are normally covered with grass and trees to disguise them. The animals are normally pushed towards the pit. This is done in two ways: some hunters chase the animals, while others provoke the animals into chasing them. Because the animals are heavier than the plants covering the pit, they will fall in while crossing the pit. It is here that the hunters will come and kill the animal; most of these animals are killed for their ivory, teeth and other products. Normally the hunter takes a very small part of the animal, which is then sold to dealers.
Arrows and bows
These are normally made out of local forest products. Some hunters such as the Mbuti pygmies of Congo are said to put poison on their arrow tips.
Poachers use many other traps; most are made with local materials. An example is a snare-like trap used to trap small animals mainly used by communities in the Rwenzori area (Figure 4). The other commonly used trap in the area is a horseshoe-like trap made from iron (Figure 5). The trap is placed on the ground and the animal gets trapped when it steps on it.
Many people have been inadvertently injured by poachers' traps. The majority of the casualties are women and children who normally go into the forests to collect firewood, food, and other forest products. Stepping on a trap like the one in Figure 5 can lead to broken legs and even death.
Poaching, extinction and disease
While poaching has various effects, its most direct impact is extinction, either globally or within a given locality. Poaching has also been associated with the spread of disease, both in animals and humans. In Congo, for example, it is believed that the Ebola virus was transmitted to people who fed on monkeys and other primates, who then transmitted the disease to other human beings. In Uganda, the outbreak of Anthrax in early 2000 was associated with people eating or transporting infected animals from Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Case study: Uganda’s wildlife reserves
Uganda is rich in wildlife resources. Wildlife occur in both protected areas and on ungazetted private lands. There are four types of wildlife protected areas, and they are classified according to the degree of protection accorded. Uganda has ten national parks, ten wildlife reserves, seven wildlife sanctuaries and 13 community wildlife areas. The national parks occupy about 11,150 square kilometers (km2) or 4.6% of the country; wildlife reserves occupy about 8760 km2 or 3.6%, consisting primarily of grassland with patches of dry woodlands and scrubland; and wildlife sanctuaries cover 850 km2 or 0.35% of the country and are made up of areas of different sizes designed for specific conservation purposes. Several of the sanctuaries have been gazetted to afford particular protection to single species of national or global importance. Community wildlife areas, originally known as controlled hunting areas, occupy about 27,600 km2 or 11.4% of Uganda. Illegal hunting, wars and poaching have reduced most of Uganda’s wildlife to near extinction. The majority of the animals are hunted down for the various reasons noted above. As a result of civil wars in the region, many animals have migrated to neighboring countries. At times, these animals stray to settled areas and are killed. Table 1 provides a summary of selected animal populations in Uganda from 1960 to 2003.
|Table 1. Selected animal populations in Uganda, 1960-2003.|
|Species||1960s||1982-83||1995-96||1999-2003||Status in Uganda|
|Elephant||30,000||2,000||1,900||2,400||Population low, but slowly increasing|
|Black rhino||400||150?||0||0||Extinct in Uganda|
|White rhino||300||20?||0||0||Extinct in Uganda|
|Hippopotamus||26,000||13,000||4,500||5,300||Population increasing slowly|
|Burchell’s zebra||10,000||5,500||3,200||2,800||Population low, possibly still decreasing|
|Hartebeest||25,000||18,000||2,600||3,400||Population increasing slowly|
|Impala||*||19,000||6,000||3,000||Population low, may now be increasing slowly|
|Uganda kob||70,000||40,000||30,000||44,000||Population increasing|
|Source: Game Department reports and aerial surveys as indicated in this report. These are species for which reliable previous estimates are available, from which to determine trends. Numbers are approximate.|
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- Frome, Michael, 1998. National Parks or Theme Parks? 50th annual banquet of Olympic Park Associates. Seattle, Washington, November 7, 1998.
- Lamprey, R.H. and F. Michelmore, 1996. Survey of the Wildlife Protected Areas of Uganda.
- Norgrove, Linda and David Hulme, 2006. Parking Resistance and Resisting the Park: ‘Weapons of the Weak’. Confronting Conservation at Mount Elgon, Uganda. University of Manchester.
- Rwetsiba, Aggrey, 2005. Wildlife population trends in Uganda, 1960 – 2005. Monitoring and Research Co-ordinator, December 2005.
- Walker, H. Thayer, 2004. Fight to keep Kenya's wildlife off dinner tables: Poachers are snaring animals in national parks. San Francisco Chronicle. Friday, August 20, 2004.
Image by Geoff Gallice