A zoomed in image of an elephant's tusk against a blurred green background
Credit: Unsplash

The perils of poaching: is it eliminating the ecosystem?

By Claire Thomson

Whether for paychecks, power, or pleasure, poaching has serious implications for us all.

What kind of person enjoys hunting, killing, and capturing wild animals for fun, for money, or for sport? It wouldn’t be me. Yet, for some reason, poaching persists as a pertinent problem, worldwide. Thousands of species of animals – from elephants and rhinos to lizards, snakes and monkeys, and everything in between – continue to be removed from their natural habitats, and/or illegally slaughtered, to fund a black market of supposed commercial value. Poached animals can be used for food, jewellery, decor, traditional medicine, or rehoused as exotic pets. The question I’d put forward, though, is: can we really put a price on wildlife consumption when the wider implications to the ecosystem are so damaging?

Picture a “poacher”, and you’ll likely picture a trophy hunter: a man with a gun posing next to a dead elephant, or similar animal of the sort. Wildlife crimes make headlines when the animals in question are rare and exotic. That doesn’t mean these are the only animals targeted: poaching is not only an issue for the Savanna where animals roam around freely, it also occurs in North America, and beyond, as a preventative measure to stop animals from destroying crops or attacking livestock. Money may be the main motivator; however, where black market trading is occurring doesn’t necessarily correlate with where the poaching is happening. For a long time now it has been reported that the American black bear is under threat, due to the use of its gallbladder and bile in Eastern medicine. A single dried bear gallbladder can pull in a whopping 30,000 USD on the black market. What other species are exploited? Whilst wild animals like bears may be the first to spring to mind when considering the poaching game, are we also aware of the exploitation of bighorn sheep, moose, coyotes, wolves, eagles, or even plants such as rare cacti, Venus flytraps, and different species of trees? Almost certainly not.

“Picture a “poacher”, and you’ll likely picture a trophy hunter: a man with a gun posing next to a dead elephant…”

And it doesn’t stop there: poaching also extends from land to marine and freshwater ecosystems. On a daily basis, fishermen are fishing beyond the law and set quotas, which is considered as illegal hunting and therefore a form of poaching. On average, illegal and unregulated fishing makes up between 12-28% of fishing worldwide, totalling up to 26 million tonnes of fish. If you’re looking for more insight on this, Netflix’s documentary Seaspiracy perfectly illustrates this ever-increasing problem. 

“On average, illegal and unregulated fishing makes up between 12-28% of fishing worldwide…”

The global ecosystem faces the impacts of poaching no matter where the act takes place. Eliminating certain species from the food chain causes the overpopulation of some species and the endangerment and extinction of others. Poachers wander far and wide, destroying the ecosystem with every step, to get what they want or need, whether for human benefit, monetary gain, or twisted pleasure. Selfishly stabbing a hole in the planet’s ecosystem, they are responsible for the problems that result, alongside a vast range of others: habitat destruction and deforestation, to mention a few.

This isn’t to mention the tragic implications for the people who work hardest to protect the wildlife and conserve habitats. According to National Geographic, almost 600 rangers were shot by poachers between 2009 and 2016, whilst in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 170 rangers have been killed in the past two decades. Some would argue that poaching is a form of gang activity and culture, thus violence and death is a natural outcome. There are also connections between poaching and crimes, like trafficking, corruption and money laundering.

It is also extremely important to consider the idea that poaching affects us as a human race. A perfect example of this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Animals often carry zoonotic diseases, deadly to humans, like SARS, HIV, Ebola and Brucellosis. Illegally killing and mutilating these animals for commercial value leads to the transmission of these diseases from animal to humans leading to, as we can all testify to from our own lived experience, life-threatening epidemics of all magnitudes. 

“Illegally killing and mutilating these animals for commercial value leads to the transmission of these diseases from animal to humans…”

Nowadays, there are strict laws against poaching and more is being done to raise awareness of the issue. Over the years, it has become abundantly clear that education is key. By funding education in areas where poachers are being forced into the industry as a way to make a living, the number of species that are becoming endangered and extinct should begin to decrease. Whilst the situation has improved, we must remember that we are not there yet. The biosphere and ecosystem is still under threat from humanity, and equally humanity is being harmed by the act of poaching. If the Covid pandemic has taught us anything, it is how dangerous and harmful poaching can be to the human race. It is essential that we work harder to put an end to the growth of the poaching movement, with all of its twisted branches, not only for the sake of animal lives, but for the sake of ours. 


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