Conservationists and animal activists have created a mythology that poaching is mostly illegal hunting for trophies or something like ivory for decoration.
It's not the case at all, and that confusion is why anti-poaching efforts are about as effective as the 'War on Drugs' in America.
Poaching is primarily done to satisfy the alternative and complementary medicine markets, which are a quirky shadow business in America (the U.S. government's $120 million annual National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine - NCCAM - boondoggle aside) but in Asia, alternative medicine is popular. As a result of growing wealth being thrown at suspect unproven "natural" treatments, unprecedented levels of funding are being invested in poaching enforcement, while events such as China’s public burning of confiscated ivory publicize the problem but lead to a false sense of satisfaction that something is being done.
A long-term strategy is not to demonize hunting, even the illegal kind, or even goofy pseudo-medical practices, but rather to tackle the growing wealth gap between African areas of supply and Asian centers of demand, which remains a central dynamic to the problem. Doing otherwise repeats the same mistakes America made in its War on Drugs.
Legal trading bans also drive up the price of poached goods, which in turn encourages the involvement of organized criminals who operate like drug cartels.
"Much of the current narrative on responses to poaching and illegal trade in wildlife is centered on increasing enforcement efforts and anti-poaching measures. We argue that this approach risks making the same mistake as the 'war on drugs', because it doesn't address the real drivers of poaching. For example, increasing demand in East Asia and growing relative poverty nationally and internationally,” said lead author Daniel Challender from the University of Kent. “To conserve species' we need to build capacity to do so within local communities and consider supply-based approaches and demand reduction programs based on further research."
Citation: Daniel W. S. Challender, Douglas C. MacMillan, Poaching is more than an enforcement problem, Conservation Letters, DOI: 10.1111/conl.12082
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