How do you deal with animal poachers?

Answer by Rory Young:

WARNING! This contains graphic images. It is not for children!

WARNING! This contains graphic images and is not for children!

There are two types of poachers.

Meat poachers poach mainly plains game to sell the meat or to eat themselves.
They are best dealt with by “normal” methods of law-enforcement, education, poverty alleviation and even integration into the wildlife management system.

These people are for the most part hungry and this type of poaching can be brought under control to the extent of game populations and biodiversity not being threatened. However, as in the case of the DR Congo and many West African countries, the bush-meat trade can get out of control. This is in large part due to a lack of will, effort and/or ability of the governments concerned to limit and regulate the practice.
Meat poaching is also tied to the poaching of gorillas for “muti” (traditional medicine). In the case of the mountain gorillas, the problem is more akin to the elephant and rhino poaching, requiring similar strategies and tactics to combat it.

 The bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in the Virunga National Park July, 2007

Rhino and elephant poachers hunt for the rhino horn and ivory to sell on the international black market. The ivory goes to the Far East and is used for trinkets and jewellery. The rhino horn goes either to Yemen to be used to make handles for traditional daggers (relatively small quantities) or to the Far East be used in traditional medicines (large quantities).

Rhino poached and butchered in 2011 in South Africa with her calf. (

These poachers are usually ex-guerilla fighters or the like and are well equipped with fully automatic weapons, heavy calibre hunting rifles and at times even rocket propelled grenades. The RPGs and fully automatic assault rifles are not suitable for hunting and invariably wound, maim and cause suffering long drawn-out death due to infection and blood loss. (I have just written an article for African Expedition Magazine about what it is like to have to go and put down such animals. I will post the link on my Blog as soon as it is up). 

Increasingly White South African poachers with a background in wildlife, using helicopters, have been encountered.

The purpose of fully automatic assault rifles and RPGs is of course also for use against Parks rangers and scouts, army, police or anyone else that may try to stop them.

The policy of African countries has either been to:

1. Try and arrest the poachers. This is usually impossible and results in the scouts and rangers losing morale and and avoiding confrontations. The reason is that when tracking a group of poachers the advantage is all with the poachers as they simply have to lay an ambush on their own tracks. Walking along for long periods knowing that the enemy is directly in front of you and can easily open fire at any time really frays your nerves.

The only way round this problem really is to have helicopter and other air support and to “leap-frog” with an airborne tracking team and stop group who move ahead and cross-grain at potential sites, thus narrowing down the location and eventually cornering them. The poachers of course have counter-tactics such as splitting up and each going in a different direction.

Zimbabwe Airforce Chopper and crew.

Such air support is expensive and invariably provided by the military who are usually not brought in to arrest people. 

It is no coincidence that the countries that follow this policy of only arresting poachers also have the biggest poaching problem.

2. Shoot on sight. Zimbabwe was most famous for this policy and the military has been used to provide air and ground support for anti-poaching operations. It is no coincidence that the countries that follow this policy have had the most success in curbing rhino horn and ivory poaching. There are increasing calls for other African countries to adopt such a position. See: Minister calls for shoot to kill policy in Botswana

Dead Poacher

Now here is my own two cents worth. If groups of criminals crossing into your country, armed to the teeth and with a tendency to fight rather than surrender and if that is leading to the extinction of a species and increased lawlessness then shoot them on sight.

The problem has to be treated as a priority and a threat to “homeland security” and all branches of the armed services in the affected countries must be directed to support the Parks officers. It is a war and needs to be fought as a war.

I have answered this specifically as asked, i.e. dealing with the poachers. I answered another question separately about dealing with the problem of Elephant poaching in Africa in general:

15 thoughts on “How do you deal with animal poachers?

  1. Shoot on site or life in prison . But the real problem is the greedy , wealthy people and corrupt governments that need to be stopped . All trade in ivory and rhino horn should be banned ASAP .

  2. How do you deal with animal poachers? | Wildlif...

  3. Извинете ме, че ще пиша на български, моля!
    Аз съм категорично против бракониерството. Биологичното равновесие на Земята е толкова крехко, че ние трябва да правим всичко възможно да го запазим. Безсмислено е да се убиват животни само заради бивните или рогата им. Не оправдавам и тези, които убиват животни за месо – месо може да се добива при отглеждане на животни като овце, говеда, птици…
    Надявам се все повече хора да се включват в борбата срещу бракониерството. Да запазим природата такава, каквато я намираме и дори подобрена! Успех!

  4. Thanks for this simple explanation. This really allowed me to see that we are really in a WAR to save Africa’s wildlife and that the enemy must be dealt with differently than an average criminal.

  5. It starts with Basic Education that killing is a sin…..No matter what……..
    we need to inculcate, educate our children to love nature, to love animals, to care for them.we do this at Chimpanzee S actuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (Ngamba Island)
    We need to implore media to report and highlight the plight of these animals and tell selves that life can be better and we do better. we then should seek government to help set clearer policies for conservation, habitat management and peaceful resolutions in terms of wars, because most of these happen in war prone areas.
    if men are fighting men let us leave out the animals…..I believe I have no right to kill a house mice…………..
    please laugh if you have too but if your kid starts these killings and does not value of that small thing, we would wish to see ending your life like that mouse or mosquito or …………………………………

  6. Deal with them as radically as possible! The real problem is the demant and it can only be solved in Asia!!!

  7. I thoroughly agree with you, however we don’t really shoot anyone on sight here in the USA. Not legally, at any rate. And don’t dare go roaming during hunting season or some drunken hunting eedjut will shoot you accidentally. Or you’ll get a foot caught in a trap. But do, please, shoot poachers on sight. Hopefully the US will some day come to its senses, outlaw hunting, and divest itself of the 300,000,000 guns it collectively owns!

  8. In kenyan the penalty is too linient recently some chinaman pleaded guilty in a court room for possesion of ivory and for fined ONLY 30,000 shillings this is an insult to the rangers who work tirelessly to nub the porchers

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