Wildlife: What will be more effective as a means to end Elephant and Rhino Poaching, Park Rangers or alleviating poverty?

Answer by Rory Young:

Ivory poaching has not decreased as poverty has been alleviated, the opposite has happened. This is because ivory and rhino horn poaching are about green not hunger!

As Africa (where the poaching happens) and the Far East (where the biggest market is) have grown economically, and especially with regards to their per capita income, the poaching of ivory and rhino horn has escalated in tandem with this economic growth.

Zimbabwe National Parks Rangers On Parade At Tashinga in Matusadona National Park.

I have received a number of negative and even aggressive dismissive comments about raising funds for anti-poaching activities in National Parks. These people have been saying that it is a waste of time and that to end poaching we need to focus on poverty alleviation. These people are wrong.

First of all, there is a massive difference between poaching for meat  and the poaching of elephants and rhinos for ivory and horn.

Let's look at bush meat first. Meat poaching is not a very profitable venture but the costs of poaching meat are also low. There is a definite link between meat poaching in Zimbabwe for example and poverty/hunger. During the economic crisis meat-poaching rocketed.

It is also the easiest type of poaching to deal with. The meat-poachers are typically unsophisticated in their methods and not overly industrious in their efforts. They will usually lay snare-lines or hunt with dogs.

Most of the meat will be consumed by the poachers and their kin with any surplus being sold on. Dealing with these poachers usually entails first lifting snares in an area that has not previously been patrolled and then creating a deterrent by making arrests.

Education and community outreach are crucial. The same communities that the meat-poachers come from need to know how poaching negatively impacts their lives through loss of tourism revenue for example.

The countries which experience the worst meat-poaching are those with the worst rule of law, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is out of control and a huge threat to wildlife populations simply because the government is doing nothing about it.

Rhino and elephant poaching in Central, Southern and East Africa is a whole different kettle of fish.

There is the occasional inexperienced group or individual who might dig up an old rifle and try to shoot an elephant so as to make a few bob out of the tusks but those are not a serious threat and are usually found and arrested very quickly if there are rangers operating in the area.

The real threat and the cause of all the devastation are the "professional" poaching teams. These are men for whom killing elephants and rhinos is their livelihood and it is a very lucrative livelihood which is why they are also willing to shoot dead any rangers who try to stop them.

Here is a typical report: (WELL DONE TO OUR RANGERS IN MARONGORA)
On the 13th of November 2013, three Rangers (names withheld) were out on extended patrol in the Sharu general area in Rifa. Around 0600hrs early in the morning they picked up a spoor of three people coming from the Zambezi River heading inland.
They tracked for a short distance and came across a place where the poachers had camped. The poachers fired at the rangers who also fired back. This led to the poachers fleeing from their camp.
Hereunder is the list of the recoveries that our Rangers recovered.

  1. 1x AK 47 rifle serial number 386)56
  2. 1x .375 rifle with erased serial number
  3. 21x .375 rounds of ammunition
  4. 16x  AK 47 rounds of ammunition and one magazine.
  5. 2 x aluminium cooking pots and one aluminium plate.
  6. 15kg mealie meal of Zambian label  (Champion breakfast by name)
  7. 750 iltres cooking oil of Zambian label  (OKI packaged in Lusaka)
  8. 1x lighting torch
  9. 1x pair of shoes and 1 pair slippers (pata pata type)
  10. Assortment of clothing including shirts, T shirts, jerseys and trousers.
  11. 1x hand axe and one ripping knife.
  12. Some various tablets and water purifying liquid.


  • The poachers were Zambians judging from the labels on their belongings and direction from which the spoor was coming.
  • The poachers were just entering the park for a poaching expedition.
  • The poachers were three in number and the direction of flight was towards the Zambezi River which was less than 5 kilometres from the contact scene.
  • It seems the poachers had not shot anything as they had just entered the Park the previous night.

With the onset of the rains and the sprouting of vegetation, poachers take advantage of the environs which they use as cover for their illegal activities. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority however warns would be poachers that illegal entry into any Parks for the purposes of poaching is suicidal and Parks will be pro active in order to remain on top of the situation. The Authority will continue to take poachers as they come.

The above list is the typical make up of a professional poaching team. They have crossed the border from Zambia into Zimbabwe. Hopping back across the border when they have completed their filthy task will leave them in the clear.

Amongst the group there is one "hunter" who is armed with the .375; a weapon designed for shooting big game such as elephant. The serial number has been removed because it has been bought legally in a gun shop in Zambia, along with the ammunition for it. It has been properly licensed for legal hunting or target shooting and then handed over to the poaching team. It will have been kept away from the poachers along with all other equipment so that they cannot be associated with any illegal activity in Zambia (don't shit on your own doorstep). This rifle is not primarily a weapon of war.

There is also an AK47 assault rifle. This weapon would have been kept hidden in the bush somewhere most likely and would  have come from one of the guerilla units fighting in any one of a number of wars during the last forty years or so.

The AK47 is not suitable for shooting elephants. It would only wound elephants and cause them to bleed to death slowly or die slowly from septicemia. This weapon is a weapon of war and meant for use against rangers. In 1989 the parliament of Zimbabwe passed the National Parks Indemnity Act because of the fact that these poaching teams were entering the country armed for war and using the weapons against rangers who in turn were not fully protected under the law if they returned fire. When the Act was passed it was condemned by many countries and organizations, including the WWF, who called it a shoot-to-kill policy.

Zimbabwe realized in 1989 that the people who were coming to kill elephants were former soldiers and criminals who meant business and responded appropriately. To this day Zimbabwe's successes against ivory and rhino horn poaching were almost unique in the world. Unfortunately the economic disaster in Zimbabwe has made it impossible to train, equip and support the rangers as before.

There is a lot of organizing involved in this horrible business. Someone has offered to fund the team. They will have been paid deposits. Someone else has added his knowledge of who to employ and how much to pay them. The food and equipment has been purchased. Meetings have been held to decide which area to target. On their return the money would have been paid, based on the weight of the ivory, all the components and evidence redisbursed and the ivory handed over to the organization or individual that funded the expedition.

This is organized crime. It is a premeditated and carefully planned and executed criminal endeavor. It is also one that adds the use of the tools of war to terrorize the men tasked with guarding these natural areas and their animals. There is huge money involved. The current street value of rhino horn is around $150'000 and rising fast. A rhino's two horns will weigh around 3kg each equating to street value of $900'000. Ivory is going for around $10'000 per kilogram. A Matusadona bull elephant's tusks will easily weigh 25kg each at least; so $500'000 per animal.

This is not about poverty alleviation. These people are making a lot of money. The poachers on the ground are not making as much as the dealers but they are still getting rich by our countries' standards. They are wealthy people. If they shoot five elephants they can retire in comfort. However, they continue killing and killing and killing and making more and more and more.

Amazingly, we have been here before. The elephants and rhinos of Southern, Central and East Africa were all wiped out to one degree or another by early colonial hunters. To save what was left and allow the populations to recover a decision was made to create reserves, National Parks, sanctuaries where the animals would be left alone. These would be large areas where gene pools could be protected. Pragmatically but controversially adjacent to these areas would be established "safari areas" where hunting would be allowed and would be used to raise money.

These National Parks began to flourish.
Soon the game began to repopulate the safari areas and spill over back into the traditional and commercial farming lands. Eventually private (commercial) and communal (rural council/traditional) game ranching became big business.

The efforts to combat poaching are being undertaken in all these different zones. There are many different variables associated with each and different degrees of success with each type of land-ownership in different countries. This is of course necessary to maintain overall populations of wildlife for tourism for example.

So why focus on the National Parks.
It is not possible to protect all the areas properly. We need sanctuaries for endangered species that are intensively protected, whether private or National. In Zimbabwe, the private reserve Madikwe is successfully protecting a population of 200 rhinos. Lake Chivero Rhino Sanctuary and Matobo National Park are National Reserves where rhinos are successfully being protected. However, these areas are not enough.

Matusadona National Park was declared an "Intensive Protection Zone" in the early1990s.
It is the home of the last of the rhinos of the the middle and lower Zambezi river basin and also the home of a unique gene pool of large-tusked elephants. It needs to be protected and rhinos reintroduced to rebreed and build a viable genetic stock.

The rangers are the front line. Without them in the field the animals stand no chance. Changing the attitudes of the buyers in Asia and elsewhere will take time. While that work continues the rangers have to hold the fort!

Park Rangers on patrol in Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe.

The Tashinga Initiative is focused on primarily, but not only, on providing support to the rangers of the Middle Zambezi. Please visit this blog Quorans For A Cause where amazing people are doing what they can to help the Tashinga Initiative support the rangers!

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2 thoughts on “Wildlife: What will be more effective as a means to end Elephant and Rhino Poaching, Park Rangers or alleviating poverty?

  1. Wildlife: What will be more effective as a mean...

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