Is controlled hunting of endangered species a valid plan?

Answer by Rory Young:

The argument for the limited trade in endangered species products is that the money generated will be put back into the protection and management of the endangered species in question.

The obvious first question is whether or not the money does go into the protection of the endangered species.

There has been some controversy over this. There are many examples of countries claiming they need the money generated for conservation and then are shown to be doing nothing for the animals.

As a rule of thumb, countries who’s revenue from their wildlife areas goes into the central treasury tend not to whilst countries who’s revenues from wildlife related incomes do tend to put the money

It is important to look at the successes and failures of this policy in the past.

One of the biggest successes of allowing trade in an endangered species is the Nile Crocodile.

In the 1960s the Nile Crocodile was facing extinction. A combination of protected status, dedicated breeding sanctuaries and, controversially, sustainable-yield programs were introduced.

The details of these sustainable yield programs are important as there are crucial differences between species. It was believed that crocodile hatchlings had a 1 in 20 charge of surviving or 3% up to two years of age. Therefore a system was established whereby eggs would be collected and incubated and the crocodiles raised to two years of age (optimum food conversion point for slaughtering) at which point 5% would be released into the wild (the extra 2 percentage points meant to increase the population) and the rest harvested.

The whole plan worked extremely well and the populations shot up. This system has continued to this day in many countries. Recently it was discovered that certain populations were too large, such as Lake Kariba and subsequent studies revealed that the initial estimates of 3% of two-year-olds surviving were way out and were actually possibly as low as 0.3%.

It would be nice to imagine such a system could be applied to other species but that unfortunately is just not the case.

Let’s look now at the biggest current failure.

South Africa has continued alone to allow hunting of Rhinos despite the critical threat to their continued existence and for the first time in thirty years an American trophy hunter was recently allowed to import his rhino horn trophy into the US. Yet the rhino population in South Africa has this year started to produce less than are being poached, hunted legally and dying naturally.

Whether or not the legalized hunting/exploitation can help pay for the re-establishment of a species there reaches a point at which universal protect is the only answer.

The White Rhinoceros was reintroduced into Zimbabwe after going extinct there and the Black Rhinoceros was reintroduced to South Africa after being reintroduced there. Initially these new groups were kept in protected sanctuaries until the populations grew to a size where they could be hunted sustainably and then start paying for the protection and reintroduction or other endangered species. They didn’t reintroduce them and then start shooting them!!!

The issue is further complicated by the different situations in different regions. Kenya for example has a relatively small and dwindling population of elephants compared to Zimbabwe. Allowing Zimbabwe to sell ivory stockpiles (as happened in 1998 to Japan) may benefit Zimbabwe’s Parks coffers and therefore the reasoning goes protect the larger population, yet it is disastrous for Kenya’s smaller population. The problem with this reasoning is that it is not just about overall numbers that are important but geographical and genetic diversity. We need Kenya’s small population as much as we need Zimbabwe’s huge one.

I have become more and more convinced by Kenya’s arguments for a ban on all trade in ivory. However, I agree 100% with Zimbabwe’s attitude towards poaching. As long as poachers are armed shoot them and if captures up to seven years imprisonment (more for rhino horn). Kenya on the other hand fines them a couple of hundred dollars

So, no hunting of animals as endangered as Rhinos and go to town on the poachers; and as for the “need for the money” that can be found from other sources..

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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. (http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/south-africa-poaching.html#cr)

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: https://youngrory.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/what-would-effectively-stop-elephant-poaching-in-africa/