Poverty, Poaching and Trafficking: What are the links?
May 2014, Volume 12-3

Editor’s Note (G. Damm): This report has been produced by Evidence on Demand with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) program, jointly managed by HTSPE Limited and IMC Worldwide Limited.

Our rapid review of the academic and grey literature revealed that the links between poverty, poaching and trafficking are under-researched and poorly understood. Yet, the assumption that poaching occurs because of poverty is omnipresent, with little ‘hard evidence’ to support the claim. Despite this, we are confident that the links are there, based on the evidence that we gathered. However, our understandings are hampered by a series of factors: trafficking and poaching are overwhelmingly framed as an issue of conservation/biodiversity loss rather than of poverty and development; it is difficult to collect clear and detailed data on poaching precisely because of its illicit nature; and many of the cases we examined are also linked in with conflict zones, making research even more challenging. Nevertheless, our key findings are as follows:

  1. Poaching in Sub Saharan African was produced via the historical legacy of colonialism
  2. Poverty is directly and indirectly linked to poaching and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn from Sub-Saharan Africa
  3. There are different types of poachers, and they require different policy responses
  4. Poaching and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn are ultimately driven by wealth and not by poverty per se.
  5. We need a much better understanding of the relationships between poverty and individual poacher motivation
  6. The evidence base for claims around poverty as a driver of ivory and rhino poaching is thin, but that does not mean that poverty is not an important factor
  7. There are direct links between conflict zones, illegal killing of wildlife, trafficking and poverty.
  8. Trafficking can increase poverty

We then summarize the main policy responses, identifying their strengths and weaknesses. These include:

1.    Changing people’s behavior via negative incentives (e.g. monitoring compliance with rules and penalizing detected rule breakers), positive incentives and distractions.
2.    The development of tourism as a route to poverty reduction.
3.    Legalization of the ivory and rhino horn trade at the international level, including arguments around its potential impact on community based natural resource management schemes.

Finally, we offer a series of short case studies that indicate these complex linkages via an analysis of particular examples.

Authors: Professor Rosaleen Duffy and Dr Freya A. V. St John