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Poaching Prevention in Africa


With the rising cost of living, even on the African poverty line, and the greed and demand for bush meat, ivory and rhino horn the threat to African wildlife is very real and growing. The threat to some species is so great that some may become extinct within the next few years. Poaching is the illegal killing of animals, usually to eat or sell. Poaching is an enormous problem in Africa and other parts of the world. More wild animals are disappearing year after year, and poaching is one of the main contributing factors. There has been an ivory ban since 1989, with the exception of ‘one off’ sales of confiscated ivory as has happened in October 2008 (the first since 1999). This may allow poached elephant tusks to be mingled into the legal sales. Poaching can have various effects, its most direct and destroying is extinction, either globally or within a given locality or country. Poaching has also been associated with the spread of disease, both in animals and humans.

Animal losses

Where there were previously 100,000+ black rhino on the plains of Africa, there are now less than 3000. Where there used to be 150,000-200,000 lion in the 1980’s there are now 18,000-25,000 today. There was once 5-10 million elephant in the 1930’s; in 1989 there were around 600,000. One of the most endangered predators in Africa the cape wild dog, which was known to roam in packs of 100+, today they are in packs of around 10 with only 3,000-4,000 left, less than 60 on the Serengeti. In 1900 there were 100,000+ cheetahs worldwide, today there are 10,000-15,000 worldwide,  10% of which are in captivity. Some reports will indicate that Zimbabwe could have lost up to 80% of its wildlife.

Reasons for Poaching

All poaching is caused by the desire for profit of some kind. The difference is the scale of profit.

Poaching Types

There are three distinct types of poaching:

    Subsistence poaching – for bottom line profit of food and basic survival

·          Commercial poaching – for mid level profit and food

·          Trophy poaching – for vast profit

Subsistence Poachers

Take animals mainly for food, or to sell the animal either as a whole or in parts such as skins, tails teeth etc for a small amount of money in order to buy food. They are driven by poverty and hunger.  This group of poachers mainly set out to trap smaller animals - a wide variety of insect species  rodents and birds small-to-medium antelope such as duikers, gazelle, impala, dik-diks and bushbuck and larger antelope such as lesser and greater kudu, eland also warthog and other small and medium sized mammals such as porcupines and bush pigs.  

Commercial Poachers

This group use poaching as a money-making venture. They are driven not by the need to survive– but by a desire for financial gain. They work on a smaller scale to the large organised trophy poachers.  Commercial poachers tend to target most of the species that are hunted by subsistence poachers and also, larger species - right through to animals like Cape buffalo, white and black rhino and elephants

Trophy Poachers

Aim to gain enormous profit through trading in endangered species. They are driven by sheer greed. Both Commercial and trophy poaching exist because there is a worldwide demand for the products. This demand is caused by lack of education amongst the buyers. All forms of poaching continue to exist because there is an inadequate preventative law against poaching and an inadequate programme to control poaching. These people are the top end of the scale and are sometime high profile people. A recent example of this occurred in South Africa where a Vietnamese diplomat was recalled after she was filmed in an apparent illegal purchase of a rhinoceros horn.  It was filmed by a television team following government investigators, they filmed a gang of apparent poachers meeting the woman and handing the rhino horn to her. She was then filmed taking the rhino horn inside the Vietnamese embassy in Pretoria in South Africa. It is said that Vietnamese and other eastern and far eastern regions are heavily involved in the illegal trade of rhino horns through syndicates.

These trophy poachers are mainly targeting endangered species such as white and the critically endangered black rhino, elephant, cheetah, lion, leopards, zebra, antelope and any other rare and endangered species of mammal, reptiles, and birds.

Targeted Animals

More than 40 rhinos are said to have been killed in South Africa this year. Reports this year have indicated there is an increase in elephant poaching in all countries. In Africa it has been reported that poaching has increased in key areas and recent war zones in central and western Africa such as the Democratic of Congo and Zimbabwe have become a haven for poachers. eBay has said it will put a global ban of ivory products on its website after 4,000 illegal elephant  ivory products were found advertised on the site.

Methods of poaching

There are various different methods of killing the animals these include:

·         shooting sometimes by heavily armed poachers

·         bow and arrow

·         spears

·         pitfalls

·         net traps

·         snares

·         dogs

·         poison, although this used this is mainly used on birds

Examples of some snares


These can be used for poaching targeted animals, although any animal can be caught in these snares. This form of trap is probably the most common and indiscriminate of all, causing the most suffering to the wildlife.


Leg Hold Snares

These snares are simple, cheap and yet highly effective. This method of hunting allows teams of hunters to set many snares per day providing maximum coverage of an area in an effort to catch many animals with very little financial cost, physical exertion or risk of being caught. Professional poachers prefer heavy-duty cable since this minimizes lacerations that would reduce the value of the skin. However, this type of cable requires a substantial investment by poachers and financial constraints thus limit the number of snares that can be set. Brake cable or heavy-duty nylon rope may also be used; the advantage being that cheap materials allow for a large number of snares to be set.  


Body and Neck Snares

Two sticks are erected (as large as is deemed necessary from a consideration of any identified spoor) on either side of a path/track. A snare is then made using steel wire or cable. The snare is placed between the two sticks and the end is connected to a solid flexible young tree trunk, which serves as a spring. The tree is selected because of its strength and flexibility. It must be small enough and flexible enough that it can be bent over to act as a spring for the snare, yet big enough that it can hold the partial weight of the 'victim' suspended in the air once the snare is sprung.

Setting the spring usually requires the help of at least two other people to bend the tree over and set the trigger mechanism.  An animal walking along this trail would push the wire releasing the trigger. This allows the tree to snap back to its upright position and draws the snare tight around the neck or body of the animal. The tree in its upright position keeps tension on the wire so that the snare does not loosen allowing the animal to escape. The animals have little chance once caught in a snare. The snares are set in many locations  and the poachers are killing much more than they can possibly eat. Anti-poaching patrols often come across large animals like buffalo that have simply been left to rot in a snare. Poacher’s snares kill indiscriminately often trapping valuable and endangered animals.

Effects on Tourism

Today tourism is one of the great industries of Africa and brings in millions of US$ every year. Of the dozens of rhino species that once existed there are now only five species left in the world and only two of these are left in Africa, the white rhino and the black rhino. Some of the sub-species of these have become extinct in the last few years and yet these are two of the key species that draw wildlife tourists to the African continent.

Preventative anti poaching measures

Prevention should begin with a survey of any game reserve, whether private or government owned, to assess the possibility of any ongoing or future poaching. Once armed with these results and recommendations the reserve must act upon them by enhancing their security and limiting the possibility of poaching at their reserves.

The general public in Europe and the rest of the world are unaware of the true extent of the poaching and the pain and suffering to the animals and the fact that a few key species are under a huge threat of extinction. A large public awareness program should be designed to bring the problem to the forefront or public awareness use of the general press and television documentaries would assist in this.

There may be a requirement for point guarding close protection on critically endangered animals such as the black rhino. These species bring in revenue for the local community. This will also give much needed work and job creation schemes to the local population but they will have to be trained by experienced people and mentors. Courses aimed at training the trainers will also promote local employment.

Employing the local population will not only create work and money for the local area but it will also enhance awareness of poaching and protection of their environment, in turn creating more jobs by helping to prevent poaching.

Increased tourism will also provide employment with opportunities for not only local animal guarding but also wildlife guiding of tourists, hospitality and the growth of general commerce in the area.

Mentors should be put in place to train and educate the local population

Regular anti poaching patrols and smaller fast response units should be set up to provide a deterrent.

Working with the local police units a central database for all poaching incidents in should be kept to assist with any future incidents in any particular area.

 A mobile training and ‘trouble shooting team’ for all reserves heavily poached areas and reserves with critically endangered animals.


A centrally controlled and government, or possibly world backed, organised force, for anti poaching and conservation would be a strong move in the right direction.

It would not only protect the valuable and delicate eco-system of Africa but bring improvements in the form of employment, tourism and education to a community that is in severe need.  Enabling and empowering the indigenous peoples in their own growth.

In some countries reducing the incidences of poaching will have the added effect of preventing warring factions using animals fund the purchase of weapons.  This will clearly be of benefit to all the population.




Some of the African Key Species located on the red list.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural


 Resources (IUCN) Red List



                   Extinct                                                 Threatened                                  Least Concern




Oval: CR
Oval: VU
Oval: EW
Oval: LC
Oval: DD
Oval: NT
Oval: NE
Oval: EX
Oval: EN





                                                      Black Rhino                             Lion

                                                                               Elephant                           White Rhino

                                                                         Cape Wild Dog









Copyright © 2009 Tactical Training and Wildlife Services. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/21/09.