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The Gap Year Blog

How Should We Approach Wildlife Crime?

29 Jun 2017 17:25 PM

As demand rises for increasingly scarce animals so too does the fight against poaching. Many nations are looking to toughen up on wildlife crime. One such strategy being stronger prison sentences, but is there another way? This is a look into a progressive way to tackle poaching and how we deal with wildlife crime.

In Indonesia last May 2 suspected poachers were caught in possession of the preserved skin and bones of a Sumatran Tiger. As it stands, maximum sentencing for both poaching and trading in protected species comes to just 5 years in prison in Indonesia. This doesn’t’ seem long enough at all for the life of a majestic tiger, especially 1 of only 440 remaining. There are plans from the Indonesian government to call for longer sentencing but this could worsen the situation.

By-and-large the longer someone spends in prison the more disenfranchised and culturally shunned they’ll be when reintroduced to society. Prison time, even just a criminal record, significantly damages employability. Extreme poverty and poverty through low income/unemployment creates poachers, and if previously convicted poachers were impoverished before, they’ll be even more so when they come out of jail, forcing them straight back into poaching.

Photo Credit: WikiMedia | Lord Mountbatten

Obviously not all poachers are poverty-stricken as stories of wealthy big game hunters unlawfully killing protected species have cropped up over recent years (one of the most notorious being Walter Palmer’s murder of Cecil the Lion). Would it not be better than to, instead of sentencing prison time, issue substantial fines to those who can afford them with all proceeds going into the conservation of the species they poached or attempted to poach and, where fines aren’t applicable, poachers could be sentenced to Conservation Service; managing the ecosystem and conserving endangered species.

Sentencing through Conservation Service would not only be true atonement for the damage done to the species, but also provide ecological education to convicts, boosting both their understanding of the natural world and their future employability after release. If rehabilitation programmes were introduced, the convicted poachers could even go on to become conservationists in the areas they once roamed; having both an ecological knowledge and the know-how of a poacher they could be valuable assets to anti-poaching efforts. 

This is not to say every poacher will be turned into a conservationist, but even so their work from the sentence will be a benefit to the ecological system. As creatures like these become less rare, and education on their environmental and economic significance rises, poaching will no longer be the last resort for many of the world’s impoverished. The ecosystem services and income from ecotourism will boost local economies and alleviate poverty.  

Photo Credit: Flickr | ENOUGH Project

In the long run this strategy run would also tackle extreme poverty as it has been shown that preserving natural heritage has many social and economic benefits. With a prosperous local economy and the need for poaching by locals eradicated, those seeking to traffic wildlife would be directly affected. Poaching syndicates’ and wildlife traffickers’ ability to take advantage of the impoverished would be choked, making future poaching activity easier to trace back to those funding and facilitating organised poaching rackets. In conjunction to this, heightened enforcement, prevention and monitoring, along with anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts elsewhere (for instance the shutting down or domestic ivory markets), would further tighten the stranglehold. 

By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!