Strategies for eliminating ivory poaching

A basket of rhino horns left next to a pyre of burning elephant ivory in Kenya, 2016. Photo credit to Ben Curtis, AP

There are two general categories of anti-poaching policies. The first encompasses anti-poaching efforts and programs that target the actual slaughter of animals. This includes measures such as anti-poaching patrols, state and internationally driven efforts to identify and track down poachers, restricting access to vulnerable areas, and designating national parks. All these strategies involve confronting poachers, either by direct contact or by preventing their access to endangered species populations.

The second category encompasses campaigns and policies that target the trade in illegal products. Examples of such measures include the moratorium on the trade of ivory by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the monitoring of ivory exports and imports, national ivory bans, and anti-ivory campaigns (such as ivory seizure and destruction). The strategy of these programs is to decrease poaching by reducing the demand for ivory. These efforts all target supply and demand.

The only sustainable solution must involve changing attitudes toward the use of wildlife products. Such change is likely to take some time, which means that a multi-strategy approach will be critical to sustain viable elephant populations. But progress is being made in the largest market for elephant ivory, China. Policies enacted at the end of 2017 aim to eliminate all domestic processing and sale of ivory and the social media campaigns of organizations like WildAid are changing the attitudes of a young generation.

Spatial and temporal pattern of gun-hunting in an African park. The bushmeat market is on Saturday in the nearby village. Data from detection of gunshots on twelve acoustic recorders (black dots), averaged over a year.

Although ELP has encouraged and initiated projects in this area of outreach, our main focus in ‘on the ground in Africa’, finding ways to speed information about elephant movements and the threats they face to protected area managers and anti-poaching initiatives. The dearth of good information about exactly how much hunting/poaching is going on in an area, and whether existing strategies to reduce poaching are working, potentially risks pouring limited conservation dollars into less than effective programs. An example of how ELP works to improve access to information is through monitoring the actual frequency and location of gunshots in specific areas of concern. The video above shows how we can monitor changes in hunting behavior across landscapes and through time.

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