Sea turtle poaching in Central America
Sea turtle poaching in Central America remains a major practice despite increased regulations outlawing this act. Sea turtle eggs are illegally sold as delicacies in urban centers and hawksbill turtles are sold in the international tortoiseshell trade. Because of this, the hawksbill population along the Atlantic coast of Panama decreased by approximately 98% in the 20th century. Now, amid a returning sea turtle population due to increased conservation efforts, illegal harvesting is again resurfacing. A 2019 article by People Not Poaching states that, in Nicaragua, “At unprotected beaches, poachers destroy more than 90% of sea turtle nests to sell the eggs into the illegal wildlife trade.” Costa Rica remains a focal point for this trade as Tortuguero maintains the largest population of green turtles in the Western Hemisphere. Economic instability exacerbates this issue in part, with poaching providing a means for a fast revenue.

The Poaching Problem

A look into sea turtle poaching in Central America shows that mainly has support from supply-side dynamics. In Costa Rica, few households actually depend on the trade for nutrition or other needs. In Tortuguero, consumers mostly obtain turtle eggs directly from poachers as opposed to poaching themselves. Therefore, anti-poaching efforts must focus on poaching perpetrators rather than the consumers.

A research article by Pheasey et al. stated that “Conversely, supply-side dynamics may focus on alternative livelihoods for poachers, increased enforcement or poverty alleviation interventions that move away from a reliance on the species in question.” In addition, sea turtles can provide opportunities for residents of coastal communities to engage in ecotourism, providing an important source of income. Sea turtle ecotourism can return up to three times more money than sea turtle poaching, making living turtles more valuable. Therefore, poaching can threaten these ecotourism-based livelihoods.

Poachers are mostly from rural communities that experience high rates of poverty. In Latin America, which includes Central America, only 18% of the population resides in rural communities, but they account for 29% of the region’s impoverished, according to a United Nations analysis from 2018. Mass involuntary migrations from these rural areas are on the rise as their regional security and economic opportunities decline.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2018 report, a “historical reversal” occurred for the first time in 10 years when rural poverty levels increased by 2 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Driven in part by these circumstances, poaching provides an extra source of income, as in Nicaragua, where it supplements small cash earnings from artisanal fishing and subsistence farming. However, one must note that although it remains an influencing factor, poverty does not cause poaching and other factors also drive poaching.

TECHO Provides a Solution

Part of the solution to the persistent issue of sea turtle poaching in Central America includes expanding poverty-reducing programs to minimize the influence of poverty in this act. By providing other avenues for income and economic development, especially in rural communities, governments can reduce the number of people who poach for quick cash rewards.

TECHO is an international organization established in 1997 that is active in 19 countries across the Caribbean and Latin America. Its goal is to overcome the need for settlements where families in poverty without access to adequate housing group together. The need for settlements arises from the rampant inequality that exists in the region. Oftentimes, these settlements do not have access to essential services and resources.

  • Only one out of four settlements has a sewage system connection.
  • About 50% of settlements do not have access to clean drinking water.
  • About 37% of settlements do not have reliable electricity.

To address this, TECHO is mobilizing a community of volunteers to support advocacy efforts and construct water and sanitation systems as well as housing. TECHO also adds to community infrastructure to improve the quality of life for those in need. Thus far, TECHO has provided more than 657,000 people with decent housing while almost 11,000 people have gained access to clean water.

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) Steps in

The Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC) is an organization established in 1959 that aims to reduce the effects of sea turtle poaching in Central America. STC is working in coordination with law enforcement to reduce poaching, including renesting illegally obtained eggs intercepted by officers and reporting poaching activity on local beaches. STC is also supporting training programs for park guards responsible for the protection of the beaches and their wildlife. The combined efforts of TECHO and STC can help increase the conservation of endangered sea turtle species.

Rising rates of sea turtle poaching in Central America represent a deeper issue in the region. With sea turtle populations climbing and increased accessibility, poaching is becoming a more convenient way to supplement income and provide greater economic opportunities. Poverty is not the cause of poaching, but it can be a driver. Thus, by working to reduce poverty in the region, poaching rates can begin to decline.

– Kimberly Calugaru
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and poachingBig mammals all around the world are at risk because of poaching. The countries most impacted are the poorest ones despite the presence of natural parks and nature reserves. A recent scientific review examined the decline of mammal species and found that between 1980 to 2020, 294 species were illegally hunted in the parks designed to protect them. There is a clear link between poverty and poaching; the environment, animals and people can all be helped by alleviating poverty.

What Animals are Poached?

Endangered animals that are commonly poached are elephants, rhinos, tigers, sea turtles, lemurs and gorillas. Despite efforts to save these animals, high rates of poaching still threaten them. Currently, poachers are the single greatest threat to elephant’s survival. Their ivory makes elephants a highly-prized target. Similarly, rhinos are hunted for their horns. As a result, the western black rhinoceros went extinct in 2011.

Why is it a Threat in Poorer Countries?

Poverty and poaching have many reasons for commonly coinciding. However, it should be stated that poverty does not lead to poaching. It is one of the drivers, but to say that poverty causes poaching is not exactly correct. The International Conservation Caucus Foundation states that “the extreme poverty of many African communities induces their complicity in African-based, Asian-run poaching networks.” Due to a lack of conservation resources, a boom in bushmeat trade and the desire to increase socioeconomic status, poaching rates remain high. Another major driver is corruption. Research from the University of New York identified that corruption and poverty actually influence poaching more than the adequacy of law enforcement.

Who Poaches?

An important clarification is that it is not necessarily the poorest people who poach. A major influence on poachers is their financial status relative to others in their community rather than total amount of wealth. Many poachers are not among the absolute poorest, but they collect bushmeat to supplement their income. They need the funds they receive from bushmeat, ivory and rhino-horn trade for basic needs. In a 2015 study in Tanzania, 96% of villagers said they would stop poaching if they received enough income through other means. Evidently, poverty and poaching are inseparable.

Can Poaching Be Stopped?

Anti-poaching programs need to take a multidimensional approach to tackling both poverty and poaching. Increasing law enforcement isn’t enough. Top-down measures, such as increasing patrols and arrests, may help reduce the number of people who poach to gain a little extra income, but it will not dissuade those who depend on it for their livelihood.

The key is to implement bottom-up strategies that increase opportunities and agency for these communities. Poaching is seen as a method to raise people out of poverty. However, what researchers and conservationists need to understand is that poverty is relative rather than absolute. By understanding this fact, they can start to ask questions such as: how much do households need to be elevated out of poverty to help prevent them from poaching?

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is making a difference. It is an international agreement that aims to protect wild animals from going extinct through international trade. The ideas for CITES were first formed in the 1960s, but now they have evolved greatly. CITES places species in one of three appendices, each representing a different level of endangerment. The first appendix provides the greatest level of protection with restrictions on commercial trade. CITES prevents poaching using an international approach that advocates for socioeconomic and environmental change.

This is a messy issue that has very little clear data and even fewer clear-cut answers. The extent to which poverty and poaching are correlated is still debated and researched; however, it is certain that poverty has an effect. The issue of poverty must be addressed in order to resolve the issue of poaching.

Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

instability in the CongoThe Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Over the past decades, war, gender imbalances and lack of political development, as well as conservation issues, have contributed to the country’s vulnerability. Instability in the Congo has been a challenge, but citizens continue to strive for peace and security.

With a population of 84,068,091 in 2018, 50.1% of the Congo’s population are women, while 49.9% are men. The population has a nearly equal gender ratio, though women face significant challenges in gender equality. As in many developing countries, women are not respected equally and typically do not hold positions of power. In the Congo, beginning in 1996, sexual violence has been used as a war weapon to intimidate and control women during and after the war.

According to the U.N., women in the Congo suffer drastically from a lack of rights and increasing vulnerability during the rise of military operations in 2018. With cases and reports of sexual violence increasing by 34% in 2018, the need for change is apparent. The U.N. quickly addressed these issues, working with the Congolese government to negotiate for peace with the Patriotic Resistance Front of Ituri. This brought about a decrease in sexual abuse cases committed by such military groups. Though the issue remains, there was a reported 72% decrease in sexual abuse cases following the UN’s intervention.

Poverty and Poaching

A decrease in the Congo’s poverty line has also occurred over the past two decades, although according to the World Bank, 72% of the population remains under the poverty line, living on less than $1.90 a day. With more than half of the Congo’s citizens struggling to make ends meet, poaching is an increasingly significant issue. Conservation is particularly essential in developing countries in which biodiversity and wildlife create tourist attractions that provide crucial economic income. Much of the country’s wildlife, such as elephants and primates, are subject to dangerous conditions. Primates are particularly vulnerable to threats such as the bushmeat trade and the pet trade. These trades are directly linked to poverty and instability in the Congo. This is because the industry provides a source of income and food. Therefore, in order to end poaching, baseline levels of infrastructure, employment and socioeconomic stability must be attained. Until this happens, many conservation establishments, such as the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), Kahuzi National Park and Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center are working to eliminate poaching and protect endangered wildlife.

Protection and Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center was established in 2002 by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN). Following the establishment of Lwiro, Coopera NGO stepped up to support the center’s rehabilitation and educational practices. Lwiro gained the support of the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance (ICWCA) and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). Two women now run Lwiro: Lorena Aguirre Cadarso works as the country director, and Itsaso Vélez del Burgo works as the technical director. These two women strive to ensure that Lwiro is actively addressing cultural and conservation issues in the Congo.

The fact that Lwiro is run by women is unusual, as women in the Congo have been subject to significant gender inequality for decades. They are breaking gender barriers while protecting at-risk wildlife and helping improve instability in the Congo.

Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center

Lwiro is home to 92 chimpanzees and 108 monkeys, adding up to a total of 13 different species. Rehabilitation and preservation of primates in the Congo mean saving the lives of the endangered animals, whether they have been injured due to poaching or other reasons. Typically young primates are brought to the center because their families have been taken from them and they will be unable to provide for themselves. Lwiro offers multiple dormitories for the chimpanzees and monkeys and includes a five-acre enclosure for the primates to play while the staff ensures that the dormitories are safe and clean. The rehabilitation of primates requires care and attention, just as the care of humans requires. Infant primates are treated with particular love and attention. Caretakers strive to teach social skills to primates that might have lost their families and would not otherwise be socialized. Lwiro’s mission is to ensure that resident animals acquire the necessary social skills for reintegration into wild chimpanzee communities after completing rehabilitation.

Sexual Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation

Along with primate rehabilitation, Lwiro also offers rehabilitation and treatment for local sexual abuse victims. Sexual abuse is a pervasive issue in the Congo. The center provides treatment for victims ages 2 to 18 years old. Treatment can be modified to meet the needs of particular victims. According to Cadarso, the center helps “victims of sexual violence, victims of gender violence and widows.” The staff uses methods such as Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE), meditation and prayer. Lwiro focuses specifically on survivors’ mental health. “You need to give psychological support that aims to provide the tools to resolve their trauma and skills to promote their resilience,” Cadarso stated. Lwiro has worked with nearly 350 victims and counting, most being women and children. The center also provides therapy for individuals for three months and three weeks. It reports an 85% patient improvement rate after treatment. Lwiro’s therapy offerings reveal that addressing instability in the Congo can start at the level of individual people.

A New Psychological Reference Center

Lwiro is expanding its center in 2020, starting a new project to build the first Psychological Reference Center (PCR). In the past, victims have not had a physical place to conduct their psychotherapy sessions. Therefore, this project will be massively impactful. Additionally, the Psychological Reference Center (PCR) will implement new practices such as training primary healthcare workers training to recognize mental disorders like PTSD, depression and anxiety. The second phase will provide similar training specialized for teachers, teaching “skills to recognize children with severe problems so they can be referred for more specialized treatment,” Cadarso states, and “providing listing resources available in their communities.” This initiative will enable individuals to recognize and assist those who are struggling physically and mentally. They will be able to determine proper care or treatment.

The project’s implementation and funding would not be possible without the support of many NGOs, such as the Jane Goodall Institute, the Ivan Carter Wildlife Foundation and more. To address instability in the Congo, multiple approaches are required, and Lwiro ensures that no person — or chimp — is left behind.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and PoachingIn recent years, African nations have been grappling with a crisis: declining numbers of some of its most iconic animals. Over 90% of Zambia’s elephant population was wiped out because of poaching, which began in the 1950s. These staggering numbers, however, are connected to a more significant issue in the region: poverty. With a clear correlation between poaching and poverty, research suggests that if poverty can be abated, so can poaching.

The Link Between Poverty and Poaching

Poaching, which kills between 10,000 to 15,000 elephants per year, can largely be attributed to excessive rates of poverty in a particular area. In fact, in regions where elephant populations are faring better, the local human community is too. Where infant mortality and poverty density rates are lower, fewer elephants are being killed. Therefore, it is essential to understand that eliminating poverty and poaching are two sides of the same coin.

In Tanzania, a recent study corroborated the link between these issues. Of 173 local villagers, four out of five confessed to having participated in poaching to provide food or income to their families. The majority of participants maintained that if their basic needs could be met another way, they would permanently stop poaching. Therefore, by addressing their need for food and income, poaching could be significantly reduced.

A Local Organization with a Solution

Fortunately, a local Zambian organization recognized the connection between poverty and poaching and considerable progress has been made to diminish both. Community Markets for Conservation, or COMACO, located in the Luangwa Valley region of Eastern Zambia, works to fight poaching by addressing the root cause of why people poach: poverty. The organization educates villagers on sustainable conservation practices, creating a reliable source of income and food that can consistently provide for local families.

By addressing poverty and poaching as a holistic issue, COMACO has worked to reduce both issues in the Luangwa Valley region. The operation works with over 179,000 locals in 76 different chiefdoms across more than 10.5 million hectares of land. After educating villagers in sustainable ways, COMACO then purchases their goods at premium prices and sells them across Africa under the name “It’s Wild!” On average, farmers in this program turned a food deficit into a food surplus in only a couple of years.

A Proven Method for the Future

With women comprising over half of certified COMACO farmers, this organization has transformed both poverty and poaching in Eastern Zambia. The results show that 86% of farmers are food secure, and their income has tripled. Their pledges to support conservation efforts have yielded promising results.

Poaching incidents have dramatically decreased in the region, there is a surplus of nutritious food and incomes have seen substantial growth.

Poverty and poaching are two intertwined issues that can only be solved by addressing them comprehensively. Local villagers poach because of their inability to find food and a lack of income. COMACO, which understands this connection, has successfully implemented a system to address both and the results are wildly successful. By educating and supporting former poachers on sustainable agricultural practices, COMACO has diminished poverty and poaching. Villagers have a food surplus, a source of income and now, wildlife can safely and freely roam.

Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

Extreme Poverty on Elephants and Rhinos
Usually, where there is poverty, there is crime involving drugs, guns, human trafficking or poaching. Illegal poaching is a multimillion-dollar industry that might involve the selling of elephant tusks or ivory and rhino horns on the black market. Poachers sell these items all around the world, and mostly in Asian markets. Extreme poverty in Africa has caused the killing of thousands of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns because it provides income for those who need it. Gangs and criminal organizations take advantage of those deep in poverty by giving them money to decimate the elephant and rhino populations. The impact of extreme poverty on elephants and rhinos has been devasting.

Elephant Poaching and Poverty

The Borgen project interviewed Barnaby Philips of the Elephant Protection Initiative to find out details about the elephants in Africa. According to Philips, the estimate of elephants in Africa currently sits at 400,000 and this number is rapidly dropping.

“In Africa, it is often said that 55 elephants are poached per day or some 20,000 per year,” said Philips.

Poachers kill elephants in Eastern and Southern Africa and two of the main countries involved with illegal poaching and the ivory trade are Tanzania and Kenya. The GDP per capita of Tanzania is 936.33, and in Kenya, it is 1,202.10, which places them as two of the poorest countries in the world. The Borgen Project’s interview with Amy Baird of Big Life Foundation. determined that those living in these conditions are willing to turn to poaching as a means of gaining income.

Amy Baird also stated that “Most of the traffickers and poachers we apprehend in the Greater Amboseli (National Park) ecosystem are male, their ages vary. We would guess that most have limited levels of education and come from poor backgrounds. After all, who would be willing to risk such high stakes except for the poorest and most desperate?”

The risk for these poachers is exceptionally high, but the average payout for them is always meager. The average price for 1 kilo of raw ivory in Africa can vary between $170 to $1,960, but the poachers receive very little of this amount.

“Ivory poaching, in particular, is highly tied to organized crime. The ones actually bearing the brunt of the punishment are not the ones making money off of the crime. They’re just cogs in a bigger wheel,” said Baird.

Efforts to stop the ivory trade have increased in recent years. The recent ban on the ivory trade in China has reduced the price of ivory on the black market. This ban will help deter poachers in the future along with new stricter laws such as Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Act that impose higher monetary fines and stiffer jail sentences to those committing wildlife crimes.

Rhino Poaching in Africa

The poaching and illegal trade of ivory closely link with the illegal trade of rhino horns. Usually, when there are laws about one, it has the same impact on the other. Rhinos are slightly different from elephants in the sense that there are so few left that they require a more aggressive approach to their conservation.

There are two species of rhino in Africa, the white and black rhino. Combined there are only 24,724 of these rhinos left in Africa, the majority of which are the white rhino. In 2018, poaching killed 892 rhinos in Africa.

Dr. Susie Ellis, the Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation, describes how poachers sell rhino horns on the black market for a number of things. People might use the horns to make ceremonial cups, as well as hairpins, paperweights, buttons and belt buckles. What people most frequently purchase these horns for is their use in the traditional medicine systems of many Asian countries, to cure a number of sicknesses. These ailments include headaches and cures for hangovers.

“In Vietnam, Rhino horn is seen as a gift item. It is a symbol of prestige in eastern Asian society. Businessmen will give it as a gift to close out a business deal,” said Ellis.

The rhino habitat spreads all over Southern Africa where conditions for the people there are extremely poor. Mozambique, for example, has one of the lowest GDP per capita at just $539.20. Rhino poachers themselves vary in demographics, but they seem to be young men in their late teens and early 20s who are deep in poverty. The middlemen, those that hire the poachers, make far more than those poaching.

“Most of these poachers are in a high level of poverty and are approached with a lucrative deal that is very tempting to them,” said Ellis.

Similar to the elephants, these poachers receive very little of the amount that the rhino horns sell for. Government organizations around the world are assisting the locals living within the rhino’s habitats in order to better educate and even employ some to reduce illegal poaching. Local communities will be in charge of monitoring rhinos. It is the local population’s responsibility to see and photograph every rhino once per month. The European Union funds programs that transport rhinos into safer areas where people can closely monitor them. If there are extra funds leftover from these programs, they go to local schools in order to educate about conservation.

The Future

Despite the overwhelming odds, there are positive signs for the future of rhinos in Africa. For example, the number of white rhinos in South Africa has been on the rise, numbering from under 100 in the early 1900s to almost 20,000 today.

Through conservation, education and funding, it is possible to end illegal poaching, trading of ivory and rhino horn and help the local population of Africa. Extreme poverty has gripped the nations where elephants and rhinos live and they suffer as a result of the conditions that these people live in. Desperation drives some of these poachers to hunt and kill these animals. Many are taking steps to create a positive outlook, but more is necessary if future generations want to enjoy these animals.

Samuel Bostwick
Photo: Flickr



Poaching and Poverty in Botswana
Botswana is home to roughly one-third of all of Africa’s wild elephant population, largely thanks to governmental bans on big game hunting. While other African countries kept more lenient laws in place, many elephants fled to Botswana seeking refuge, leading to the large concentration of elephants in Botswana. However, on May 22, 2019, the Ministry of Environment released a report stating that sport hunters would once again be allowed to hunt elephants after the five-year ban. This means that the cycle of poaching and poverty in Botswana will continue until action occurs.

Poaching by the Numbers

According to National Geographic, elephant populations across Africa dropped by 30% between 2007 and 2014. In the years since 2014, Botswana has only suffered more losses to its elephant population. A study that the scientific journal Current Biology published found that elephant carcasses in the years between 2014 and 2018 increased by around 600%. Considering that Botswana only listed the hunting ban in May 2019, the significant increase in elephant deaths may only be partially due to illegal poaching.

Why Illegal Poaching?

Illegal poaching, especially of elephants, has become a relatively lucrative industry in Africa as demand for ivory in Asian countries remains high. Illegal poaching creates jobs for people living in rural areas where other opportunities may be scarce. The lax enforcement of poaching bans and environmental regulations contributes to the cycle of poaching, but the larger issue is the lack of opportunities for people in rural areas to participate in legal, sustainable ventures.

Ecotourism, for example, is one way in which African countries can profit off of protecting their natural resources. Poaching threatens the very animals and environment that attract so many tourists. While a successful ecotourism industry requires investment in protecting and preserving land, it is a more sustainable (and legal) way to create sustainable jobs in more rural areas. According to the journal Nature Communications, elephant poaching causes African nations to lose the equivalent of $25 million each year in revenue that could have been brought in via tourism and conservation efforts.

The Link Between Poverty and Poaching

Poaching and poverty in Botswana is a cycle that hurts the environment, the citizens of Botswana and the economy as a whole. Creating and enforcing stricter poaching laws will not stop illegal poaching as long as there are no other job opportunities for people. A study that the Nature Communications journal published has suggested that enforcement of anti-poaching laws will only be successful if measures to reduce poverty and corruption match it.

While poverty in Botswana decreased from 30.6% to 19.4% between the years 2002 and 2010, rural areas are still struggling to implement sustainable economic practices. The connection between impoverished communities and poaching levels demonstrates that poaching is driven by economic necessity; investment in rural and impoverished areas could serve to break the cycle of poaching and poverty in Botswana.

Looking Ahead

As poaching in Botswana threatens both elephants and the economy, several conservation groups have been conducting research and collecting data to make the government more aware of the issues associated with poaching. Elephants Without Borders (EWB) is a nonprofit group based in Kazungula, Botswana that has provided recent data regarding elephant carcasses in Botswana and surrounding nations. By tracking migratory patterns and identifying elephant populations, EWB seeks to protect elephant habitats and educate the public about this important species. So far, EWB has implemented tracking collars on 170 elephants that travel across five African nations. This data can help scientists understand how why and how elephants migrate and choose habitats. Groups such as EWB are key components in the effort to eliminate illegal poaching in Africa.

– Erin Grant
Photo: Flickr