Published on Voices

Why poaching is not “a poverty problem”

The World Bank’s vision is a world free of poverty. As this statement suggests, it is rare that we tackle a problem that is not grounded in poverty. Today, on World Wildlife Day, it is our imperative to draw attention to one such issue, an issue that does not stem from poverty but rather comes from greed and neglect. Today, we take on poaching.


The illegal capture and killing of wildlife takes place primarily in developing countries but it is not an issue born out of poverty. The criminological community has disproved the notion that poverty causes crime and found rather that many crimes are opportunistic. In the absence of poverty, crime lives on. This is true of wildlife crime as well, as discussed by World Wildlife Fund experts in a recent interview.

Crimes affecting natural resources and the environment inflict damage on developing countries worth more than $70 billion a year, rob communities of long-term opportunities, fuel corruption and distrust in civil authorities and undermine legitimate natural resource based businesses.

Poverty doesn’t cause poaching; but poaching does exacerbate poverty
For a time, interventions fought to address illegality through local community participation, poverty reduction measures and tenure reform. In the past several years, the World Bank has expanded its understanding of how organized crime, corruption, illegal trade and money laundering affect development outcomes and stepped up its work on issues such as stolen asset recovery, governance and anti-corruption work.
That is not to say we shouldn’t worry about the lack of economic alternatives in areas where wildlife crime thrives. We should and we must. Nor that we should ignore how poaching and environmental degradation contribute to the erosion and disappearance of assets. After all, the people the World Bank is most concerned with – the extreme poor and the bottom 40% of the population -- depend on these assets for their survival, livelihoods and growth. But whatever the impacts, our response needs to focus primarily on combatting crime and its sibling corruption, and improving natural resource management to be more effective in tackling poaching. By getting serious about wildlife crime, we work to ensure that the legal trade in living natural resources and opportunities for prosperity built upon natural resources can both flourish.
The fact that natural capital is undervalued, poorly guarded and of uncertain ownership also impedes the prosecution of crimes such as poaching, illegal logging and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Investments in national law enforcement and anti-corruption measures, backed by concerted international action, have a big part to play in the fight against wildlife crime.  

Help the international community take on poaching
For this reason, the World Bank is a partner of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime together with the CITES Secretariat, the World Customs Organization, Interpol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. Read on and ask questions to discuss what it will take to get serious about wildlife crime.
A few principles for your consideration:

  • We need to improve tracking. We cannot know if people are poaching elephants if we don’t know how many elephants there are. Data monitoring and data sharing among countries allows governments to regulate rare populations and measure success.
  • We need to limit supply through stronger governance and strategic law enforcement efforts. Through the application of such proactive law enforcement response in addition to increased awareness by key criminal justice stakeholders, the opportunity and the cost-benefit analysis for potential poachers to offend is significantly reduced.
  • We need to tackle market demand.  Demand for timber, wildlife, animal parts, and plant material all around the world pushes illegal logging, harvesting, and poaching operations. Cutting down demand will cut down profitability of poaching.
  • More broadly, we need to break the vicious cycle of natural resource (mis)management. In some countries natural resources are managed to drive strong economies and provide reliable employment. In others, natural resources generate substantial but informal benefits to people living in rural areas. The benefits of firewood, plant medicine, fresh water and other goods and services provided by nature are often not monetized or protected by rights and regulations. Criminals and corrupt officials are quick to capitalize on poorly guarded and freely available resources. These resources get degraded. Those who should care are dismayed but sometimes co-opted into connivance. And so the neglect continues. We need to build developing countries’ capacity to manage natural resources in a more professional manner to end degradation and theft.
In your opinion, what would be the most effective ways to end wildlife crime? Please share your thoughts in the comments area below.


Valerie Hickey

Global Director for Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy (ENB) at the World Bank

William Magrath

Lead Natural Resource Economist

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