Why poaching is not “a poverty problem”


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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

Practice Manager for Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy in Latin America and the Caribbean, World Bank.

William Magrath

Lead Natural Resource Economist

Join the Conversation

Gerben Jan Gerbrandy
March 03, 2015

2 years ago I wrote an EU Action Plan against Wildlife Crime. I´m afraid this is still highly relevant and urgent. Large parts of it are later in the year put into an official resolution of the European Parliament. This resolution, that called for an EU action plan, was adopted with an overwhelming majority.

Valerie (WB)
May 23, 2019

There is real momentum behind the global community getting serious about wildlife crime, and the EU has played a major role in this. So thank you for continuing to push from your side.

Modupe Balogun
March 05, 2015

I really enjoyed reading this article, this is because I am currently writing a project on preserving animal rights and it has helped me to effectively address the topic on Wildlife crimes. Another effective way to end wildlife crime is through community-scale education which empowers local people to value wildlife, applying this solution and the others listed in the article will reduce wildlife crimes to the barest minimum.

Valerie (WB)
May 23, 2019

Local communities are an incredibly important part of the solution to poaching. We need to provide them pathways away from poaching, even if their role is largely confined to petty poaching. The actual industrial-scale poaching that is crippling populations across countries in Africa and Asia in particular are organized and managed at a scale far beyond the local communities, and we can never expect that local communities alone - no matter how much they are on the side of protecting wild species and spaces - to stand up against organized crime and well-armed and nefarious-meaning poachers.

March 04, 2015


Valerie (WB)
May 23, 2019

Not only will our collective fight against poaching protected wild animals, it will also protect the jobs, livelihoods and economic growth that is dependent on healthy stocks of nature and thriving numbers of wild animals and wild spaces.

Alex Mathew
March 06, 2015

The debate on poaching shall continue as long it is not eliminated fully. We need to understand the cause, needs of the poached, poachers, the environment, the ones who encourage this, the ones who regulate and try to prevent etc. Let me start a few centuries back. Farming and Hunting was the lone source of livelihood. Industrialization, trade etc gave boost to income. Farming replaced with agriculture. Hunting replaced by Animal rearing. As years passed the fascination of humans with his environment had new dimensions and tastes. Farmlands invaded forests. Displaced hunters who couldn't find other sources of livelihood evolved into poachers. Environment being invaded by civilization. Then came regulation, conservation and the debates. Let us put it this way. The expansion of farmlands and commercial exploitation of forest needs to be slowed down. Improvement in agriculture within the existing farmlands to be taken on priority. Leave the forests to the animals, tribals, indigenous people etc. Lively hood to be provided to the borderline farmers that they do not destroy the few green patches on the earth. Poachers to be rehabilitated, they can be provided with employment to prevent poaching. Jobs of forest guards, tourist guides etc can be given to them after proper training so that they do not return to the dreaded and dangerous jobs. The demand for animal goods to be prevented by education, legislation and good will. I believe where there is a will there is a way and can be done.

Valerie (WB)
May 23, 2019

...and of course we can't eliminate poaching until we end demand for wildlife and wildlife products that are not legally traded under national or international law.
But yes, now that we're getting serious about wildlife crime, we can certainly do something about it to end it once and for all.

March 10, 2015

Poaching as you may call it, is not a poor man business, it is a cartel that is run by the those who understand politics and play politic of exploitation.
Poaching is an underground (Grey) business, with network of the barons or baroness and a ready market operatives in far east.Poaching is synonymous with drug trafficking, money laundering, corruption and terrorism, it is the same face and cancer of the 21st century.
The man in a tie and suit right there in Europe and Asia and elsewhere posing, and at the same time a holder of valid diplomatic immunities is the closest link to poacher,and poaching and its activities.
Destroy the market for ivory and poaching will be a thing of the past.

Kerick Walters
April 22, 2015

... Because The World Bank is basically declaring ownership of all the worlds resources.

Michael Robinson
June 25, 2015

Tackling the demand is key. With all the corruption, mismanagement and community alienation in the wildlife producer countries, it will be years - decades, probably - before the supply side of the equation can deal with poaching. But there is evidence that the demand side is quicker to adapt. The reason why the ivory ban was such a success in the 1990s was because the bottom fell out of the market after intensive work by NGOs. This time around, however, we have China to contend with, and that's a very daunting task because of its sheer size. But NGOs like WildAid are carrying out superb work in China and Vietnam to stigmatise the purchase of ivory and rhino horn. With support from the likes of Jackie Chan, David Beckham, Yao Ming, Prince William and Richard Branson, they're reaching millions of viewers every week. That has to continue....and indeed expand.

Jean Rich
September 10, 2021

Hi. The Chinese Market has to be addressed. People there have lots of access now to mass media. Widespread programmes of showing people there the beauty of animals, the horror of poaching, the misguided ignorance of consuming animal parts. Involve their celebrity icons. Compare this with their success of panda conservation. Media marketing is well known to be a very powerful tool. All global companies and politicians use it to great affect. Be creative and innovative. Not govt commercials