"It’s a grim and all too common sight for rangers at some of Africa’s nature
reserves: the bullet-riddled carcass of an elephant, its tusks removed by
poachers. African elephant populations have fallen by about 30% since 2006.
Poaching has driven the decline.
Some reserves, like Garamba in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Selous in
Tanzania, have lost hundreds of elephants to poachers over the last decade. But
others, like Etosha National Park in Namibia, have been targeted far less. What
might explain this difference?
That’s what we set out to explore in our new paper. We investigated why
poaching rates vary so widely across Africa and what this might reveal about
what drives, motivates and facilitates poaching. To do this, we used a
statistical model to relate poaching levels from 64 African sites to various
socio-economic factors. These included a country’s quality of governance and
the level of human development in the area surrounding a park.
Our findings suggest that poaching rates are lower where there is strong
national governance and where local levels of human development – especially
wealth and health – are relatively high. Strong site-level law enforcement and
reduced global ivory prices also keep poaching levels down.
Understanding these dynamics is crucial. The illegal wildlife trade is one of
the highest value illicit trade sectors globally, worth several billion dollars
each year. It poses a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystems, which are
the bedrock of human well-being. And elephants are more than just a culturally
significant icon. They are “ecosystem engineers” that can boost forest carbon
stocks and diversify habitats through their feeding. Their presence in national
parks and reserves also has economic benefits, bringing in valuable tourism
The deaths of both poachers and rangers in the continent’s violent biodiversity
“war” also underscores our findings: when elephants lose, we all lose."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics