Posts tagged with "poaching"
Friday, July 17, 2009 2:35:10 AM
It pains me to say that even after I first started looking into the tiger black-market (January 2007), poaching remains a palpable threat to the survival of the species. Earlier this year I published pretty much the first and only paper on the Chinese black-market (fosusing on bones) in a peer-reviewed, academic journal. This was a result of both covert work and getting access to Chinese arrest data.
There have been of course, other studies on the black market but the confusion with the market for fakes, does limit the usefulness of these studies. Having a good knowledge of the market for fakes, is not all that helpful for the real black market.
Suffice to see, we remain locked into the same strategy to save tigers that has failed for the last 30 years. 12 months into my work, India slashed it's population estimates for tigers down from 4000 animals to 1400-1500 animals. We lost hundreds of tigers overnight with that revision, yet doing more of the same is the favoured approach.
I'm getting increasingly pessimistic. There are three major poaching risks that so far, we've been lucky enough to dodge. I'm not sure how long this situation is going to last.
First risk- the bengali tiger. India is the strong-hold of this subspecies, which ranges into Nepal, Bangladesh and Burma. At the moment, skins dominate this black-market. Nonetheless, once the skin traffickers work out how to connect to the bone markets in the east of China, they will be able to open up an entire new market. This will ramp up demand for poached bengali tigers to supply this market. So far, we've been lucky enough to escape. But the Tibet route to the east of China isn't an insurmountable barrier. We just need the criminal networks at both ends to establish communications and then it's more poaching for India.
Second risk- the Indo-Chinese tiger. At the moment, most of the (wild) bone originates from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma. These countries are becoming closer n an economic sense to China. China has been building more roads and the like to expand trade with these countries. Incomes are rising. More and more business connections are being made. The combination of increased incomes, and falling transaction costs, makes Indo-China one of the most critical risk-spots for the tiger.
Third risk- the market for substitutes. As tiger numbers diminish, black-market consumers will shift to easier to obtain substitutes. This alas, means leopards. Most tiger-poachers are really leopard poachers who sometimes take tigers. But leopard-bone is considered a close (if inferior) substitute for tiger bone. So poaching pressure will move more in this direction.
Another possibility is that the African lion will be subject to more poaching. Lions are also a close substitute for tiger bones. And the trade routes into Africa are already present (and the existing network of elephant-ivory smugglers means the means to do this, is already in existence). Actually, there are early warning signs that lions are already being poached for this reason...
In short, the situation isn't looking any brighter for tigers, and it's increasingly grim for other closely related species.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009 3:45:47 AM
It is somewhat illuminating that when I started investigating tiger poaching about 2 years ago, there were supposed to be 4000 tigers in India. Within 12 months, we were down to 4000 tigers in all of Asia. But note that in a lot of countries, we still don't know how many tigers are left in some coountries (the Sumatran population is pretty much guess-work).
In India, 30 tiger deaths have already been reported this year (note that not all tiger deaths get reported, so this is actually quite concerning.
The Hindu Times
reports on some of these deaths. In the Kanha reserve, 7 tigers have been lost (one to poachers, 6 to fights amonsgt the tigers).
Other deaths have been attributed to poisoning by locals.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009 3:34:43 AM
In India, 3 police personnel arrested- Times of India link
No tigers involved in this instance [
In Mangalore (India) ten more people arresed for poaching wild animals. Link
Both cases highlight two realted issues. First, corruption is a parameter wildlife conservation in Asia has to be taken into account. We simply can't design programmes that depend on no corruption to work.
Second, a lot of poaching occurs in Asia to satisfy local demands. It's not always international in scope. Asia is not an homogenous place, and there are many cultures and ethnic groups that have different traditions to wild animals.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9:15:50 PM
This should be appearing in Volume 10, issues 1/2 of the journal Global Crime, sometime in March.
The paper provides preliminary results of research on the Chinese black-market for tiger parts.
Monday, October 13, 2008 12:54:54 AM
One thing I've been working on recently is a paper on the black-market in China for tiger-products.
Figure: Polished Sumatran Tiger Canine
Essentially, if we don't understand how this market is organised and what drives the participants, reducing poaching will be much harder.
Here's a brief outline of the main points.
There is no single black market for tiger-products. The Chinese black-market is about two products- skins and bones. The market has geographical separation. Amur (Siberian) tigers are found in the North-East, Indo-Chinese and Bengalis in the South-East, and Bengalis in the West. So far these markets are not connected.
Demand is medicinal. The chief source of demand for bone is medicinal. Demand has been suppressed by Chinese law enforcement but demand has not been stigmatized. The likelihood that education campaigns will reduce demand by enough does not look credible.
And most importantly- people aren't smuggling tiger-penises into China. The payoff for such aphrodisiacs aren't economic. Nobody spends $US50k for a hard-on.
There is no single smuggling mode. Tiger products have entered China via bus, train, truck, plane and boat. Smugglers have a large number of potential crossing points and modes of transport. Tiger parts are a also very low volume product. Together this means that interdiction rates are dismal, and the prospect for improvement weak.
Real tiger products have different distribution channels. In the West, Tibetan connections have increased the penetration of tiger skins into Qinghai and Gansu. In other regions bone is traded secretly with few intermediaries. This is likely to reflect the harsh, punitive penalties involved if caught.
It's not that profitable. A lot of conservation literature claims that tiger smuggling is extremely profitable. E.g. EIA says that if a tiger costs $1500 to poach and sells for $16,500 in China, the profit is 900%. Sure, if the poacher can teleport instantly, without negotiation costs, risks and transport costs the product to the customer. The reality is that wildlife is like every other illegal market. Most of the final price comes from transport costs, compensating participants for the risks and the like. Just like drugs, procurement costs are a trivial part of the price. It's the distribution network that takes the real commitment of resources.
Poachers are hard to catch Expert hunters wandering around forests in Asia can evade capture for years. Some of the participants have been at it since the 1970s. The very environment that tigers live in hinders effective policing by (under-resourced and sometimes corrupt) local rangers. If it takes 10+ years to crack a smuggling ring, then the smugglers are in the driving seat.
What this basically means is that poaching isn't going to be stopped in most places by law enforcement. And we can't realistically stop the flow over the Chinese border. And if the distributions are small and secretive, then good luck to anyone trying to catch them.
Sunday, December 2, 2007 11:20:38 PM
One of the seemingly interminable debates we have on poaching, is the appropriate regulatory regime. At the moment there is a lot of NGO, and scientific support, for trade-bans on parrots as a conservation measure.
The premise here, is that poaching is 'bad', so banning the trade will change people's attitudes. They will value parrots as pets less, and thus, the market for poached birds will disappear.
The alternative view is that poaching is a criminal activity, and is driven by socio-economic factors. That means, it's all about the costs and benefits facing poachers. Change these and you'll get changes to poaching levels. In short, people's attitude to wildlife crime is no different to other criminal activity. People's values don't change a lot simply because of regulatory fiat.
These views were tested a few years ago, in a paper published in Conservation Biology This showed that the passage of a ban- the Wild Bird Conservation Act by the USA- led to a drop in reported poaching. While this seemed to support the first view, careful reading showed the paper made some rather gallant assumptions. Primarily, the effect of the WBCA was achieved by ignoring all other socio-economic drivers. So if you ignore socio-economic explanations for poaching that occurred simultaneously then the WBCA has an important effect.
This year I've had a look at this data again. My approach has been a little different. That is, I tried to measure the effects of the possible drivers for poaching simultaneously. In other words, I didn't begin by ruling out other explanations from the start.
This work has been done both with a colleague overseas, and with the help of one of my graduate students. The results are quite interesting. What we are finding, is that large parrots are more likely to be poached than small ones. We are finding that distance to the final markets (US or EU) matter. Countries that are a long way from consumer markets have less poaching. Transport costs actually matter to poachers. We are finding that corrupt countries have more poaching. We are finding that on-site protection deters poaching.
And the effect of the WBCA tradeban? Well, after you measure the effects of all the other socio-economic variables the ban still has an effect. It has stimulated poaching.
The reasons are fairly simple. Restrict trade flows, and black-market prices rise to encourage more poaching. Cutting out a lot of the legal competition through a ban, just hands the remaining market to the criminals. It turns out that a lot of people involved in the trade in parrots, don't feel the need the permission of environmental NGOs to do it. They'll do it whether or not its legal. And law enforcement agencies tend to get a bit more complacent. They believe there's going to be less poaching after a ban. So with less investment in law enforcement, the smugglers suddenly find life is easier. The US Wegner based conspiracy smuggled parrots out of Australia for 8 years before getting caught. And it wasn't the Australian or US law enforcement agebncies that first detected them. It was Wegner's competitors in the US.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 5:42:33 AM
One of the enduring problems with trying to stop poaching is the almost total reliance on one policy to curb it. This is through law enforcement.
There are all sorts of reasons why it doesn't work. Partly it is a very expensive approach. It costs the state a lot to detect poachers and smugglers, bring them to justice, prosecute and imprison them. Most poachers and 'mules' are typically low income people who can't be fined at a level that deters.
Other reasons is that it is typically associated with bans. And bans on harvest mean high black market prices. Sure, the idea is that demand will be reduced because consumers will feel bad about consuming the product. But this would be reflected in collapsing wildlife prices. High black market prices mean demand has not been stigmatised. And it ensures organised criminal networks now have the payoff they need to get involved.
Expecting somewhat corrupt, inefficient and poorly resourced law enforcment agencies in the developing world to stop wildlife crime, is a concept so breathtakingly stupid in its grandeur and conceit, I wonder how connected to reality these advocates are.
So, it is with interest I got the following story. Seattle Times link
. Even accepting the errors that inevitably appear in such stories, it makes several damn good points. Positive incentives to reduce poaching are cheaper and more effective than the 'big stick' law enforcement approach. And if you don't have any idea at what drives the wildlife market, stopping poaching is going to be fraught with problems.
For example, I don't care whether tiger-bone cures severe bone diseases or not. The only thing that matters is that enough Chinese believe it to wipe out wild tiger populations several times over. People aren't paying $US50k for a tiger to cure laziness or impotence. They pay those sorts of prices if the product is a highly addictive drug, or has a reputation for a unique pharmacological effect. Tiger bone is believed to cure bone diseases, and there are enough people suffering from the symptoms of these illnesses to take the risks and pay the price to get it.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007 10:53:11 PM
Tigers have once again been a bit of a distraction over the last few weeks. I'm flying to Wellington to give another seminar on their conservation. And a couple of weeks ago, gave a talk to our local Alumni chapter.
The basic problem with poaching, is that we've 'locked in' a policy that makes dead tigers worth $US50,000 to Asian criminals. And while poaching isn't the only conservation threat, it often tips wild tiger populations into the falling populations zone.
I've also been making plans to go back to China to err, have a much closer look at the poaching problem. Let's just say I won't be divulging when and where I'm going to the world-wide-web. On the positive side, it means I might get a lot more photographs this time. It should also be a good opportunity to improve my Mandarin.
With other wildlife issues, I should be sending off a paper on parrot poaching (no, bans don't work) with a colleague shortly. And a couple of my graduate students are coming up with interesting results for parrots and butterflies.
Sunday, August 19, 2007 12:41:27 AM
Zimbabwe has lost 90% of its wildlife since Mugabe began his err, land reforms.News Story (sorry, link seems to be broken- see story below)
Before the land seizures, there were over 600 private game reserves in the country, and now there are 14. Most wildlife is being consumed by poaching- often for subsistence reasons.
I can still remember the period of the 1980s when Zimbabwe was a leader in the management of wildlife
Thursday, August 16, 2007 7:22:54 PM
From the Checkpoint programme (Radio New Zealand) last night. Interview with Mary Wilson.listen
Broadcast is about 5 minutes long.
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