Today’s factismal: Poachers killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe last week.
If there is one thing that just about everyone can agree on, it is that poaching is bad. And not just “parking in a handicapped space” bad but “more evil than Linda Blair in the Exorcist” bad. That’s because poaching has many bad results and no good ones. What bad results?
Poaching kills. A lot. To put it mildly, poaching is a huge problem. It kills off animals and, worse, focuses on species that are already on the brink of extinction. Take lions for example; in the past two decades, some 17,000 lions have been killed by poachers, including “Cecil” a highly popular lion at one of Zimbabwe’s nature parks. Similarly, since 1960, 96% of the rhinoceroses in Africa have been killed. Over a twenty year period, ivory poachers killed more than 60% of the elephants in Africa; in 2012, the toll was more than 25,000 African elephants killed for their tusks. More than 65,000 wild parrots are poached each year in Mexico for sale as pets; 49,000 of them will die before reaching pet stores. All told, more than 100 million animals are killed each year by poachers.
Poaching kills more than you think. Lion poaching does more than just kill lions and bird poaching does more than just kill birds. That’s because the animals and plants that are poached are part of an ecosystem and have a role to play. Those lions help keep the number of herbivores in check; without the lions, the herbivores can overpopulate an area and graze it to death. Those birds eat fruit from trees and drop the seeds in all sorts of new and interesting places, leading to a change in the forest that crowds out some trees and reduces the number of habitats and the number of animals that can live there.
Poaching is dirty. Poachers kill most animals for just one thing. They kill elephants for their ivory tusks, and leave everything else behind to rot. They kill rhinos for their sharp horn and leave everything else behind to rot. They kill birds for their bright feathers and leave everything else behind to rot. (Do you see a pattern here?) And all of that rotting meat is a breeding ground for disease and decay that can spread from the poached animal’s carcass to animals that might feed on it, such as hyenas, lions, and buzzards. And then there is the problem of zoonotic diseases (medico-speak for “animals diseases caught by humans”). Remember Ebola? Poachers have caused several different outbreaks, thanks to the bushmeat trade. How about SARS? We can thank poachers feasting on masked palm civets and other critters for the 2002 outbreak. Anyone for HIV? That started as the simian foamy virus and was transmitted to humans through, you guessed it, poaching.
Poaching makes the poor poorer. A tried-and-true route to economic success in many countries is ecotourism. In many areas, poor people must live by poaching; they simply don’t have enough resources to live on. But by changing an area into a protected zone with tourists who come to see the wildlife, the poor folks suddenly become less poor. The tourists spend money to stay, and money to eat local foods, and money for guides, and money on souvenirs; lots and lots of money, flowing from the hands of tourists into the hands of locals. Officials in Zimbabwe estimate taht Cecil the lion brought in over a million dollars in tourist money each year. Everybody wins. But poachers destroy that by stealing the wildlife that ecotourism needs. As a result, the poor get poorer as the tourists go elsewhere.
If you’d like to fight poaching and help scientists learn more about animals in the wild, why not join Snapshot Serengeti? You’ll get to look at cool photos of animals (and empty plains). And by identifying the animals you’ll help the folks managing them make sure that the populations stay safe and stable. To learn more, track on over to: