When you hear the word ‘poacher’, images of ruthless men, slaughtering elephants and rhinoceros and waving bloody tusks and horns, tend to pop into your head. However, what does it mean to poach?
Britannica defines poaching as “in law, the illegal shooting, trapping, or taking of game, fish, or plants from private property or from a place where such practices are specially reserved or forbidden.”
Much of the world’s illegal poaching of animals is carried out by organised crime syndicates, who have the funding to invest in technology and weaponry. This affords them the opportunity to hunt larger animals, and lowers the chances of them being caught. They target animals whose parts are very lucrative on the black market, making them substantial amounts of money. These syndicates often have links to drugs, human trafficking, arms dealing, and terrorism. It is estimated that the wildlife trade brings in billions of dollars annually in illegal revenue.
Simply put, demand. In Asia, ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife products are still in high demand. China itself remains the largest importer of these commodities. Reportedly, around 60% of China’s population uses poached animals for traditional medicines and remedies, and also often as a status symbol.
Alongside elephants and rhinos, there are several other animals that really strike a chord with conservationists, since they are threatened with extinction, mainly from the poaching industry. Gorillas, lemurs, pangolins and tigers are also on the fast track to disappearing from our world. Worryingly, only one of the aforementioned animals is not being targeted in Africa.
In fact, over half the world’s poaching efforts occur in African territories.
Marine life is far from safe, and esteemed sea turtles are under threat. You might be asking yourself “why are sea turtles poached?”. The beautiful hawksbill turtle’s unique shell is sought after for making ‘tortoiseshell’ ornaments, jewellery, and instruments, leading this ill-fated animal to a status of being critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN. And it’s not just the hawksbill. Other turtles are targeted and parts of their body are used to make leather, perfume and cosmetics.
Local communities actually take turtles, purely for the means of using their meat and eggs for subsistence. These often impoverished communities value these easily obtainable animals as a source of protein, that can feed their families. The rest of the turtle is discarded. These poachers do not have an understanding of the worth of the animal’s shell. They have no concept of the black market and certainly no awareness that what they are doing in any way threatens the survival of the species.
This is where our Fire Island community and conservation projects come in. We aim to empower local communities with education, so they have a better understanding of the essential balance of life and the concept of sustainability. To have their backing to protect turtles, we are also creating a number of initiatives that offer alternative income and protein sources to poaching.
We want to focus on the community needs for sustenance, without compromising the environment, or adding to the current issues faced by marine life.
One of the projects we are currently focusing on, in Machangulo, is the establishment of a fish farm in a lake near our properties. We chose tilapia since they are relatively easy to raise and farm, rapidly grow and breed, and consume a vegetarian diet. This project will not only provide locals with meat high in protein and packed with omegas, vitamins and minerals, but it will also create job opportunities.
As part of our efforts to address turtle conservation in Mozambique, we will be setting up a turtle monitoring program. We will also employ locals for this initiative, who we will train as turtle monitors and guides, and eventually marine anti-poaching units.
These same locals may, in the past, have been turtle harvesters, so not only does this remove a threat, but actually turns it around, so the antagonist becomes a protector. With the help of specialists at the Maputo Special Reserve, these community members will not only learn how to monitor marine life, but will also receive training to tag turtles. In the future, with enough funding, a number of turtles will be fitted with satellite tracking devices.
Data collection plays a vital role in the conservation of species. Without data, we have no evidence to back identified problems. When approaching officials and decision-makers, we need to be able to justify requests for more protections, by presenting quantified data. Our data collection will include mark-recapture, and the findings from the satellite trackers, and will feed into international research projects.
The poaching and illegal wildlife trade in Southern Africa is still prevalent, which we know because Mozambique and South Africa are two of only six countries worldwide, collecting and keeping detailed data on poaching.
Of course, running community projects, employing locals, and purchasing equipment for training and data collection, all come at a price. As well as our online fundraising, we offer limited adventure tours to our Fire Island, for experienced SCUBA divers.
They will have the opportunity to get hands-on with our research, identifying the unexplored fauna around the island’s 150km of breathtaking, unexplored reef. It is a highly unique, exclusive, bucket-list dive trip, for any marine life enthusiast. We also have a number of eco-tourism lodges across southern Africa and one in Alaska, whose profits are used to help fund the projects. Our sustainability ethos is carved into everything we do. Our goal is to connect our guests to nature, through spectacular experiences and wildlife encounters, while protecting our environment.
The eco-tourism industry is highly popular, and worth billions of dollars, annually. In 2019, the global eco-tourism market was valued at $181.1 billion. Despite slowing down a bit due to the pandemic, it is still on track to reach $333.8 billion by 2027. The wildlife trade remains one of the most lucrative criminal operations and the United Nations estimates the global illegal wildlife market to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion a year. That’s a difference of over $150 billion. Even looking at the market value of eco-tourism two years ago, it is still worth eight times more than the black market wildlife trade at its highest value.
The opportunity to help conserve animals is everywhere. Whether you are just more careful about the products you use, or do your research when booking your vacations and animal encounters, you can be part of the solution. Wildlife will only be worth more alive than dead if we can stop the demand for their products, and continue to support ethical eco-tourism.