The History of Poaching
Poaching isn't a new trade; it's actually been around for dozens of years, but most of us don't really know how it got started and how it's grown in recent years. Over the next few blogs I'm going to get in-depth and discuss the details of the trade, discussing how it began, where it exists and the consequences to both elephants and humans.
In this first post we'll talk about how the practice of killing elephants first got started: culling.
Culling is an organized, planned killing of elephant herds to keep populations from becoming overwhelming. In Africa as well as in Asia, one of the greatest issues with elephants is the human-elephant conflict that comes from sharing the same space. Culling is an approach taken by African governments to control elephant populations and to keep them from increasing so rapidly.
"Many elephants are...killed both legally and illegally, as a result of both formal and informal actions to control the damage they cause.
In the 1960s and 70s, elephants filled more of Africa than humans. When individuals decided there were too many elephants for comfort, they began opening fire and killing them, hoping to discourage pachyderm raids on their lands and to keep populations at bay. Eventually they discovered that they could monetize elephants parts (ivory tusks and meat), and thus poaching was born.
By the time anyone noticed (between 1979 and 1989), African elephant populations had fallen by over 50 percent because of poaching. By this time entire generations of elephants and elephant society had been eliminated.
Here's an example of government culling: In 1994 South Africa made the decision to stop elephant culling, but from 2008 to 2014 the nation again picked up this practice, saying that the elephant populations were becoming too overwhelming to handle. However, it stated that culling would be its last resort, after contraceptives and relocating elephants, two less aggressive approaches.
Today, using contraceptives seems to be the most popular, and least costly, approach to keeping elephants from reproducing too quickly.
Although this is good news, one of the struggles African countries have faced is finding an effective system that will A) combat poaching, B) monitor elephant behavior and migration and C) keep human-elephant conflict at a minimum. While several organizations across the continent have developed solutions to pieces of the puzzle, most African governments don't have the funds or the encouragement to make anti-poaching efforts a priority, so the killing of elephants is still a major problem.
Culling was the beginning of poaching, a preventative step that was taken first by individuals, then by whole governments, and now has grown into a trade that has decimated countless elephants and continues to this day.
I hope you learned something today. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our in-depth look at poaching!
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.