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Law Library Report on Wildlife Trafficking and Poaching

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You may have noticed that the issue of poaching and trafficking in wildlife, particularly involving African elephants and rhinos, has been in the news a lot lately.  This is mainly because the situation, apparently fueled by an appetite for illegal wildlife products in Asia (especially China and Thailand), is getting increasingly dire.  The decline in the elephant population in the Central African Republic (CAR) is illustrative: a recent study found that in just nine years (2002-2011) the country lost 62% of its forest elephants.  The current political instability in the country might make matters worse.

Doorway and ivory tusks c. 1915-1927 (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

The issue was also at the center of the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference held on March 3-14, in Bangkok, Thailand.  Attendees included delegates representing about 150 governments, indigenous people, nongovernmental organizations and businesses.  Among others, the Conference hosted a meeting of the senior officials of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crimes (ICCWC), who discussed strategies to improve regional law enforcement capabilities to neutralize wildlife criminal networks, which inflict dramatically more damage than small local operations.

Here at the Law Library of Congress, we like to keep up with current events. Recently, we completed a report on wildlife trafficking and poaching laws and enforcement institutions in seven key African jurisdictions: Botswana, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.

If there is one thing the report makes clear it is that the problem of illegal poaching in Africa is probably not the result of lawmakers sleeping on the job.  The countries surveyed for the report have all put in place stringent laws designed to regulate hunting and trading in wildlife.  Botswana, for example, has put in place strict laws to protect its wildlife resources, which implement the standards and requirements set by CITES.  While it currently allows commercial hunting (not for long though; the country intends to impose a ban as of early 2014), it imposes heavy regulations on the class of animals that may be legally hunted, the places where and the times when hunting is permitted, as well as the methods that can be used for hunting.  These types of restrictions are common to all countries covered in the report.

The countries also impose various, steep penalties for violation of the laws.  These include prison sentences, fines, forfeiture of the tools used in the commission of a wildlife crime as well as the fruits of the crime, and revocation of applicable licenses.  In addition, some of the countries covered in the report have adopted evidential and procedural standards lower than those applicable to regular crimes to make prosecution of suspected offenders relatively easy.

Col. Roosevelt and a bull elephant shot at Meru c. May 14, 1919 (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Effective enforcement, however, remains a tall order.  Various factors contribute to this.  For instance, the existence of high demand in certain markets for illegal wildlife products is a major impediment.  The fact that a single pound of ivory can fetch up to US$1,000 says it all (another quick fact: the weight of an average tusk was 26 lbs in 1970 but only 6 lbs in 1990, showing a 1-2 lbs per year loss).  In some places enforcement authorities are no match for the highly motivated, often fully-armed poachers.  There are jurisdictions in Africa where rangers are hunted along with the wildlife.  And then there is good old corruption.  Kenya and Tanzania, in large part due to corruption, are among countries struggling to effectively police their laws.  In fact, these two countries, along with six other African and Asian jurisdictions, were recently cited by CITES for falling short on their anti-poaching efforts and threatened with sanctions should they fail to shape up.

Effective enforcement of laws requires robust and efficient institutions armed with the necessary tools.  The report examines the institutions tasked with enforcing the laws in the countries covered and their powers.

Two types of institutions are involved in enforcing wildlife laws in the countries covered in the report.  There are wildlife agency/authority-type institutions specifically created to enforce wildlife laws.  And there are institutions with other primary responsibilities, but that take part in anti-poaching efforts.  These institutions, which include police and defense forces, may have better resources and coordination to conduct certain anti-poaching measures.  It seems that both types of institutions in the countries covered by the report enjoy arrest and search and seizure powers.  In some jurisdictions, however, enforcement authorities have limited prosecutorial authority.

The report is available on the Law Library’s website in PDF format.  An HTML version will soon be made available.  Those of you interested in the subject may also be interested in some of the other materials on wildlife and wildlife issues in Africa that are held in the Library of Congress collections:


  1. I really appreciate for sharing this blog which is based on the issue of poaching and trafficking in wildlife, particularly involving endangered animals in various countries like Africa. It is also good to hear about the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Thanks a lot.

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