Anti-Poaching Policies

There are two general categories of anti-poaching policies. The first encompasses anti-poaching efforts and programs that target the actual slaughter of animals. This includes anti-poaching patrols, state and internationally driven coercive measures that try to identify and track down poachers, restricting access to vulnerable areas, designating national parks etc. What unites these measures is the strategy of confronting poachers by either directly seeking them out or by limiting their access to endangered species populations. These efforts can be seen as a more straightforward way of safeguarding populations at risk.

The second category includes those campaigns and policies that target the trade in illegal products. Examples of such measures include the moratorium on the trade of ivory by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)(1); monitoring of ivory exports and imports; the Ivory Product Registration and Certification Program that was carried out in China in 2004; intercepting products moving along trade routes etc. The strategy of these programs is to decrease poaching indirectly by disincentivizing poaching. The logic behind this tactic is that the more difficult it is to sell ivory, the more discouraged poachers will be to engage in the activity. These efforts all target the supply part of the trade. Demand for ivory can be targeted as well. Perhaps raising awareness across the continent and the whole world will prove to be more effective than coercive measures. If the links between ivory products, the slaughter of animals, and the extinction of elephant species are clearly demonstrated to the buyers of ivory products, they might be less eager to engage in the trade. This is another way that ELP hopes to contribute to the cause of forest elephant conservation. By developing an online educational portal that will be accessible from (or even hosted in) the regions where the market for ivory is especially large, ELP is seeking to raise awareness about the issue. Initially the site will be in Mandarin and focus only on forest elephant biology and their fascinating behaviors, increasing awareness of the majesty of these animals.

an information gap: A major problem that both types of anti-poaching policies share is a lack of information. First, there is a deficit of data about the temporal and spatial distribution of elephant poaching, critical to plan and carry out effective anti-poaching programs. In Central Africa, the vast forest cover requires a means to prioritize where protection is most needed or would be most effective, and this requires knowing the hotspots of poaching activity, and where and when elephants are most vulnerable. Second, before policies can be reproduced on a large scale, their effectiveness should be assessed. This can be just as challenging as planning the policies themselves. Here, too, the main problem is a lack of information. To evaluate anti-poaching efforts, there needs to be reliable, consistent monitoring of illegal human activities and elephant populations and this can be extremely difficult to maintain.

forest canopy

Forest Canopy - Central Africa

There are also questions concerning the general structure of anti-poaching efforts. Should these policies be directed by a central state authority (2), or would an international effort that transcends national borders be more appropriate?  Alternatively, perhaps it is best to engage and rely on local communities, with the expectation that indigenous knowledge and a sense of belonging will supply what central government cannot. A recent pilot program carried out in southern Tanzania seems to suggest that this can work. This case study took place in an area of great political, socioeconomic and cultural diversity. The anti-poaching project involved multiple agents of enforcement, including the local community, and a wider range of tactics. This collaborative strategy appeared much more effective than traditional measures. Other research suggests that relying on local populations might be risky, as poachers themselves often come from those same communities. Kinship bonds and illicit contacts between patrols and poachers have always been major drivers of corruption, dragging the effectiveness of anti-poaching policies down. Answering these complex questions calls for a comprehensive, detailed analysis of pilot programs.

The Elephant Listening Project tries to tackle the problem of information deficit by developing new methods of monitoring humans and wildlife. Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs) that record the sounds of the forest, are distributed across vulnerable areas. The recordings that these units collect are then analyzed. Sounds of individual animals are differentiated from the ever-present background noise. This tedious task can give a picture of the state of the elephant population. Additionally, the recordings can be used to monitor the relative abundance of forest elephants across impacted areas. Data from field studies are made available to protected area managers and conservation organizations to help assess the effectiveness of anti-poaching approaches and to indicate where protection may be most needed. Also, ARUs are used to detect gunshots, providing a unique opportunity to gather data not only about elephant activity, but also about that of poachers. If these data could be effectively transmitted to anti-poaching patrols and wildlife managers, it would make directing conservation efforts much easier and more productive.

The complexity of the situation demands close cooperation of conservationist groups, non-governmental networks and organizations, governmental agencies, and research institutions. Forest elephant conservation requires an interdisciplinary effort. The issue of poaching has multiple sides, including economic, social, political and cultural aspects. Ideally all these aspects should be taken into consideration in an integrated approach to achieve best conservation results.


  1. CITES. 1992. Moratorium on the ivory trade: Draft resolution submitted to the delegations of Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Document 8.58.
  2. Duffy, Rosaleen. 1999. The role and limitations of state coercion: Anti-poaching policies in Zimbabwe. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 17(1):97-121. DOI:10.1080/02589009908729640