Course:CONS200/Wildlife crimes in World Heritage sites: state of knowledge and possible remedies

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This conservation resource was created by Adrianne Lam; Derek Li; Emily Pearson; Ruby Yee-Brooks. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.

Wildlife Crimes: Illegal Poaching of Rhinos

Nature of the Issue

Rhinos of the World

Today, there are five distinct species of rhinos whose ranges’ span central and southern Africa and central and southern Asia [1]. All species are, or have been, declared as Nationally Critical within the last century with over poaching being the primary cause. Nationally critical (also known and critically endangered) is defined as being severely threatened, facing immediate, high risk of extinction. Interpol defined a wildlife crime to be “[the] taking, trading, exploiting or possessing of the world’s wild flora and fauna in contravention of national and international laws” [2]. As of October 4, 2017, all species of rhino were listed under Appendix I of CITES (Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species), except for specific White Rhino populations in South Africa and Swaziland which is listed in Appendix II [3]. Although protected by a globally enforced agreement, rhino poaching continues to threaten the species.

Rhino Poaching: Monetary and Cultural Gains

Illegal wildlife trade accounts for $7.8-$10 billion USD annually, making it the fifth largest illegal trade market[4]. A rhino horn, by weight, is worth more than gold in illegal trading rings[5]; large profits incentivise local and international exploitation of the species. Poverty is common within villages and cities in much of the animal’s range and poor locals resort to poaching as a means of income [6]. While the poachers themselves do not turn a high profit, the middle-men who purchase and then sell the carrion do. There is a strong elastic relationship between rhino horn supply and demand meaning that as conservation efforts reduce availability and thus increase selling price, demand for rhino horn is unabated further incentivising illegal sales [6]. local communities and tribes often use rhino in traditional practices and subsistence[7]. Although these unnatural death circumstances contribute to the depletion of rhino populations, cultural and social killings are argued to be sustainable, with the main issue facing society being illegal exploitation for black markets[8].


Poaching and Species Population: A Negative Correlation

The intensity of rhino poaching appears to be negatively correlated to the rate of extinction; as the rhino population has depleted from 500,000 in the early 20th century to 30,000 last recorded in 2012 i.e. in a matter of a few decades rhino populations have reduced to 6% of their original size. Poaching continues to increase dramatically, growing 5000% between 2008 and 2013 [4]. In the past decade, 7245 African rhinos have been lost to illegal poaching[1]. As the growth rate of poaching begins to plateau, threats of poachers moving to other locations still manifests the need for a solution to be proactively put into effect[1].

Why the Problem Continues to Exist

Illegal poaching continues to be a problem due to weak international and national regulations, a lack of effective prosecutions, low penalties, and a high risk to reward incentive [4]. Poachers receive little to no punishment for their actions, as proof of guilt is often hard to achieve. Furthermore, poaching often take place in areas of weak government control and war-tarn nations, subsequently creating weak legislation within the nation [1].

Categories of Actors

Power of the Illegal Trading Market: Global Security

Rhino poaching continues to be an ongoing problem despite global awareness because of the power within the illegal trading markets; as illegal poaching continues to fund insurgencies and terrorism initiatives, the incentive to hunt builds [4]. The illegal poaching market brings in $10 billion for these illegal organized groups, as large as two thirds of some individual African countries’ GDP (Botswana 15.27b, Zimbabwe 16.29b, statistics from Google Data). This imbalance of power enables large illegal parties to destabilize entire governments and economies, manipulating and bribing the highest level of governments and other influential national groups [4]. The power held by these illegal groups and their ability to manipulate set structures makes it increasingly difficult for rhino preservation and conservation practices to be effective as all efforts are deconstructed with corruption.

Local Communities

Often, communities within and surround the natural range of the rhino experience poverty to differing degrees. Job security and food security are both unstable and irregular, thus people are forced to be either impoverished or opportunistic [6]. A black market middle-man willing to purchase illegal game is a relatively appealing option for earnings, especially if wild game is available, but this puts communities at jeopardy by inviting illegal activity in. Livelihoods are put in danger as poachers become more aggressive and organized crime intensifies [9]. A successful alternative to illegal poaching, is encouraging eco-tourism. While this may work in some communities, those severely impacted by the threat of organized crime will have more difficulty attracting tourism.The threat of illegal and dangerous activity within the national parks un-attracts tourists from these areas, taking with them large potential economic stimulation and growth.

National Parks

The negative impacts of illegal poaching is heavily experienced by those directly protecting the land and animals. The park rangers who line the gates of the protected regions put themselves in between the animals and the illegal poachers daily. From 2009 to 2016, 595 park rangers were killed protecting key sites from illegal activity [10]. This security threat showcases the severity of the problem – with organized crime groups taking all measures to receive their monetary compensation and funding.

Rhino Horn Trends: Increasing Demand

Demand for rhino horn has been increasing in Asian markets as holistic remedies grow in popularity. Ancient Chinese and Vietnamese medicinal practice claims that rhino horn has an ability to treat and soothe many common illnesses including fever, poisoning and rheumatism as well as being an aphrodesiac [11]. Although the scientific evidence of these claim are weak, rhino horn is still commonly consumed. The use of rhino horns to cure illness is commonly thought of as an ancient practice but statistics show that it is a modern phenomena, and that the rhino horn consumption has grown astronomically in the past fifteen years [12]. Modern rumors of its properties include curing cancer and hangovers both of which largely influence demand [13]. Because these rumors are unsubstantiated by scientific evidence, origin is often assumed to be from traditional usage.

International Communities

International communities are affected by these measures as decreasing animal populations affect larger environmental biospheres, having a “trickle down” affect globally. As well, tourism is less accessible in the wake of security threats, leaving those wishing to enjoy the animals at a loss. Communities who benefit from eco-tourism are Furthermore, international communities participating in the trade of these illegally poached animals are facilitating the market, continuing the problem and providing monetary rewards for illegal poachers actions.


As the need for Rhino protection increases, governments and NGOs are investing more than ever to find a solution, with DNA tracking, conservation techniques, and cooperative management collaborations taking rise to protect the rhinos:

DNA Tracking

Projects such as are beginning to use DNA Indexing Systems to collect DNA samples of rhinos globally, creating a unique DNA profile of individual rhinos [14]. The objective is to deter poachers by obtaining DNA evidence of illegal poaching that may be used in assistance with forensic prosecutions. Since 2010, data for more than half of the global rhino population has been collected and entered into the system with the project [14]. The collection of DNA samples combats the problem of inadequate punishment and lack of substantial evidence that can withstand court measures. By having this information readily available, illegal poachers can be successfully tracked and punishments can be rightfully administered.

Controlled Trophy Hunting

The intensive demand for trophy hunting permits allows local communities and state parks to charge an exclusive amount for the right to legally hunt rhinos. The funds collected can then go towards resources for conservation initiatives such as maintaining park security, salaries of park supervisors, and other measures that prevent mass illegal poaching [15]. This also incentivizes private landowners to not convert land to economic profit-centers (agriculture, community residence) and to continue to maintain the habitats that house the rhino populations and facilitate their growth [16].

Local and International Collaboration

Enhancements in national park security increase the risk for poachers deciding to hunt rhinos; with new technology such as electric fences, thermal cameras, biometrics, and CCTV security systems being used to combat unwanted park intruders[5]. These extensive initiatives are often too expensive for local communities to maintain on their own, needing larger parties to contribute resources [17]. Collaboration with large supportive donors and local communities combines the benefits of both local knowledge and external funding, to then facilitate successful local missions with adequate resources and strategy.


Continual and Consistent Collaboration

In order to combat the illegal poaching of rhinos, governments, communities, and other parties must unite as a large force to protect these animals. Understanding the significance of government support and legislation protecting the rhino is crucial to the international acceptance of rights for these animals. But these governments cannot act alone as the aforementioned power of the illegal trading markets enables corruption from every level. In order to maintain legitimacy, protection programs must be transparent and regulated by other, progressive conservation groups. Furthermore, support from local communities and citizens must be garnered, as genuine acceptance of animal rights must be a common belief amongst people to bring forward any true improvements. Continual and consistent collaboration amongst these different parties has the ability to combat the illegal poaching and trading of rhinos.

Wildlife Crimes: Illegal Logging and Poaching in the Atsinanana Rainforest

Masoala National Park, one of the six national parks in the Atsinanana Rainforest, Madagascar. By Frank Vassen via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.0.

Nature of the Issue

Background Information

The Atsinanana Rainforest is a World Heritage Site located in Madagascar. It contains 6 national parks, stretched across 500,000 hectares of land [18]. It contains 12,000 endemic plant species, earning its title as “a critically important climatic refugia for unique rainforest biodiversity” by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [19]. The Atsinanana Rainforest also houses a diverse range of animal species, such as lemurs. Despite being situated next to a rich supply of natural resources, neighbouring local communities are poor. Although farming is their main source of income, agricultural productivity is very low [19]. Therefore, villagers are forced to seek alternate methods to earn money. Since the rainforest contains a rich supply of natural resources and unique animal species, illegal logging and poaching are a major source of income for local communities [19].

Illegal Logging of Rosewood

The rainforest is known for its rich supply of Madagascar rosewood (Dalbergia greveana) [20], which is highly valued in China and unique to Madagascar. In Mosaola and Marojejy national park, illegal logging rates were estimated to be 200 to 300m3 per day [21]. The Madagascar government implemented a complete ban on illegal logging in 2006, but rates continued to increase. In 2013, rosewood was listed under Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) [18]. This meant that although rosewood is not considered a species threatened with extinction, countries must impose trade regulations on the export and import of this tree species [22]. Despite a complete ban on rosewood exports in 2013, roughly 350,000 rosewood trees were cut down between 2010 and 2015 [18]. Since 2010, at least 1 million logs were illegally exported out of Madagascar [18].

Lemur Poaching

The Atsinanana Rainforest is also a hotspot for illegal trade of animals. This is further worsened by illegal logging operations. In order to harvest rosewood, surrounding trees must be removed to pave a path for the logs to be transported out of the forest and into rivers [23]. By increasing the removal trees from the rainforest, animal habitats are being destroyed as well. Moreover, hunters and poachers are able to gain better access to the rainforest, which led to increased capture of unique animal species, particularly lemurs. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), more than more than 90% of all lemur species are now close to extinction due to habitat loss [21].

Categories of Actors

Processing of illegal rosewood. Via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Actors in Trade

Timber barons profit the most from illegal logging operations in the Atsinanana Rainforest. Although much of the labour is performed by villagers, less than 1% of profits from rosewood remain in Madagascar [18]. Much of the revenue goes towards small groups of timber barons. China is one of the major importers of rosewood. Over 95% of illegal logs are imported by China. Between 2013 and 2016, China received 50,000 tones of illegally logged rosewood, which is worth US$1.25 billion [18]. Rosewood is valued for its rich red colour, unique fragrance, even texture and strength, which makes it the perfect material for building furniture [24]. Since China is willing to spend billions of dollars on importing rosewood, timber barons are able to pay for labour and fund more illegal logging operations to generate more revenue. This creates an unending cycle of demand and supply, heavily degrading the rainforest in the process.

Bush Meat Consumers

The same can be said for poachers and bush meat consumers. Lemurs are often poached and sold as bush meat, which is a major source of income for local communities [25]. The bush meat is sold to restaurant owners who prepare bush meat as “luxury” meat [26], and sell it to customers, which further generates revenue. This high demand for lemur meat is a result of dissipating Malagasy cultural taboos due to outside influences, and the rising demand for meat to meet a rapidly growing population. In Madagascar, bush meat is a major source of protein for the population, especially children [27].

Local Communities

Although local communities do somewhat benefit from the illegal logging of rosewood, much of the revenue goes towards timber barons. Illegal rosewood trade has cost up to US$ 200 million in lost income for Madagascar [18]. This loss in revenue prevents local communities from escaping poverty, because there is insufficient money to improve education, health care, and farming. Moreover, illegal logging has also led to rapid forest degradation, which hindered the ability for the ecosystem to provide sufficient natural resources to support 100,000 villagers living near the Atsinanana Rainforest [18]. Removing trees from the forest increases soil erosion, because there are not enough roots to hold the soils in place during periods of heavy rainfall. Increased soil erosion leads to eutrophication, because the nutrients and minerals from the soil are being washed into rivers and streams. This leads to massive decline in water quality, which increases the frequency of health problems due to a dirty water supply. The Atsinanana Rainforest is also a major carbon sink, with a total carbon stock 81, 638 metric tonnes [28]. Therefore, rapid deforestation may lead to reduced carbon storage in the rainforest, effectively enhancing the global greenhouse effect.


Golden Crowned Sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli). By Jeff Gibbs via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Illegal logging has also caused massive habitat destruction. Since lemurs are arboreal creatures, they spend most of their time in tree canopies or forest mid-level [29]. Therefore, the rapid removal of trees destroys forest corridors, preventing lemurs from moving around the rainforest, decreasing their survivorship. Rosewood takes 40 to 50 years to reach about 20cm in diameter [24], which means it will take decades before there are enough rosewood trees to reach an adequate size to become habitats for lemur species. Moreover, lemurs generally have very slow reproduction rates. For example, the Golden Crowned Sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli) mate only once every two years [30], hence death rates from habitat loss and poaching exceeds birth rates, leading to continual population decline. Lemurs, like all other species on Earth, have an intrinsic existence value. They have a right to exist simply because they are a part of the ecosystem. However, humans are removing their right to exist by using them for instrumental purposes.

Options For Remedial Actions

Reduce Demand Through Increased Awareness

In order to halt illegal logging, the Chinese government can raise awareness of the destruction of the Atsinanana Rainforest, as a result of illegal harvesting of rosewood. This can be done by imposing a complete ban on the import of rosewood, creating public service announcement videos on television, or creating posters that list deforestation statistics. By increasing public attention towards this issue, China can be held accountable for illegally importing rosewood, forcing the Chinese government to carry out the respective punishments to prevent further media attention. As a result, timber barons will be forced to halt logging operations due to a sudden drop in demand, preventing them from removing more rosewood from the property, reducing habitat loss and conserving biodiversity. There will also be no need for timber barons to hire local villagers for labour, which prevents local communities from relying on illegal trade of rosewood as a source of income.

Improved Monitoring

The Madagascar government should also perform regular assessments on number of rosewood trees in each of the national parks, and determine sustainable logging rates. Therefore, local communities can continue to use logging as a source of revenue, without causing significant ecological damage to the world heritage site. In 2016, 245 patrols were formed by the WWF to improve Law Enforcement Monitoring system, which is a software for tracking natural resources [21]. However, since rosewood logging is selective, it is rather difficult to spot from afar [24]. Therefore, besides using software and satellite imagery, the government should also monitor the forest at a local-scale, such as sending helicopter teams to track illegal logging and poaching activities on a regular basis.

Collaborative Management

Another potential solution is to establish collaborative management between the Madagascar government and the neighbouring communities of the Atsinanana Rainforest. One of the reasons why illegal logging and poaching have continued despite its bans, is because it is a major source of revenue for local communities. In order to stop villagers from participating in these activities, the government can supplement new farming technology, cattle ranching, and teach villagers sustainable farming techniques to increase agricultural productivity. As a result, local communities will no longer rely on illegal logging and poaching for money and food, and instead shift to sustainable farming as their main source of income. Since farm lands are located within the rainforest, both areas will be protected. Local communities can also share their traditional knowledge of forest management, and participate in drafting policies for protecting these forest lands.

Wildlife Crimes: Rosewood and the illegal logging in Belize

Nature of the Issue

Background Information on Brazilian Rosewood

Brazilian Rosewood,also known as Dalbergia nigra, is a slow growing deciduous tree specie that is endemic to Brazil and native to the Bahia interior forests. Rose wood can fix nitrogen is it is can live from dry soil to mosti soil and it is very drought tolerant.[31] It is also a commercially valuable wood all across the world. It gained reputation for its rose-like scent and exceptional wood quality. Additionally, its strong and heavy wood quality plus its wood grain after polishing make Rosewood a great meatial for handles, floors, furniture, guitars and other musical instrument. However, the dust Rosewood produces from sanding can trigger asthma and other symptoms. [32]However, what really makes Rosewood stands out among other wood for woodworking is that Rosewood’s population is so little that it is considered as a extremely endangered specie. Therefore, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has considered Brazilian Rosewood and its related product as Appendix I and IUCN lists Rosewood as a vulnerable specie.[33] [34]

Illegal Logging

Due to Rosewood scarcity, it is considered one of the most profitable wood product in the world. It is also the most trafficked wild product around the world and idt generates more revenue than elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts combined. [35]Originally, Brazilian Rosewood is used by Belize’s local Toledo communities for traditional purposes. [36]However, the numbers of Rosewood harvested and outport has gone above the limited for many years. Records from the Forest Department suggest a steady rise in exports from past many years. And China’s import data clearly indicates that vast of majority of Rosewood are being shipped to China. According to Commentary by Ya'axché Conservation Trust on 2013, between 2010 to 2012, many Rosewood are harvested illeaglly from Toledo, either under a short or long-term license, or under the petty permit system. People abused the system of harevesting and logging, and they used flaws of rules of logging to cut Rosewood done. [36] The pre-convention set is at 4000.000 bf (board-feet) and existing statistics show that China has imported over 2 million bf of Rosewood since March, 2013. The Rosewood specie and its related ecosystems are seriously damaged. [37]


Despite the regulations of trade restriction on Rosewood, countries, companies and individuals still desire for Rosewood due to its scarcity and excellent wood quality. The industries of rosewood generates huge profits that people can not imagine. The explosive demand of Rosewood product in China has results in about 2.2 billion $ per year. Also, the trade itself is a huge waste and big damage to Rosewood. People value Rosewood’s strength and weight and therefore only the dark and dense heartwood part of the tree is used. Therefore, 70% to 80% of the wood is wasted. The huge market behind the whole Rosewood industries make people go beyond the law to deal damage to the Rosewoods. [38]

Lack of enforcement

Other than the huge market of Rosewood in China, the lack of enforcement is another reason why Rosewood forests are seriously injured. In 1993, the Government of Belize began granting logging concessions in Mayan territory to foreign companies without consulting with indigenous neither afro descendant communities. Instead, the government granted foreign companies the rights to log in later years. Additionally, government did not acknowledge the illegal logging and harvesting because of the loopholes of the contract and lack of law enforcement. Thus, the illegal loggings are covered by the gapholes of the contract and the massive foreign corporation and government did not come up with a effective and long term conservation and reforestation plans for Rosewood. By the time when the local government realized the Rosewood damage being done by illegal logging, the ecosystem is already seriously disturbed by people.[39]

Options For Remedial Actions

Collaborative Management

belize government should hire experts of conservation and forestors to build the model of reforestation on Rosewood forests. Government should work with the operation team and support them with full funds to build the conservation plans. To be more specific, restriction zone of should be set and only the official issued conservationists and foresters are allowed to step in. Additionally, conservations should also allowed the local indigenous communities to have their own zone of reforestation. Furthermore, tree breeding and biotechnology can be applied to accelerate the speed of recovering under the restrictions of changing the ecosystems. Since Rosewood is a drought tolerant species, conservationist can run experiment in other places if reproducing Rosewood on other lands are viable. While reproducing the Rosewood populations, people should also focus on its related ecosystems. Government should support operation team with full historical and scientific information on the past suitable ecosystems for Rosewood. Government should support operation team with fully operational power of various machines and tools to recreate the ecosystems and environment of Rosewood. Lastly, Operation team might also study the genetics of Rosewood and create the variant that can adapt the current ecosystems

Government issued policy

Just like CITES set regulations on Rosewood trading, Government of Belize should follow the steps and set laws to prevent the illegal logging. [40] While it is still viable to trade Rosewood, an overseeing team or program should be formed to monitor and track the trade of Rosewood. Additionally, local government should also complete the inventory and keep moratorium in place, enact zero illegal export. moratorium in place, enact zero illegal export. Government should also coordinate with other countries to keep in touch with the trade of Rosewood. The punishing law of illegal logging such as confiscate the license of export and mandatory taxes should be set in order to reduce the possibility of logging. Government should also set laws on rewarding the conservation and reforestation program and operations. Future educational program such as introductory class and summer camp can be set to teach children the importance of Rosewood to the ecosystem. Belize Government should also promoting the importance of the Rosewood both culturally and ecological to all people around the world. As for countries that have large demand on Rosewood (China, Malaysia and etc.), government should encourage people to find alternative sustainable wood to reduce the demand of Rosewood. Import taxes on Rosewood should be set or increase to reduce the amount of importation. More importantly, they should also start the education on the importance of Rosewood and its ecosystem on municipal level.


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