In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Poaching

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Drivers of Poaching
  • The Negative Impacts of Poaching
  • Data Sources
  • Perceptions of Wildlife Law Enforcement Officers
  • Offender-Based Research
  • Market Surveys and Product-Based Approaches
  • Ranger-Based Data Collection and Law Enforcement Monitoring
  • Spatial Analyses of Poaching
  • Law Enforcement Strategy
  • Community-Based Alternatives to “Fortress Conservation”
  • Poaching Prevention

Criminology Poaching
A.M. Lemieux
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0214


Poaching, the illegal taking of wildlife, be it plants, animals, or fish, is the first event in a series of crimes that supply the global demand for illicit wildlife products. While international attention is typically given to trophy poaching of large, endangered animals such as the rhino, tiger, and elephant, this term applies to all forms of hunting/trapping/collecting outlawed by local legislation. Examples include hunting in protected areas even if the animals are not endangered, hunting without a permit or out of season, collecting eggs and live specimens, and illegal fishing or plant harvesting. After a poaching event, wildlife will typically be transported, processed, and sold on domestic or international markets. The umbrella term wildlife crime encapsulates poaching and all of the subsequent crimes related to the trafficking and sale of wildlife products. The citations listed below represent an interdisciplinary collection of literature that describe the drivers of poaching, how it can be studied, and what is known about its actors, prevalence, and distribution.

General Overviews

To understand the wildlife crime continuum, which begins with poaching, it is useful to read generally on the topic regarding the harvesting, processing, transport and sale of wildlife products. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime issued the “World Wildlife Crime Report,” which is a must read for a global perspective on wildlife crime and why it is considered a transnational organized crime. The well-researched, easy-to-read document provides up-to-date information and eight useful case studies. Fa, et al. 2005 and Lindsey, et al. 2013 focus on bushmeat poaching in the forests and savannas of Africa respectively. The international scope of these works helps readers understand the similarities and differences of hunting practices across the region. Given the rapid rise of rhino poaching in South Africa since 2008, Milliken and Shaw 2012 is an important read. The authors’ in-depth analysis of markets for rhino horn and the various poaching methods used, gives a well-rounded, well-informed view of the problem. Although poaching has long been considered a conservation issue, the criminal element has attracted the attention of criminologists. The result has been the introduction of “conservation criminology” by Gibbs, et al. 2009, research on the criminal opportunity structures of poaching by Lemieux 2014 and the wildlife trade by Schneider 2012, and the discussion in Wyatt 2013 of the problem from a green criminology perspective.

  • Fa, John E., Sarah F. Ryan, and Diana J. Bell. 2005. Hunting vulnerability, ecological characteristics, and harvest rates of bushmeat species in Afrotropical forests. Biological Conservation 121.2: 167–176.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2004.04.016

    This paper examines hunting in thirty-six sites across seven countries in west and central Africa. It explores the methods used by bushmeat hunters in the region, the effort expended, and estimates harvest levels, measured by the number of carcasses and biomass, for various species.

  • Gibbs, Carole, Meredith L. Gore, Edmund F. McGarrell, and Louie Rivers III. 2009. Introducing conservation criminology: Towards interdisciplinary scholarship on environmental crimes and risks. British Journal of Criminology 50.1: 124–144.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azp045

    Explores the importance of criminology as a key component of interdisciplinary conservation work. The literature review is comprehensive and sheds light on the various ways criminologists have written about conservation issues, how these link to conservation, and how the “conservation criminology” framework incorporates various disciplines.

  • Lemieux, A. M., ed. 2014. Situational prevention of poaching. Crime Science Series 15. London: Routledge.

    Grounded in criminal opportunity theory, this volume investigates how opportunities for poaching develop, are exploited, and ultimately how situational crime prevention might be used to reduce or remove them from landscapes. The collection of studies covers a wide range of locations, species, and problems from around the world.

  • Lindsey, Peter A., Guy Balme, Matthew Becker, et al. 2013. The bushmeat trade in African savannas: Impacts, drivers, and possible solutions. Biological Conservation 160:80–96.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.12.020

    An overview of the bushmeat trade in savanna landscapes which shows the problem is more detrimental than previously thought and a serious threat to sustainable ecosystems. It highlights why people hunt bushmeat, how the products are used, facilitators that enable the practice to continue, and ways to reduce its prevalence.

  • Milliken, Tom, and Jo Shaw. 2012. The South Africa–Viet Nam rhino horn trade nexus: A deadly combination of institutional lapses, corrupt wildlife industry professionals and Asian crime syndicates. Johannesburg, South Africa: TRAFFIC.

    A well-researched document describing the history of rhino horn trade, what drives the post-2008 onslaught of rhinos in South Africa, hunting methods and schemes used to obtain horn, and the end-market in Vietnam. While specific to rhinos, this piece lays bare the supply and demand aspects of poaching.

  • Schneider, Jacqueline L. 2012. Sold into extinction: The global trade in endangered species. Global Crime and Justice. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

    A criminological perspective on the global trade in wildlife which contains a wealth of background information about legislation governing the trade, data sources that can be used, and species specific examples of the problem.

  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2016. World wildlife crime report: Trafficking in protected species. New York: United Nations.

    The first global assessment of wildlife crime by the United Nations. A well-written, comprehensive report that includes interesting case studies on various species, introduces the World Wildlife Seizures (World WISE) database, and provides policy recommendations for the international community.

  • Wyatt, Tanya. 2013. Wildlife trafficking: A deconstruction of the crime, the victims, and the offenders. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137269249

    Drawing from the green criminology and critical criminology perspectives, the book describes the construction of harms derived from wildlife trafficking that transcend the typical focus on impacts related to ecology or security. It is also a good source for background information about legislation and enforcement efforts.

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