Booming black market for deadly snakes and exotic turtles puts animals in peril

By Sammy Fretwell The State (Columbia, S.C.) Jul 31, 2018 Updated 4 hrs ago (0)
Exotic animals
An Asian Box Turtle peers from its enclosure at the Turtle Survival Center. The South Carolina preserve protects some of the world’s most endangered turtles.

Tracy Glantz / The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. —The death of Freddie “Snakeman” Herman was unsettling enough for criminal investigators when they arrived at his ramshackle mobile home on a steamy morning last summer.

Herman’s body lay on the ground, lifeless from gunshot wounds. Flies swarmed in the yard, leaving little doubt Herman had been dead for hours.

But as they surveyed the murder scene in Chesterfield County, investigators learned that Herman was more than the victim of a domestic homicide. He was an international wildlife dealer they knew nothing about in a state where black market animal sales are quietly growing.

Snakes writhed in Herman’s trailer and turtles splashed in backyard holding ponds, apparently awaiting shipment. On Herman’s computer, state natural resources investigators found electronic messages with mysterious wildlife brokers, as well as $76,000 in an account that they believe was filled with the proceeds of animal sales.

The discovery provided a new window into South Carolina’s illicit and loosely regulated wildlife trade, a shadowy but lucrative industry that is imperiling native species, threatening to spread disease and attracting crooks to the Palmetto State.

And it’s all happening in a state with limited ability to deal with the problem.

Wild animals, particularly reptiles, are being cruelly packaged in tiny cartons and shipped overseas, many dying en route because they have no food or water. Other animals collected for sale in South Carolina are beginning to dwindle in their native environments, which could upset the balance of nature in swamps and woodlands across the state.

Reptiles, including dangerous snakes and rare turtles, often sought as food or exotic pets, are the major concern. But state investigators also are worried about the sale of disease-carrying hogs and deer, rare fish, and black bear parts such as gallbladders and paws.

“It’s significant,” state wildlife agency spokesman Robert McCullough said of the illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade. “There is enough going on out there to cause us concern.”

Some dealers are trading native wildlife without getting caught because the state lacks officers. In Herman’s case, state investigators say they were stunned to learn the extent of his operation in Chesterfield County.

Other dealers are legally selling animals, such as highly venomous snakes, that could not be easily sold in other states with stricter wildlife laws.

A recent South Carolina Department of Natural Resources report said the agency is seeing an increase in people from other states bringing reptiles to South Carolina, then exporting them, because of the state’s limited wildlife laws. The agency also is seeing evidence that more people are trapping turtles and other reptiles for resale to other states, the report said.

It’s a significant enough issue that the DNR has assigned a handful of undercover agents to investigate illicit wildlife trading, even as state policymakers consider ways to strengthen minimal wildlife laws and provide more staff members to catch rogue animal dealers.

Wildlife traffickers get involved in the business because of the world’s insatiable demand for animals and the profits dealers can make when they sell wildlife. In a single year, some dealers have reportedly made
$100,000 selling turtles, snakes and other reptiles.

Unlike in many states, it’s legal in South Carolina to buy a venomous cobra at a wildlife show or collect hundreds of turtles for potential sale to pet traders in Asia. It’s legal to buy a camel or porcupine at an animal auction with relatively few restrictions. And it’s legal for a handful of people to harvest rare baby eels, which can fetch $2,000 per pound in Asia.

Chad Welch, an investigator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said South Carolina’s lack of wildlife trading laws sometimes encourages illicit importing of wildlife into Georgia, where restrictions on reptile sales are stronger.

“It’s easier to acquire wild animals when you can take a couple of hours’ drive to South Carolina, buy them and bring them right back,” he said.

Recently, a Florida man with a criminal record received permission from Georgia authorities to import 220 highly venomous snakes from Africa through the Atlanta airport — if he agreed to ship them to South Carolina within 24 hours after they landed. The shipment, coming from a contact in North Ghana, included spitting cobras and Gaboon vipers, toxic snakes popular in the reptile trade. The man planned to sell them here.

In another recently publicized case, a major player in an international turtle-trafficking scheme pleaded guilty in federal court to wildlife charges after admitting he was shipping and receiving highly endangered turtles from his home in South Carolina. State authorities say loopholes in state wildlife laws made it easier for him to operate out of his house in Holly Hill.

According to an internal Department of Natural Resources report, South Carolina is one of five states with few or no laws regulating the ownership and sale of reptiles. The report says wildlife traders are slippery, well-connected and hard to catch.

“Many of the exporters operate in multiple states,” says the DNR report.
“They will set up multiple residences or change residences often in states with lax reptile laws. They have a network of collectors who collect with or for them to fulfill orders. They communicate better than we do.”

According to the DNR’s internal report, the Herman investigation revealed new ways that wildlife traders communicate and how they are paid for selling animals on the black market.

The DNR, for instance, says Herman was using an internet chatroom for video game enthusiasts to communicate with a wildlife buyer.
Correspondence found on Herman’s computer shows that he was discussing the price of reptiles and how they could be exported to Europe.

“In Germany and France, they pay $800 to $1,200 per pair,” the chatroom note said. In the five months prior to his death, Herman received at least 11 Western Union payments from Hong Kong totaling $19,000, according to information the DNR obtained through the investigation. The agency said he was known at a Florence mailing center for regularly shipping packages filled with small animals.

A DNR informant, who asked not be named because he deals with wildlife traffickers, said he routinely gets text messages from Asian buyers seeking turtles.

In a string of texts obtained by The State newspaper, a buyer said he wanted 10 turtles shipped through Chicago, where he had friends. The potential buyer at one point suggested having the turtles shipped through Massachusetts and Florida, but the informant said “No, lol, they will put you in jail” in the Sunshine State, according to the string of texts.

Weak state laws in South Carolina encourage the growth of illegal dealing by making it easier for people to amass large numbers of animals for sale on the black market.

That’s particularly true with reptiles. While the state restricts the export of many types of turtles, the law doesn’t restrict people from owning as many of those species as they want, said Will Dillman, an agency reptile biologist and assistant wildlife chief.

Some out-of-state turtle trappers bring their catch to South Carolina and keep animals here until they can resell them to other countries — a practice called “turtle laundering.” Turtles are important to the environment because they spread seeds that lead to plant growth and make dens that can be used by other animals. They also are vital to keeping ponds clean because they scavenge for dead fish and other animals in the water.

Many of the wildlife cases made in South Carolina are brought by the federal government, which has more consistent and stricter laws than states do. But federal prosecutors have more than their share of cases that take a higher priority than wildlife crimes.

Some counties and cities in South Carolina, including the city of Columbia and Richland County, have exotic pet laws that limit venomous snake ownership and sales. But others do not. That allows wildlife shows to set up shop in counties like Lexington and sell venomous reptiles.

“We have a patchwork of different state laws on some species,” said Iris Ho, a senior wildlife policy specialist with the Humane Society International. “Something could be protected in one state, but not in another, like South Carolina.”

Law enforcement authorities have said some restrictions are needed because drug dealers sometimes also trade in wildlife. In some cases, when officers show up for a drug bust, they have run into dangerous reptiles, authorities say.

Some legitimate wildlife dealers say they could support stricter state oversight of some types of wildlife dealing to weed out the shady businesses that give their industry a bad name.

“There are a lot of weird people importing stuff they ain’t supposed to be importing,” wildlife dealer Jonathan McMillan said during a break in a June 9 Repticon wildlife show at the Greenville Shrine Club. “They’re out catching things just to catch them and they are shipping stuff out that is not supposed to be shipped out of the country. There are a couple of bad apples.”

South Carolina’s issues with wildlife trafficking are a piece of a global problem that generates up to $20 billion in sales annually, according to the Humane Society International. Everything from elephant tusks to turtle meat can be found on the international black market.

Reptiles are the biggest wildlife commodity being moved illegally in the Southeast, largely because the area has such a rich diversity of the animals — and many of them, like turtles, are easy to catch, experts say.

Depending on the species, a single turtle can fetch upwards of $10,000 on the black market in Asia. Rattlesnakes from South Carolina can easily sell for $200 in places like New York, where collectors seek exotic animals, according to the S.C. DNR.

That translates to a nice income for some traders. In one case, a Holly Hill man with an extensive criminal record from wildlife trading earned more than $100,000 one year, according to a neighbor and law enforcement authorities.

Even people not involved in illegal wildlife trafficking say it’s common knowledge that selling reptiles is lucrative.

“It’s something everybody knows you can make good money on,” said Daniel Bibby, an Orangeburg County resident who lives next door to Steven Baker, a wildlife trader with a history of violations.

Some species that once were nearly worthless have soared to thousands of dollars apiece, only to fall again once the thrill of owning that species has waned, said Jordan Gray, a spokesman for the Turtle Survival Alliance, an international reptile protection group headquartered in Charleston.

“The way turtles and tortoises go, it’s almost like clothing purchases for a season,” Gray said. “You see these fads.”

Black bear parts, such as skins, gallbladders and paws, also are highly sought after in some Asian countries for traditional medicines or as souvenirs. A bear gallbladder will reportedly sell for up to $3,000 in China, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In South Carolina, where bear hunting is legal, the DNR recently ticketed men in North Augusta and Spartanburg for trying to deal other bear parts.

In one of the cases, a suspect was trying to sell a bear skin, with the claws attached, for about $1,800, a law enforcement source said. After he was ticketed, the man suspected of trying to sell the bear skin said “‘Thanks,’ then three days later, he had posted it up for sale again,”
the law enforcement source told The State.

The other bear case included the sale of skulls, claws and other parts, which were offered for sale for about $10,500, according to the DNR.

Illegally harvesting baby eels for sale to Asia landed three South Carolina men in hot water two years ago after federal investigators discovered they had trafficked more than $740,000 worth of the eels. All three pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that governs illegal wildlife trafficking. South Carolina grants 10 permits for people to harvest the little eels, making any other harvest illegal.

While South Carolina law offers few limits on the sale of dangerous snakes and many types of reptiles, the state does have stronger laws to control the trade in other species, such as wild hogs and deer, according to the DNR. The Legislature also recently banned the ownership and sale of big exotic cats, such as African lions and American cougars, as well as chimpanzees and non-native bears.

But it’s not hard to break state laws and get away with it because of limited state resources, DNR spokesman McCullough said.

Trucks filled with hogs sometimes sneak across the state line because South Carolina doesn’t have enough wildlife officers to stop the movement, McCullough and DNR big game coordinator Charles Ruth said. The pigs are usually headed to hunting preserves to give shooters a better chance at bagging a hog. Unfortunately, some of the pigs escape and are adding to the state’s wild hog problem, according to the DNR.

The agency needs more than 300 officers, but today has 265, McCullough said. Its special investigative unit has six agents who also investigate wildlife crimes aside from illegal trading.

Sometimes, the DNR does catch people trying to bring in hogs. Last fall, the agency arrested a Georgia man for illegally importing 10 wild pigs to Edgefield County. He was found guilty in magistrate’s court in December, records show.

The illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade affects South Carolina both in what is being brought here, and what is being shipped to overseas markets.

Among the native animals in peril are box turtles and spotted turtles — rare reptiles with fragile populations that scientists say are harder to find today than in years past.

Turtles are being shipped to China and other Asian countries, where many native reptiles have disappeared, to be used as pets or food. Scientists are particularly worried about what appear to be dwindling turtle populations in an area between Orangeburg and Walterboro, where many people busted for wildlife crimes operate.

“We know there are people out there collecting,” former DNR biologist Bennett said. “But there’s not always a way to enforce things, to check up on these people. If you happen to catch one occasionally, that’s fine.”

http://www.sentinelsource.com/hub/petsanimals/animal_news/booming-black-market-for-deadly-snakes-and-exotic-turtles-puts/article_4cfedc07-7e51-543f-a947-a23a98ccef72.html

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Ranger trying to save rhinos shot, killed by poachers

https://www.sfgate.com/world/article/Poachers-kill-ranger-rhinos-Kruger-South-Africa-13092039.php

Published FILE - A South African ranger searches from a helicopter for a poacher on the run in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo: James Oatway/Sunday Times/Getty Images / 2014 Gallo Images (PTY) LTD

A game ranger was killed in a shootout Thursday with rhino poachers he had been trailing, South African National Parks officials said.

The 34-year-old ranger was a member of a unit that had been tracking a gang of poachers with dogs in the Kruger National Park, according to multiple reports. When the rangers confronted the gang, the poachers opened fire.

In the exchange of gunfire, the ranger was shot in the upper body while still in his vehicle.

RELATED: Rhino poachers eaten alive by lions

First aid was administered and a doctor flown in, but although he was stabilized at the the scene, the ranger died en route to a hospital, Kruger National Park spokesperson Ike Phaahla told News24.

The poachers got away, but  they apparently were unable to kill any animals as there were no carcasses in the vicinity, the South African reported.

A police investigation is underway.

New Study Reveals There Maybe Twice as Many Gorillas Than Previously Thought A new study in the journal ‘Science Advances’ says there may be almost 361,900 in western Africa, up from earlier estimates of 150,000-250,000. According to The Guardian, despite the results from the decade-long survey, gorillas remain a critically endangered species. The population of gorillas across Africa have declined as a result of disease, deforestation and poaching. Gorillas reach maturity after 11 or 12 years and only give birth every four years, meaning it will take time for the population to rebuild. Prof. Fiona Maisels, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, to The Guardian

Media: Wibbitz

The ranger’s identity was withheld pending notification of kin.

MORE: Only the poacher’s head was left

“We have lost a patriot who died on duty protecting South African assets and who was well trained to defend himself, hence our shock on learning of this incident,” parks CEO Fundisile Mketeni said. “We will draw strength from his contribution to the anti-poaching campaign and as his colleagues, we are going to continue where he left off in honor of his memory.”

Endangered black rhinos die in Kenya reserve

A male black rhinoceros in a crate about to be transferred at Nairobi National Park, 26 June 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionEstimates suggest there are fewer than 5,500 black rhinos in the world

Eight endangered black rhinos have died while being transported to a new wildlife reserve in Kenya.

They died after drinking water with high concentrations of salt, the Kenyan government says.

The animals were among 14 black rhinos being transported from Nairobi National Park to the country’s biggest national park, Tsavo East.

Estimates suggest there are fewer than 5,500 black rhinos in the world, all of them in Africa and some 750 in Kenya.

Kenya Wildlife Service vets believe the more the animals drank, the thirstier they became, which quickly lead to salt poisoning, although an independent investigation has been launched to confirm the cause of death.

Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu told AFP news agency: “Something must have gone wrong, and we want to know what it is.”

The relocation of endangered animals involves sedating them for the journey and reviving them on arrival. The process is known as translocation.

The WWF conservation agency, which runs the programme with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), described the process as “extremely challenging” in a statement released to Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.

“Black rhinos are under enormous threat, so efforts to try and better protect them, such as translocation, are crucial for future generations,” i said.

Rhinos are often moved when their populations outgrow their surroundings. In the case of critically endangered black rhinos, the moves can establish new breeding habitats to boost numbers.

Nine rhinos were killed in Kenya last year, according to KWS, and in March, the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino died after months of poor health.

Top five hunting violations committed by Hoosiers

INDIANAPOLIS — With deer hunting season well underway in the state, Indiana Department of Natural Resources is reminding hunters to use their heads and follow the law when out in the woods.

To kick off firearms deer-hunting season Saturday, DNR re-shared a popular video recorded a few years ago that details some of the most common hunter violations and why they are important to follow.

Top 5 Hunting Violations According to DNR:

  1. Hunting/Tracking a deer from a vehicle
  2. Hunting on someone else’s private property
  3. Not wearing hunter orange
  4. Over-bagging and breaking the one buck rule
  5. Over-bagging any animal / killing more than the per-person limit

This laws are being carefully watched this year after an error in the law passed by the legislative session initially banned the use of rifles on state and federal property.

READ | Deer hunters CAN use rifles on state and federal property this year

The Department of Natural Resources issued an emergency state rule allowing hunters to use rifles during the 2017-18 season until they are able to update the law next year.

Three Hunting Guides Arraigned in Nome

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Eric Gorski.

HUNTING GUIDE BRIAN LEE SIMPSON, 56, was arraigned in the Nome courthouse on Monday. Simpson was charged with five misdemeanor violations of Alaska hunting laws, including illegal guiding on private land.

Last Friday, two of Simpson’s employees were also arraigned. Tyler Weyiouanna, 25,  was charged with aiding in the violation of hunting regulations and using a motor vehicle to harass game. Matthew Iyatunguk, 23, was charged with one count of harassing game.

The charges were initially filed in Alaska District Court on August 17th. Simpson has hired his own attorney, while Weyiouanna and Iyatunguk will be represented by public defenders appointed by the court. All three men are set to appear at the courthouse in Nome on November 9th.

Image at top: Brown bear. Photo via Flickr / Creative Commons, courtesy of Eric Gorski.

South Dakota man sentenced on state, federal hunting charges

https://wtop.com/animals-pets/2018/06/south-dakota-man-sentenced-on-state-federal-hunting-charges/

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota man accused of illegally baiting a mountain lion with dead deer has been sentenced on state and federal charges.

The Rapid City Journal reports 21-year-old Mason Hamm of Rapid City recently pleaded guilty in federal court to hunting with an unregistered firearm and was sentenced to eight months in prison. He admitted killing a mountain lion in January 2016 using a rifle with a silencer that wasn’t registered to him on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives database.

Hamm also was sentenced to serve four days in jail on state hunting misdemeanors to which he pleaded guilty.

Hamm’s hunting companion, William Colson VI of Rapid City, was sentenced in February to probation, banned from hunting for nine years and fined $11,000.

___

This story has been corrected to show that the silencer was not registered to Hamm on the ATF database, not that the silencer was not registered with the agency.

___

Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press

Hunter charged with federal crimes for allegedly leading illegal elephant hunts

A South African man is facing federal charges for his role in allegedly helping a Colorado hunter illegally kill endangered elephants in Zimbabwe and offering similar services to an undercover federal agent, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in Denver.

Professional hunter Hanno van Rensburg, 44, of South Africa is facing charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, which prohibit the hunting and trade of threatened animals, including the African elephant, according to the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney in Colorado. A warrant has been issued for van Rensburg’s arrest.

Federal prosecutors allege that in 2015, van Rensburg was paid $39,195 to help a Colorado hunter shoot an elephant outside of Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park. Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter — who is not named in the indictment — tracked the wounded animal inside the park, the indictment states.

Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter, according to the indictment, “agreed to pay and paid a bribe to the game scouts of between $5,000 and $8,000 so that they could shoot elephants other than the one that was first shot and wounded and kill an elephant inside Gonarezhou National Park, in violation of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wild Life Act.”

The indictment alleges that to export the elephant’s ivory, Van Rensburg conspired to tell Zimbabwean authorities that his client, the hunter from Colorado, was actually from South Africa.

“To conceal this contrivance, van Rensburg quizzed Colorado hunter on the layout of his house so that Colorado hunter could convincingly answer such questions and successfully represent himself as a South African resident,” according to the indictment.

Federal authorities also allege van Rensburg attempted to sell a similar illegal elephant hunting trip to an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to the indictment, in 2017 van Rensburg told the agent to bring around $9,000 dollars on the trip for “extras,” as in bribes.

Hunters are required to buy “tags” if they want to hunt an elephant in Zimbabwe, and van Rensburg allegedly reassured the agent that a limited number of tags was not a problem.

“But you know about Zimbabwe, how it works,” van Rensburg allegedly told the agent, according to the indictment. “If they need another tag, they get another tag. You know, that’s the negative part of it. The system is so corrupt. If they need to get it, they will get it. If the client pays the money they will find another tag. I am straightforward with you. Corruption is the rule in Africa.”

Van Rensburg did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but one of his former clients is coming to his defense.

Charlie Loan, a hunter who is unrelated to the current case, said the indictment comes as a surprise. Loan said he was part of a small group that hired Van Rensburg and his guides for a 10-day South African hunting safari in 2012.

“One of the things that we were all really impressed by was the fact that they put a lot of emphasis on conservation,” Loan told ABC News. “Conservation was key in his mind, and that went through his entire staff.”

Poaching ring suspects killed hundreds of animals for ‘thrill of the kill,’

https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/18/us/poaching-ring-charges-trnd/index.html

Poaching photos had been posted on text messages and social media.

(CNN)The suspects documented their kill in graphic photos — grinning near slumped over carcasses, posing with a decapitated elk head and taking a selfie with animal blood splattered over one of the alleged poacher’s face.

Over text messages and social media, the poaching suspects boasted about the animals they illegally slaughtered, authorities say. Some of them even called themselves the “kill ’em all boys,” said Captain Jeff Wickersham from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The suspects were part of a massive poaching ring in Oregon and Washington, who were altogether charged with more than 200 misdemeanors and felonies, authorities say. They are accused of killing more than 200 animals including deer, bears, cougars, bobcats and a squirrel.
Twelve people were charged in Oregon this week. In 2017 and earlier this year, 13 people were charged with misdemeanors and felonies in the state of Washington. Some of the suspects face charges in both states.
Dogs surround a bloody bear.

“A part of it was the thrill of the kill,” said Lt. Tim Schwartz from the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division. “For some of them, it was a competition to see who could kill the most. I think the social media aspect — they were posting this [their kills], getting the attention.”
The suspects bragged about it on Facebook and Snapchat, authorities said.
They “made de facto trophies out of these events” on social media and text messages, said Wickersham. But that ultimately became used as evidence against them, authorities say.
Investigators used the geo-tagged photos to track down the kill sites and find skeletal remains of the animals.
03 thrill for kill poachers

“There is nothing legitimate about the activities these individuals were conducting,” Wickersham said. “They are simply killers. They knew what they were doing. They were not out there for recreation, but to kill things, and that’s what they wanted to do.”
Oregon State Police began its investigation in November 2016 after finding two decapitated deer carcasses. Officers began putting up surveillance cameras to track the suspects.
“This was one of the biggest cases in the state ever, as far as the amount of people involved, amount of violations and number of wildlife taken, “Schwartz said.
He described the case as sickening.
“One of the hardest things for me, as a hunter myself, it was the waste. They (suspects) weren’t making any attempt to remove meat. These guys — it was all about the killing. That’s what was probably most disturbing to us.”
At least five of the suspects appeared in court Thursday, reported CNN affiliate KOIN. They face penalties ranging from fines to jail time depending on their individual charges.

Why poachers persist in hunting bushmeat — even though it’s dangerous

(jbdodane/Flickr)
(jbdodane/Flickr)

The illegal hunting of bushmeat, or game meat, has long distressed wildlife conservationists. It has persisted in sub-Saharan Africa, attracting international attention and debate. Enforcement by authorities and community-based initiatives have been tried as anti-poaching approaches, but with mixed results. Overall, wildlife populations have continued to plummet.

Why has poaching refused to go away? The answer, as suggested by poachers themselves, is simple: because poaching pays.

We conducted a study with poachers in western Tanzania. Our findings shed new light on what motivates people to poach and shows that poachers benefit considerably while the costs are negligible. The study also knocks down the general perception about who poachers are – they’re not necessarily the poorest of the poor. Rather than hunting for basic subsistence, they take risks to widen their livelihood options and improve their situation.

Our research therefore suggests that current approaches to dealing with poaching are misplaced for a simple reason: poachers vary widely. Bottom-up, or community-based, interventions like providing meat at a reduced cost, are unlikely to work unless the benefits can offset what they gain through poaching. And for those who are poaching out of necessity, top-down measures, like longer prison sentences or greater fines, are unlikely to be effective because they don’t have alternative ways to make an income.

Cost benefit analysis

Our study focused on individuals who lived in villages that bordered two premier national parks in Tanzania: Serengeti National Park and Ruaha National Park.

We interviewed 200 poachers, asking them questions about their lives, livelihood alternatives and motivations for poaching. Respondents volunteered information freely and were neither paid nor given incentives for their participation.

We found that illegal hunters are making rational decisions. They earn far more through hunting than through all the other options combined for rural farmers. Over a 12-month period, poachers on average generated US$425. This is considerably more than the amount earned through typical means – such as trade, small business, livestock sales and agricultural sales – which amount to about US$258 each year.

Obviously, benefits are meaningless unless compared to the costs involved. Hunting large animals in the bush carries economic and physical risks. Hunters could get injured, risk imprisonment or lose the opportunity to farm or do other forms of legitimate business.

But, in places like rural Tanzania, the benefits outweigh these costs.

Where farming is the main income generator, there is lots of time available to hunt between planting and harvesting seasons. And with high formal unemployment, labour in a typical household is rarely a limiting factor. We compared poaching and non-poaching households and found that the opportunity costs forfeited by poaching households amounted to just US$116, far below the amount gained through bushmeat sales of US$425. Because other income generating opportunities are few and pay little, poachers have little to lose by poaching.

Other economic costs may come in the form of arrests, imprisonment and subsequent fines. Each time a poacher entered the bush, he faced a 0.07% chance of being arrested. Once arrested, poachers may be fined, imprisoned, beaten or let off. Two-thirds of poachers had never been arrested. Those who had spent just 0.04 days in prison when averaged over a career of 5.2 years. Of those arrested, just over half (56%) had been fined, with fines averaging US$39. For every trip taken, poachers paid just two cents when averaged over their career.

The story here is simple. The majority of poachers never get arrested. And those who do pay a penalty that is paltry compared to the income typically earned.

Physical costs, including injury and possibly even death, have been far more difficult to assess. Outside Serengeti National Park, dangerous wildlife was frequently encountered in the bush and one-third of the poachers questioned had been injured during their hunting careers. Recovery times averaged slightly more than a month. But when averaged over the number of days a poacher spends in the bush (1,901 days), the likelihood of being injured on any given day was remarkably low, just 0.02%.

Still, poaching isn’t easy. Eight in ten respondents claimed it was a difficult activity and that they did it primarily because they didn’t make enough money from legal activities.

Moderately poor

Poverty has long been assumed to be a primary driver of poaching activities, however it may not be that poachers are the poorest of the poor.

Our analysis of poachers living along the borders of Ruaha National Park, revealed that they are poor, but not absolutely poor. In the language of the economist Jeffrey Sachs, many poachers may be “moderately poor”. They are unlikely to go hungry in the short term and are able to focus more on expanding their livelihood options.

Regarding their economic self-perception, these poaching households were similar to non-poaching households. Over half (54%) of poaching households considered themselves economically “average” rather than “poor”.

So, if poachers don’t consider themselves to be poor and consider poaching difficult, why do they do it? The answer may lay in a concept that the Nobel Peace Prize winner Amartya Sen has called“capability deprivation”.

Many poachers lack choices by which to improve their lives. They lack access to income which reduces their chances for further education or entrepreneurial opportunity. Deprived of capabilities to make a better life, many poachers —- at least in Tanzania —- continue to poach to gain agency, rather than just to make ends meet.

One respondent, outside Ruaha National Park, stated that after poaching for six years, he gave it up. His livestock numbers had grown enough to ensure sufficient income the whole year through. This poacher’s story reveals that some threshold of affluence is attainable for longtime poachers to curb illegal activity.

Results here present a new twist for those seeking to protect dwindling wildlife populations. It means that strategies to stop poaching can no longer focus merely on the poorest of the poor. Without other ways to improve their livelihoods, even poachers who can meet their basic needs will continue poaching. For one really simple reason: it pays.

Eli Knapp, Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies, Biology and Earth Science, Houghton College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Howard man ordered pay $13,000 for trapping, killing migratory birds

https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/crime/2018/04/26/howard-man-ordered-pay-13-000-trapping-killing-migratory-birds/551653002/

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A Howard man has been ordered to pay more than $13,000 in restitution for trapping migratory birds in steel traps in Minter County last year.

Armand Joseph Dornbusch, 63, was sentenced this week to pay $13,662.57 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He also lost his hunting privileges for three years.

Miner County authorities found 21 steel-jawed leg-hold metal traps on wooden fence posts in August 2017. Twelve birds were found, including four hawks and one great horned owl, and four were still alive.

Three of the live birds were raptors and underwent surgery at the Great Plains Zoo to amputate “severely damaged digits” on their feet, according to the release. They were released back into the wild.