By: Caillie Mutterback
Illegal hunting in Tanzania's Greater Serengeti Ecosystem (GSE) remains a prevalent activity for local people, despite government regulation and grassroots movements to prevent it. A new paper from mongabay.com's open-access Tropical Conversation Science examines the factors that drive poachers to continue their activities, despite the high costs involved. By interviewing citizens involved with illegal hunting in the Western part of the Serengeti, they were able to identify key risks that are faced by the hunters as well as the perceived gains of a successful hunt.
The western side of the Serengeti has higher levels of illegal hunting because of the increased human population density. The researchers estimate that 52,000 to 60,000 illegal hunters live within 45 kilometers west of the GSE, and those numbers continue to grow as the population in Tanzania grows. While the factors affecting such a large population will be diverse, there are many that have been identified as recurring.
Such factors can impact both the long and short-term choices of poachers. For example, a farmer may choose to illegally hunt less often one year because a consistent income removes their need for extra food or money, but a year with excessive drought may drive him to hunt in the GSE several times a month for animals. Other factors include livestock/crop losses, costs of bridewealth for marriage (dowry), educational costs, culture, value of a resource acquired or simply a greater amount of herbivores in the area.
Because most GSE poachers use wire snares to capture wildlife, they do not necessarily control what wildlife they catch. The researchers write "even though snares often target large herbivores, unselective harvesting occurs and many carnivores such as lions and leopards are unintentionally killed in the process." Hunters also use pit traps, dogs, spotlighting, and bow and arrows to hunt silently.
The Tanzanian government has prohibited poaching in protected areas like the GSE. Patrols both inside and outside the park have the legal power to arrest poachers and grant jail time or fines to hunters; however, this method relies on the ability to catch the poacher in the act. Many poachers set up their silent wire snares in the dark of night and are unseen by the patrols. In addition, often poachers will continue to hunt even after they have been caught because their bounty is worth more than the punishment. Researchers found that 84% of their 104 interviewees saw poaching as a difficult activity: aggressive wildlife, retrieval of wildlife, concealment, hostile contact (with neighboring Maasai) and punishment upon detection are all threats that poachers face each time they choose to hunt. A third of the respondents said that they had been injured by these activities. More....