What is illegal poaching

Poaching: illegal hunting of extinct species

More and more rhinos and elephants are being killed in Africa because demand in Asia is steadily increasing. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram are also involved in the lucrative business.

Vienna / Pretoria. At night they cross the green border. Through the huge sugar cane fields and the perforated border fence, they pave their way from Mozambique to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. They are well equipped with vehicles, weapons and night vision devices and have only one goal: They want to kill a rhinoceros in the almost 20,000 square kilometer game reserve in northeast South Africa in order to get to its horn.

At least 581 rhinos were killed in 2014 in the Kruger National Park alone, in all of South Africa there were 1215 of the animals threatened with extinction. With the illegal killing of a rhinoceros every seven hours, poaching has hit a new negative record in South Africa (for comparison: 13 rhinos were poached in 2007). And 80 percent of the poachers in the Kruger National Park come from Mozambique. There are always fights between the illegal hunters and the park rangers.

Worldwide network

But not only the Kruger National Park and not only South Africa have an increasing problem with the ever decreasing populations of large wild animals. The illegal trade in parts of elephants, rhinos and tigers is a lucrative global business, fueled by unbridled demand in Asia. In China, Vietnam and Japan in particular, individual body parts are used as ingredients in tinctures or powders of traditional Chinese medicine, as sexual enhancers, lucky charms, status symbols or as ingredients for specialty cuisine.

From poaching the animals to transporting the coveted horns, tusks or claws to selling: criminal gangs have organized everything perfectly across continents. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna (UNODC), which also deals with the illegal trade in protected wild animals as a form of organized crime, has traced a case: hunters from a small village in Mozambique kill across the border in Kruger National Park an elephant. They dismantle him and hand the tusks over to a middleman. He took care of the road transport to Malawi, where the national trade in ivory is not prohibited. The tusks are processed there. Then the Asian wholesalers come into play: They buy the finished products such as chopsticks, cigarette holders or other small objects, and hide them in containers with legal goods - such as stone statues, dried fish or even plastic waste. The illegal cargo arrives by plane via Singapore or Thailand to China, Japan, Korea or Malaysia.

Every year around 75 tons of ivory, 800 kilos of rhinoceros horns and around 1500 kilos of tiger bones come into circulation. The price per kilo of horn on the Asian market is up to 25,000 euros. Yemen is also an important target country: there the horns are used as handles for traditional daggers. One kilo of ivory is comparatively cheap and brings in up to 750 euros. The share that the African poachers get is usually only one percent of the sales price.

Money for terrorists

Part of the substantial profits is apparently used to finance another major problem in Africa: the Islamist terrorist organizations Boko Haram in Nigeria, the al-Shabaab militia in Somalia and Kenya, and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are in the Ivory and horn trade involved. Authorities in Nigeria and other African countries have known for a long time that the terrorists finance their bloody campaigns with the proceeds from the ivory trade. Poaching must therefore be seen as a security problem for the whole of Africa, said Zimbabwe's secret service chief recently.


35,000 elephants have fallen victim to poachers in Africa since 2010. In the past few years the population has shrunk by seven percent annually. There are still around 29,000 rhinos in the wild worldwide - the animal is one of the most endangered in the world. 1215 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa in 2014 alone.

("Die Presse", print edition, February 13, 2015)