War on Poaching Not Won by Boots on the Ground Alone


Over the last decade we’ve witnessed a discouraging surge in poaching, but we’ve also seen a recent wave of investment in rhino conservation efforts. Despite the increase in funding for anti-poaching, a new study by the Zoological Society of London and South Africa’s Ezemvolo KZN Wildlife suggests that foot patrols, the boots on the ground in the war against poaching, may not be enough to save the rhino.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) currently recommends 1 wildlife ranger per 100 km2 in rhino protected areas as a guideline for sufficient law enforcement presence. But in today’s changing criminal climate, the presence of rangers alone is not enough to deter rhino poachers.

Poaching activity is clustered in “hotspots” of high rhino density or easy poacher access. Ranger patrols are active in these areas, but as the researchers say “in the right place at the wrong time.” Despite the presence of boots on the ground, rhinos continue to be poached, counter to established law enforcement theory of presence and deterrence.

The fact that anti-poaching operations are underfunded across Africa is nothing new to rhino conservationists. But with a high-risk species such as rhinos, today it is more important than ever to use available resources as effectively as possible.

“The war on poaching will unlikely be won solely by more guns and boots on the ground in the long run,” state the researchers. Modern anti-poaching strategies need to incorporate technologies that monitor foot patrol data and poaching activity within an adaptive management framework to maximize ranger deployment effectiveness.

Law enforcement is only one part of the solution to poaching. Community involvement is essential, as seen with successful community-based approaches like Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE program and Namibia’s communal conservancies. Sustainable use approaches provide incentives for communities to conserve wildlife, which are vital to deterring poaching, especially when combined with efficient patrol efforts.

SCI Foundation has a long history of supporting rhino anti-poaching efforts in South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We are currently working to increase the effectiveness of anti-poaching operations in northwest Namibia and Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, both places where hunting provides much-needed conservation benefits. To learn more or support our efforts, please visit endangerpoaching.org.

Source: Barichievy et al. “Do armed field-rangers deter rhino poachers? An empirical analysis” Biological Conservation 209 (2017) 554-560.