The Relationship Between Civil Unrest And Poaching
People often assume that poaching of endangered animal species is primarily driven by poachers seeking to make large amounts of money selling animal parts on the black market. However, recent studies have shown that the economics behind illegal wildlife hunting are often more complex. This paper, published in Ecological Economics, examines another possible factor that may influence poaching: civil unrest and political instability.
Specifically, the author investigates links between poaching of the greater one-horned rhinoceros in India and periods of unrest resulting from conflicts between the state government and militant separatists. The study compares data provided by Assam’s State Forest Department on rhino population and poaching numbers in years with and without civil unrest. Using these data, the author first determined the average poaching level during the extensive civil unrest period in the 1980s and 90s. The analysis found that, during conflict time, 32 rhinos per year were poached, compared to an average of eight rhinos per year in other time periods.
The author further factors in other variables in order to help isolate the relationship between civil unrest and poaching through multiple regression models. The variables include economic data on agricultural wage rate and GDP per capita in Assam as well as GDP in China and Vietnam (where most rhino horns are sold), and rhino horn prices. Additional variables include those that would likely deter poaching activities, namely numbers of anti-poaching camps, poaching penalty fines, and poachers arrested and killed per year.
Results from several of these models show that the relationship between civil unrest and rhino poaching is positive and significant. One model indicated that the unrest period is associated with four times more poaching per year compared to other periods (similar to the averages described earlier). Additionally, several models indicated that the anti-poaching efforts of the Assam Forest Department significantly reduce poaching. Additionally, poaching penalties reduce poaching, Chinese and Vietnamese GDP are positively associated with poaching, and horn price is positively associated with poaching.
The author notes that his findings correlate with those of previous studies on the same or similar topics. He concludes by stating that the “relationship between civil unrest, political instability, and conservation of endangered species” is “important and inadequately understood” and therefore in need of further research. For animal advocates, the findings suggest the need for more nuanced approaches to both investigating poaching activities and communicating information about poaching in outreach and education.