Poaching, Its Consequences | Bob Robb
Poaching, Its Consequences
by Bob Robb
Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. One of my hunting buddies, back in the day, turned out to be a poacher. When I found out, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma – do I say something to him? Do I simply quit hanging out with him? Or do I alert law enforcement?
After much soul-searching, I called the state’s TIP (Turn In Poachers) hotline and ratted him out. It wasn’t a case of someone who was broke and hungry, trying to feed his family. Instead, it was poaching for horns, and I just couldn’t let it slide. That was over 20 years ago, and I don’t regret the choice.
Poaching, defined as illegally taking game (or nongame) animals without regard to seasons and/or bag limits, is seen by most around the world as highly unethical. The consequences for poaching game, especially when that game is federally protected, can be extremely high. In the U.S., many states have joined together in a compact that says if someone is convicted of poaching in one member state, all member states will treat the offender the same. This often results in a ban on legally hunting in those states for a lengthy period of time. In addition, monetary fines are often levied, the amount often determined by an animal’s perceived value and a trophy animal.
Poaching & Conservation
Worldwide, the problem is even more serious. Americans who have never hunted abroad often do not understand just how unique our North American Conservation Model is to our country. This system regulates the take of game animals (and fish) with the goal of making sure that overharvesting does not occur, and that there will be an abundance of fish and wildlife for future generations to enjoy.
All across the world, certain species of fish and animals are seen as valuable commodities, with governments realizing that unless game and fish have a monetary value, they will be wiped out by people who may truly need the food, or by greedy poachers looking to do nothing more than enriching themselves. However, even when protected by laws, game and fish numbers in many cases are decreasing due to high trade demands or black market prices.
In Africa, for example, elephants, tigers, and rhinoceros face the biggest survival challenges due to poaching. These animals have body parts that are considered highly valuable. This despite the fact that more than 154 nations have signed treaties to regulate the trade of more than 30,000 species of plants and animals that are threatened. Trade is banned for more than 800 species and is limited in 29,000 other species to prevent them from becoming endangered.
Here’s but two examples in the U.S. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a pre-spawn walleye that is illegally taken by a poacher can result in 2,000 fewer walleye. When I lived in California, my game warden buddies told me they thought that the illegal take of deer was equal to, or slightly greater than, the legal harvest each year.
Sportsmen and women that faithfully follow the game laws may not believe they are directly affected by poachers, but they are, primarily in two ways. First, the more game killed illegally, the fewer tags and permits available for legal hunting seasons. Secondly, and just as important, 80 percent of the general public in America that have no strong feelings about hunting one way or the other can begin to equate illegal poaching with legal hunting. When that happens they can become more likely to vote against legal hunting seasons and bag limits, a bad thing for all of us.
The Fiscal Truth
Let’s talk dollars. The American black bear, for example, has long been poached for its hide, paws, gallbladder, and bile, mainly due to their use in Eastern medicine. (Gallbladder and bile are often used to treat diseases of the heart and kidneys.) Undercover operations have found single dried bear gallbladders fetching as much as $30,000 on the black market. Did you know that the horns of bighorn sheep ram can sell for more than $20,000 on the black market?
Shark fins are also highly valued in Eastern cultures, making poaching off the coast of California a major problem, despite the fact that selling or distributing shark fins is illegal under California’s Shark Fin Law. A single shark fin can sell for $500 in China, where it is used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million shark deaths every year due to shark finning — the practice of catching a shark, slicing off only the coveted fins, then tossing the animal back overboard to die a slow and painful death. You can find more information on the poaching problem in the U.S. at www.gamewardens.org.
The truth is, there are too few game wardens in America to make a serious dent in the poaching problem – and a big problem it is. It is up to us, the law-abiding sportsman, to never shy away from reporting poaching incidents when we become aware of them. We all have skin in this game and need to do our part to help ensure that our treasured wildlife resources remain vibrant and healthy for generations to come.
Bob Robb has been a full-time outdoor writer since 1978, and a contributor to, and the editor of, several prominent hunting magazines down thru the years. He also lived 15 years in Alaska, where he held an assistant hunting guide license. The best part of his job, he says, is it allows him to be in the woods between 120-140 days a year; what could be better than that?