Would you commit a crime for 10 times your salary?

I am attending the Zoological Society Symposium on the illegal wildlife trade this week in London. The objective of the seminar was introduced in the morning as a exercise to find “solutions to ending the illegal trade”. Despite this broad remit, the event is focused largely on law enforcement approaches. Day 2 will present some experience on sustainable use and economic incentives.

The rhino horn value chain – risks and rewards

The morning session was opened by Ian Craig of the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. He presented a very useful insight into the different stages of supply chain for rhino horn including the role played by the poacher, broker, exporter and judiciary. He estimates that in Kenya there are 30 brokers and 300 poachers. He compared the risk and reward for each player.

The poacher faces very high level of risk and little reward (10 to 15% of the end value).

The broker who manages movement of product in-country faces minimal personal risk and receives around 5 to 10% of the end value.

The exporter moves product across international borders at little personal risk (as he pays for political protection) and receives very high reward (60 to 70%) of end value

These insights on risk/reward highlighted how powerful economic incentives are in destroying governance and undermining law enforcement in range states.

How a ranger refused the break the law

Craig also told a story of a park ranger who he has known for 10 years who recently was offered 5,000 USD to assist poachers locate rhinos. Earning 200 USD a month, this is clearly a huge incentive that many if not most people would find difficult to resist.

However, in what can only be a rare and admirable display of integrity, the ranger informed the authorities. Sadly, and not suprisingly he now lives in fear of reprisals from the poachers.

Craig also pointed out that the poachers are replaceable. Thus enforcements efforts, he argues should focus on intelligence to catch the brokers and exporters. This sentiment was echoed by other speakers but there was no clear idea of how this strategy could overcome high level corruption. Other antecdotal evidence pointed to the inability of judiciaries to prosecute and imprison poachers due largely to corruption.

Presumably brokers are replaceable too albeit not so readily.

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