Poaching, the illegal hunting and harvesting of animals, has a devastating effect on both the individual species and on entire ecosystems and local communities. Additionally, continued poaching encourages and supports the black market and organized crime organizations that thrive on victimizing animals.
Poachers kill for profit, not for sustenance or community support. In many cases, they do not even require the entire animal, but only parts to be used as trinkets, luxury items or ostensible medicine sources. Such items include elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns, big-horned sheep antlers and bear gall bladders. Because poachers care little for species survival, their hunting often leads to radical decreases in animal populations. In 2013, for example, One Green Planet reported the poaching of around 30,000 elephants in a single year.
Poaching hurts local communities in two potential ways. First, if the animal targeted draws in tourists, its disappearance may harm the local economy. Similarly, possible tourist boycotts intended to end the poaching could have the same effect.
The effect of poaching on individual ecosystems is equally damaging, often unbalancing natural and essential relationships between predators, prey and vegetation. For example, the near extinction of the North American gray wolf due to hunting allowed for an unbridled elevation in the elk population of Yellowstone National Park. The unchecked elk then went on to eat the aspen tree to near extinction. Only when the wolf population began recovering was balance restored.