Poaching and the War on Drugs

By Jake Marinkovich

The fight to end poaching is constant and never ending. Billions of dollars have been spent on programs that have very little success and almost always have negative impacts on the poorest populations, while the people who actually profit from the process remain largely untouched. It’s led to corruption, human rights abuses, and the creation of a huge underground market, while its goal seems less achievable than ever. Sound familiar? The anti-poaching movement is starting to look scarily similar to the war on drugs.

When you break down who is affected by anti-poaching actions, it’s almost invariably the most destitute in the area. Its people driven to desperation who will be paid a minuscule amount of what the poached animal will be bought for. Those are the people being arrested or killed by anti-poachers. The people who are making the real profit are often untouched. They will normally be out of the country and selling the poached items within a day. It’s no different with the war on drugs. The people being raided and arrested by the DEA aren’t getting the kingpins. They’re getting low level drug dealers or addicts. The cartels making unimaginable amounts of money are largely unaffected by the DEA. The flow of drugs just hasn’t stopped.

This is the problem with illegal substances with a high demand. For illegal drugs it doesn’t matter if the supply is lowered. Thanks to supply and demand, we know that lowering the supply will just raise the price. While this may lower the sales of most items, drugs aren’t affected. There will always be a market because people have an addiction. For poached items, like ivory, lowering the supply will be ineffective as well. Again, lowering the supply will raise the price. One of the reasons ivory sales has increased in South East Asia is the growing middle class in the region still see ivory as a status symbol. Even if the price increases, people will continue to buy it, believing they are demonstrating their status. For both movements, waring against the supply side is a losing battle.

The solution to the war on drugs is relatively simple, especially in comparison to the anti-poaching movement. End the war on drugs and focus purely on treatment. If we treat the demand side, there won’t be a market anymore. We need to reduce sentences for nonviolent drug criminals and give them the help they need. I believe a similar practice can be instated to fight poaching. We need to stem the demand for ivory and other poached items. I don’t know what the best strategy for that would be, but propaganda, education, and politics can actually help. Of course, we can’t stop the anti-poaching movements in Africa, but maybe taking a non- violent approach like the Black Mambas of . Either way, if we hope to see a world without drugs or poached animals, we need to end the war against the supply side and focus on the demand.

Natalie Miller