While it is not known exactly how many fish and wildlife resources are lost each year because of wildlife offenders, estimates indicate that more than $200 million are earned annually from wildlife crimes in the United States alone. Authorities never find out about the vast majority of wildlife crime. Estimates of the ratio of wildlife crimes discovered to actual crimes committed range from 1 in 30 to 1 in 80, with deer poaching detection rates being as low as 1.1% (Eliason, 2003).
The fact is that environmental laws, including hunting and fishing regulations, are enacted to protect plant and animal species and breeding cycles. Without these wildlife laws and regulations, wildlife resources in the United States would be put at risk. Illegal hunting and fishing activities can quickly reduce, or even eliminate, animal populations.
Consider the fact that the elephant population in Africa was reduced by over 50% from 1979 to 1989, primarily because of the illegal hunting of elephants to harvest their ivory. Similarly, although Kenya made the trade of rhinoceros horns illegal in 1975, the rhinoceros population declined from about 20,000 in 1975 to only 500 in 1990. This dramatic decline was largely caused by poachers motivated by profit from the sell and trade of the horns. These examples show how quickly the number of animals in an entire species can be reduced through poaching and trafficking (see Warchol, 2004; Warchol et al., 2003).
Wildlife trafficking is actually the second-largest form of black market commerce (between drug smuggling and illegal weapons) (Warchol, 2004). The illegal commercial wildlife trade poses a significant threat to plant and animal species around the world. Still, it is expected that noncommercial wildlife offenders pose about the same threat to wildlife resources because they significantly outnumber commercial poachers.
To preserve the environment and prevent the reduction of plant and animal species, it is important to educate people about the negative consequences of wildlife crimes. This type of education should be offered not only to sportspersons, but to the general population as well. After all, jeopardizing wildlife resources affects hunters and anglers as well as others who enjoy the natural world. Specifically, nature watchers, photographers, and other ecotourists are affected by depleting resources. Educating individuals about the consequences of wildlife crime can help to protect natural resources by (a) making potential wildlife offenders truly aware of the impending results of their actions and therefore deterring them from committing the crime and (b) informing the general public of the costs of wildlife crime, thereby making them more likely to report wildlife violations to local conservation authorities. The social context of the early 21st century provides a perfect milieu for bringing attention to wildlife crime because there is increased awareness of environmental conservation and a focus on preserving the environment.
It is also important to continue to seek knowledge through research regarding the types of people who commit wildlife crimes and their motivations for offending. Fortunately, after many years of scarce literature, scholars are beginning to empirically examine the world of wildlife offenders and conservation officers (Eliason, 2004; McMullen & Perrier, 2002; Muth & Bowe, 1998). Future research should include surveys of or interviews with known wildlife offenders in order to gather insight into the types of activities in which they engage and why they engage in them. Understanding the motivations for wildlife crime can lead to policies and practices that will aid in detecting, arresting, and properly punishing wildlife offenders and ultimately preventing at least some wildlife crime. Positive steps toward preserving wildlife resources will help to conserve plant and animal species and the recreational opportunities they provide.