how does poaching affect the environment

How Does Poaching Affect the Environment?

Last Updated on August 26, 2023 by Krystine

Poaching and illegal wildlife trade have devastating effects that go far beyond the targeted species.

This article explores how poaching critically impacts ecosystems, climate, and communities across the globe.

Understanding these far-reaching consequences illuminates the urgent need to protect endangered wildlife.

How Does Poaching Affect the Environment?

A poached rhino
Image Credit: NBC News

Poaching has a devastating impact on the environment, causing ecosystem instability, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and empty forest syndrome.

It disrupts natural ecological balances, threatens endangered species, and degrades habitats.

Overall, poaching severely harms entire ecosystems.

Key Points

  • Poaching alters food chains and removes keystone species critical for ecosystem health.
  • Habitat destruction linked to poaching emits huge amounts of carbon, exacerbating climate change.
  • Local communities lose tourism revenue, cultural heritage, and sustainable use opportunities when wildlife is poached.

What Are the Most Poached Animals Globally?

Image Credit: Chantecaille

Highly sought-after animals targeted by poachers include:


Killed for their ivory tusks, with estimates of up to 30,000 illegally poached per year.


Critically endangered due to demand for their horns, which are used in traditional medicine.

Over 9,000 rhinos were poached in Africa between 2010 and 2019.


Illegally hunted for pelts, bones, teeth and other body parts, with tiger populations decreasing over 95% in the last 100 years.


The most trafficked mammal in the world, with all eight species threatened by poaching for their scales and meat.

Sea turtles

Hunted for their eggs, meat, and shells, causing severe population declines.

Over 150,000 sea turtles were poached between 1990 and 2008.

Many other animals are also affected, including bears, sharks, reptiles, birds, and primates.

Iconic species get significant attention, but thousands of lesser known animals are being pushed to extinction.

How Does Poaching Impact Ecosystems?

Removing key species through poaching severely disrupts ecosystems in many ways:

It alters food chains when predators or prey disappear, causing instability.

Loss of seed dispersers like squirrels, rhinos and elephants hinders forest regeneration.

Removal of keystone species, like sloths, that play a vital ecological role leads to changes in populations of other plants and animals.

Extinction of endemic species decreases biodiversity and degrades ecosystems.

Half of all primate species are threatened with extinction from poaching and habitat loss.

Poaching empties forests and landscapes, creating “empty forest syndrome” where ecosystems lack crucial large animals.

Disease outbreaks increase as natural controls disappear.

For example, antelope help regulate tick populations that spread Lyme disease among humans.

These ecosystem changes can lead to negative cascading effects on vegetation, soil health, and water and nutrient cycles.

Poaching undermines nature’s delicate balance.

How Does Poaching Affect the Climate?

Poaching and habitat destruction are inextricably linked, together emitting huge amounts of carbon and exacerbating climate change:

Animal loss reduces carbon storage.

Forest elephants in Africa disperse seeds that grow into carbon-absorbing trees.

Habitat degradation releases carbon as forests are cleared and grasslands overgrazed after elephants and other large herbivores disappear.

Soil degradation occurs when overhunting of digging animals reduces soil aeration.

This limits the soil’s ability to store carbon.

Coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests and seagrass meadows, which sequester significant carbon, are threatened when sea turtles and other marine animals disappear.

Estimates suggest animal loss due to hunting and habitat decline is responsible for 8% of human-caused carbon emissions.

Protecting wildlife helps mitigate climate change.

How Does Poaching Affect Local Communities?

Poaching robs local communities of natural resources, economic opportunities, and cultural heritage:

Declines in ecotourism revenue when iconic wildlife disappears.

Poaching costs Africa an estimated US$25 million in lost tourism annually.

Increased human-wildlife conflict as ecosystems fall out of balance.

Losing predators leads to prey overpopulation and crop destruction.

Lost opportunities for sustainable use of wildlife.

Controlled trophy hunting of a few older males provides income to incentivize conservation.

Poaching removes this revenue.

Traditional knowledge is disappearing as hunted animal populations and associated indigenous practices vanish.

Economic effects ripple across communities touched by tourism revenue, cultural heritage, and ecosystem services.

The current rate of extinction threatens sustainable development in poorer countries.

Sustainable legal hunting and tourism can provide income to local communities when done right.

Poaching undercuts this potential.

What Measures Can Control Poaching?

Conservationists are pursuing numerous approaches to control poaching:

Increased law enforcement and anti-poaching patrols in protected areas to catch and prosecute poachers.

Improving wildlife monitoring with new technologies like drones and camera traps to detect threats early.

Implementing stronger legal penalties for wildlife trafficking crimes to create a deterrent.

Reducing consumer demand through public awareness campaigns about poaching impacts.

Engaging local communities to participate in conservation programs that provide benefits.

Using income from trophy hunting of specific mature animals to fund anti-poaching efforts.

Training sniffer dogs to find smuggled wildlife products at customs checkpoints.

A multifaceted response is needed, pairing enforcement with efforts to address root causes.

No single solution is enough to stop poaching and protect biodiversity.

What Ecosystems are Affected the Most by Poaching?

Forest ecosystems suffer immensely from poaching, which removes keystone species and leads to deforestation.

Removal of forest elephants and rhinos causes empty forest syndrome, allowing dense underbrush to take over.

Tigers disappear as forests are cleared.

Savannas are also heavily affected when poaching targets elephants, giraffes, zebras, and other iconic megafauna.

This causes overgrazing by prey species like antelope.

Coastal ecosystems that rely on sea turtles, sharks, marine mammals, and rays collapse when these animals are overhunted.

Freshwater ecosystems depend on a delicate balance where removing apex predators like river turtles and mahseer fish pushes organisms lower on the food chain to disappear through a trophic cascade.

Overall, poaching threatens biodiversity across terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.

But forest ecosystems may suffer the most harm when elephants, apes, and other important species are poached.

How Does Poaching Affect Biodiversity?

Biodiversity decreases as poaching pushes the most vulnerable endemic species toward extinction.

Removing keystone species has a disproportionate effect on biodiversity.

Iconic animals like elephants, tigers, and rhinos get significant attention, but poaching also threatens obscure species with essential ecosystem roles.

For example, pangolins control insect populations like termites.

Overhunting sharks reduces genetic diversity in reef ecosystems.

When poaching empties forests and landscapes of wildlife, overall biodiversity plummets.

Legal trophy hunting removes only limited animals, while poaching can rapidly decimate populations.

This illegal hunting threatens gene pools and drives endangered species extinct.

How Many Animals are Affected by Poaching?

Experts estimate that poaching affects over 7,000 species globally, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Hundreds of thousands of individual animals across Africa, Asia, and

Latin America are killed by illegal wildlife trade annually.

Elephants, rhinos, tigers, sea turtles, chimpanzees, gorillas, bears, sharks, rays, crocodiles, pangolins, and marine turtles are among the most affected large animals, with poaching driving severe population declines over decades.

Smaller lesser-known species are also poached in huge numbers, though effects are often hidden.

One estimate suggests 400,000 pangolins are poached annually for scales.

But the full scope of obscure animals affected is difficult to quantify.

What is the Environmental Impact of Poaching?

The environmental impact of poaching is severe, systematic, and threatens the entire natural world.

Removing wildlife degrades habitats, increases erosion, decreases carbon storage, alters plant communities, disrupts nutrient cycling, enables invasive species, and destabilizes ecosystems.

Some effects are obvious, like declining elephants leading to unchecked vegetation growth.

But many changes are nuanced, as poaching reverberates through food chains and ecosystems in complex ways over time.

Even obscure species play vital roles.

Overall, poaching destroys natural balances, threatens biodiversity, contributes to climate change, and degrades ecosystem services that support human communities.

The harm to our living world is devastating.

Conclusion: Poaching Harms Entire Ecosystems

The effects of illegal poaching go far beyond killing individual animals.

Poaching decimates populations, alters delicate ecological balances, destroys habitats, and threatens climate stability.

Tragically, the extinction of our living world caused by human activities like poaching threatens sustainable development and future generations.

Urgent action worldwide is required to control poaching and protect endangered wildlife.

Our shared natural heritage is disappearing before our eyes.

Addressing poaching is crucial for preserving not just cherished species, but entire ecosystems and human communities that rely on a healthy natural world.


How Does Deforestation Affect Biodiversity?

Deforestation destroys natural habitats, leading to decreased biodiversity as forests are cleared for timber and to make way for agriculture. Removing forest cover threatens indigenous plants and animals.

What Are Examples of Keystone Species?

Vital keystone species include elephants, sea otters, salmon, prairie dogs, and bees. Their disappearance has cascading effects on ecosystem function.

How Does Soil Degradation Occur?

Overgrazing, overhunting, excessive erosion, and unsustainable land uses degrade soil health. Removing burrowing animals also affects aeration. Soil degradation lowers fertility and carbon storage.

What Do Indigenous Communities Lose from Poaching?

Indigenous communities lose traditional knowledge, practices, and livelihoods tied to hunted wildlife. Cultural heritage disappears when poaching causes animal population and ecosystem collapse.

At GreenChiCafe, we are passionate about the environment and our natural world.

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