UN Meeting on Poaching in Africa: The Impact of Weapons Trafficking
Khristopher Carlson
30 November 2015

Khristopher Carlson, senior researcher at the Small Arms Survey, presented today on the impact of the illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons on poaching in Africa at an Arria-formula meeting of the UN Security Council. The meeting is co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of the UN of Lithuania and Angola in New York.

In Africa, elephant populations on the whole are in decline and the illicit killing of rhinos has escalated sharply over recent years. Poachers are making widespread use of military-style weapons and high-calibre hunting rifles in their pursuit of elephants and rhinos, complicating the efforts of wildlife rangers to stop them. In the fight to protect wildlife there is an increasing human toll as anti-poaching strategies often use militarized tactics.

Today’s presentation builds on research carried out for the ‘Small Arms Survey 2015’ and provides an overview of the profiles of poachers, the firearms they use, and the origins of these arms. The systematic tracing of ammunition found at kill sites along with seized weapons can help to inform policies and strategies aiming to combat the movement of illicit weapons and their usage by poachers.

Who are the key actors?

  • rogue members or elements of state militaries
  • organized criminal groups and gangs motivated by quick profit
  • local, individual poachers or subsistence hunters
  • armed groups, including insurgents and militias

What types of firearms do they use?

  • craft-made weapons
  • military-style firearms, including AK variants and other automatic rifles
  • hunting rifles

Where are these weapons sourced from?

Individual poachers may acquire weapons through:

  • domestic black markets
  • theft or by corrupt means when state-held supplies are either loaned out or intentionally leaked
  • hunting rifles may be provided by commanditaires or sponsors who equip and finance illegal elephant hunting
  • locally produced firearms, or old or dysfunctional weapons, which have been converted or refurbished

Larger groups, particularly armed groups, acquire weapons and ammunition through the diversion of stocks from state holdings. Diversion is defined as the transfer of an authorized or legal firearm to an unauthorized user.

What evidence do poachers leave behind?

Bullet casings found at kill sites can provide key information, such as:

  • the place and country of manufacture
  • the year of manufacture
  • the calibre of the bullet

Together with information on seized weapons and ammunition, this data can—if collected, recorded, and analysed systematically—shed light on the origins, transit points, and networks of weapons and  ammunition trafficking, and help to identify where this intersects with wildlife trafficking.

For Small Arms Survey research on wildlife poaching see:

In the Line of Fire: Elephant and Rhino Poaching in Africa,  by Khristopher Carlson, Joanna Wright, and Hannah Dönges, 2015. In Small Arms Survey, Small Arms Survey 2015: Weapons and the World