Animal Poaching

The term “animal poaching” refers to the practice of illegally hunting and capturing animals. For example, animal poaching is a hunter’s defiance of the local laws with respect to hunting, often hunting species who are in danger of becoming extinct. Animal poaching has been especially detrimental to species like elephants and rhinoceroses, which hunters kill for the purpose of stealing, and selling their ivory tusks. To explore this concept, consider the following animal poaching definition.

Definition of Animal Poaching


  1. The act of illegally hunting and capturing animals, often endangered species.



What is Animal Poaching?

Animal poaching is the act of hunting or capturing animals illegally. Usually, this practice leads to the killing of endangered animals, which leads to their eventual extinction. Poachers go after endangered species because the rarer the animal, the more valuable the trophy. Poachers usually kill animals for things like their horns or tusks, and then sell these items for thousands of dollars on the black market.

Difference between Hunting and Poaching

The difference between hunting and poaching boils down to one thing: permission. If a hunter has permission to hunt a particular animal, then he is hunting. If he does not have permission, then he is poaching. The case of Cecil the Lion could be an example of animal poaching, though the line is definitely blurred.

In July of 2015, American dentist Walter Palmer hunted and killed Cecil, a beloved lion at Hwange’s National Park in Zimbabwe. Palmer had paid a local hunter guide $50,000 for the opportunity to hunt a lion, and he had a permit so the authorities could not charge him with a crime. Still, people, including celebrities and politicians, were outraged.

Conservationists believed Palmer had engaged in poaching because Cecil was a major park attraction, and University of Oxford researchers had been tracking him as part of a long-term study. Five months after Cecil’s death, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added lions to the endangered species list, specifically those in West and Central Africa, as well as India. Their hope is that this would dissuade U.S. citizens from “legally” hunting and killing lions in these locations.

Laws on Poaching

There are several laws on poaching in the United States. If hunters break laws on poaching, they can expect to face criminal charges, and perhaps even fees and other sanctions. What follows is a list of some of those acts which the law considers poaching, and which come with criminal consequences if violated:

  • Fishing or hunting without a license
  • Shooting an animal in a confined area (referred to as “canned hunting”)
  • Taking an animal from restricted land, or from land that a private party otherwise owns or licenses
  • Hunting an animal from a moving vehicle, including aircrafts
  • Hunting an animal using machine guns, poison, explosives, or certain kinds of traps, like snares or pitfalls


Of course, one of the main motives for animal poaching is the money a person can make from selling one of their “trophies,” like pelts, horns, and tusks, on the black market. Some poach for the thrill of the hunt, especially when they capture and kill an animal that is rare. These individuals tend to keep their trophies as proof of their kill, rather than selling the trophy, no matter how valuable.

Some poachers hunt for more nefarious purposes, such as in protest to the hunting regulations in place in their local area, or to spite the local authorities. Others believe that it is their traditional right as human beings to hunt, as living conditions in the past had forced humans to hunt for their survival.

There are many reasons why people poach, and all those reasons are for their own personal gain. Hunting, on the other hand, is not always for personal gain. Hunting is sometimes necessary when a particular animal, such as geese or deer,

Species Affected by Poaching

So many animal species affected by poaching have become extinct as a result. What’s truly sad is that, even when animals end up on the endangered species list, hunters still will not stop poaching them. Take, for example, tigers. As of 2014, there were, at most, 3,200 tigers still around. Only 400 to 500 of them are Siberian tigers, and yet authorities still regularly find traps set for these animals, who fetch around $50,000 on the black market.

Other species affected by poaching include:

  • Leatherback Sea Turtles
  • Saolas
  • Indian Elephant
  • Northern Sportive Lemurs
  • Gorillas
  • Several species of Rhinoceroses

Animal Poaching Example Involving Cecil the Lion

A recent example of animal poaching to come before the Supreme Court is the matter of Herring v. Wyoming. In this case, a Wyoming jury in the Sheridan Circuit Court found Clayvin Herrera, a member of the Crow tribe, guilty of the illegal killing of an elk. The killing took place in the Bighorn National Forest in January of 2014. At the time of this killing, elks were out of season, and therefore the law prohibited the hunting of them.

The jury fined Herrera in the amount of $8,080, gave him a suspended jail sentence, and revoked his hunting privileges for the following three years. Herrera’s lawyer had argued that the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie protected her client’s hunting rights, in that the Treaty allowed her client’s tribe to hunt on unoccupied federal lands. However, the court threw out this argument, saying they had already settled that argument in a previous case.

Herrera’s lawyers appealed the decision, with the Wyoming Supreme Court rejecting their appeal in June of 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and oral arguments took place in January of 2019. As of this , the Court had yet to render its decision.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Endangered – A species of animal that is at a severe risk of extinction.
  • Extinct – Having no living members (of a species).