Rachel Love Nuwer / Da Capo Press / 374 pages
In Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking, Rachel Love Nuwer crafts an important update to an old story of wildlife exploitation. The book is written in a flowing journalistic style, with each chapter a free-standing essay about a particular aspect of wildlife trafficking. One chapter reports on a sleazy restaurant offering an utterly distasteful menu. Another chapter explores tiger breeding farms in Laos. Another examines the consequences of incinerating more than 100 tons of confiscated elephant ivory in Nairobi. In each, Nuwer leads the reader down the daunting roads she traveled while researching this book. Some roads, such as the one to Zakouma National Park in southeast Chad, were not without personal risk.
Wildlife law enforcement professionals might have a few misgivings over the book’s heavy reliance on nongovernmental organizations for information, analysis, and opinions. These groups do have legitimate functions, and many contribute usefully to the suppression of wildlife crime. But sometimes the media coverage reporting a particular arrest or seizure can lead to the impression that the NGOs are fighting off the poachers and dealers single-handedly. (Much of this, of course, is the fault of the wildlife enforcement agencies themselves. Most forbid their rangers and officers from speaking to journalists, instructing that all media inquiries be redirected to the agency’s media relations office.)
Nuwer rightly reports that there are serious problems with many wildlife law enforcement agencies—which tend to be understaffed, underfunded, and inadequately trained and equipped. There are sometimes problems with corruption, ineptitude, nepotism, and irresponsibility. Numerous examples of these problems can be found in Nuwer’s book.
That said, there is need to re-emphasize that the heaviest burden of wildlife law enforcement today continues to lie on the shoulders of the government enforcement agency’s rangers and officers. These are the people who are patrolling the parks and reserves, who are infiltrating the trafficking gangs, who are carefully assembling evidence that will hold up in court. These are the rank-and-file individuals who suffer malaria, drownings, and gunshots, and who arrest the poachers and traffickers. They need greater support in these endeavors.
Poached offers a very good global overview of wildlife poaching and trafficking today. It states the problems with undeniable clarity and exposes traffickers for what they are: bad people who hurt animals, jeopardize biodiversity, and rake in enormous profits from their crimes.