Document Type


Publication Date



Over the last decade, South Africa and its iconic Kruger National Park have experienced a steep increase in the killing of rhinoceros for its horn, which is reaching staggering prices largely in Asian markets. This is a key piece of the larger illegal wildlife trade (IWT). Drawing on fieldwork in the Mozambican borderlands adjacent to Kruger where many poaching recruits originate, we respond to calls for better understanding of the drivers of IWT and in particular links between poverty and poaching. Our analysis shows that economic factors including poverty are the most central drivers of rhino poaching on the ground-level and that, rather than mere poverty per se, they are better captured in the concept of economic inequality. We additionally provide methodological insights into conducting research in the sensitive context of IWT and enable readers to hear directly from members of communities involved in the trade as they offer socially-contextualized understandings of these drivers. Three IWT policy recommendations emerge from our findings: (1) Responses must be multifaceted and include reducing user-end demand. (2) Conservation practitioners should support community-based responses, including poverty reduction, especially over heavy-handed, increasingly militarized responses. And (3) community-based approaches must be part of broader efforts aimed at targeting economic inequality at a deeper structural level that include but extend beyond conservation and conservation-development frameworks.

Copyright Statement

This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. © 2020, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works International 4.0 license. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Biological Conservation,