article / 30 October 2023

A Market Reduction Approach to Illegal Ivory Markets in Tanzania

 The illegal wildlife trade varies widely regarding species and geographical variance, necessitating niche and tailored research. Against this background, this study on elephant poaching in Tanzania was conducted at the intersection of qualitative, crime reduction and science, and conservation criminology from a decolonised perspective. This research investigates the suitability of the Market Reduction Approach (MRA) (Sutton, 1998) for illegal ivory markets. Developed for stolen goods, the MRA emphasises understanding illicit markets through offenders' risk perceptions and the dynamics from theft to sale. This understanding provides tailored solutions, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, to disrupt markets and increase the risks and efforts of those operating in the markets. The MRA guides this real-world research to understand Tanzania's illegal ivory markets and some of the most consequential actors (the poachers and the fences) contributing to species decline.

A Market Reduction Approach to Illegal Ivory Markets in Tanzania


Methods: Findings are reported from 67 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with park rangers (Ruaha and Serengeti National Park) (n=33), police and National Task Force Anti-Poaching (NTAP) officers (n=6), potential poachers (n=11), alleged poachers in prison (n=10) and other stakeholders (legal prosecutors, village chief, anti-poaching personnel, lodge manager and professional hunter) (n=7). Interview recordings are transcribed verbatim from Swahili to English before applying a Thematic Analysis (TA) approach, organised in NVivo® to obtain clusters of meaning informed independently by this study and the MRA where possible.

Results: This study provides a detailed overview of how poachers and traders are recruited, what motivates them, how they perceive elephants and their morality of criminal motivation when operating in illegal ivory markets. The data show how, where and when the theft of ivory occurs and how the successfully stolen tusks are transported, stashed, disguised, concealed, sold, and readied for export. The discussion presents findings of the unintended MRA on guns and ammunition. The data are used to discuss and create typologies of the distributors of stolen ivory and the types of illegal ivory markets operating in Tanzania.

Conclusion: The study proposes 30 responses and considerations to disrupt illicit ivory markets up to the point of export out of Tanzania as detailed explanations and table format. The study concludes that the MRA is suitable and beneficial to understanding illegal wildlife markets and proposes a longer-term implementation of the MRA for wildlife conservation from a crime prevention perspective.

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