6.4.4 Overexploitation

Overexploitation includes illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, illegal and unsustainable logging, overgrazing, unregulated bushmeat consumption, wildlife poaching and illegal killing (often for foreign markets). It also includes legal but ecologically unsustainable harvesting as a consequence of poorly designed quotas, lack of knowledge of the resource base or new advances in technology that allow more efficient resource exploitation. Direct exploitation has resulted in threats to iconic land and marine species alike, such as the beluga sturgeon prized for caviar (He et al. 2017), sharks harvested for their fins (Worm et al. 2013), rhinoceros species targeted by poachers for their horns (Figure 6.7), African elephants hunted for their ivory (Maxwell et al. 2016), the Andean condor of South America hunted for feathers and bones (Williams et al. 2011), and agarwood (Thymelaeaceae) harvested for perfume and incense (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] 2016, p. 59).

Figure 6.7: Recorded number of rhinoceros poached in South Africa, 2007-2015. In 2011, the rhino population in South Africa numbered just over 20,000
Source: South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs (2016).

Illegal trade in wildlife, fisheries and forest products is extensive, with estimates of their combined value between US$90- 270 billion per year, and links to transnational organized crime (UNEP 2014; Stimson Center 2016; Stoett 2018; see also ‘Project Predator’ case study in Section 13.3.2). Poverty provides a strong incentive for poaching, while economic development can improve infrastructure that facilitates access to wildlife-rich areas and fuels demand for wildlife products (UNODC 2016, p. 19). However, legal but unsustainable exploitation of wildlife is likely an even greater threat to biodiversity than currently illegal practices (FAO 2018a). The impact of mismanaged harvesting is perhaps most clearly evident in marine fisheries (see Section 6.6.1, and Chapter 7), although future projections are less certain (Costello et al. 2016).

The overexploitation of wildlife has implications for equity as it deprives poor and vulnerable local communities and indigenous peoples of sustenance, traditional medicines, tourist income and other ecosystem benefits (Haines-Young and Potschin 2010; O’Neill et al. 2017). Conversely, increased regulation of wildlife harvesting can have positive societal consequences, such as strengthening women’s leadership roles, which may feed back into biodiversity conservation policy designs (FAO 2016).