A senior researcher at the Small Arms Survey, Khristopher Carlson, told a UN meeting the systematic tracing of ammunition found at particularly, elephant poaching kill sites in Africa, along with seized weapons can inform policies and strategies aimed at combatting the movement of illicit weapons.
In Africa, elephant populations on the whole are in decline and the illicit killing of rhinos has escalated sharply over recent years he said. Poachers are making widespread use of military-style weapons and high-calibre hunting rifles in pursuit of elephants and rhinos, complicating the efforts of wildlife rangers to stop them. In the fight to protect wildlife there is an increasing human toll as anti-poaching strategies often use militarised tactics.
Research undertaken for the Small Arms survey 2015: Weapons and the world provides and overview of the profiles of poachers, the firearms they use and the origin of these weapons.
The research also shows the key actors in wildlife poaching in Africa are rogue members or elements of state militaries; organised criminals gangs motivated by quick profit; local, individual poachers or subsistence hunters and armed groups, including insurgents and militias.
They make use of military firearms including AK variants and other automatic rifles as well as hunting rifles and what the Survey terms “craft-made weapons”, presumably hand-made.
As far as sourcing of weapons is concerned poachers produce they own “craft-made” using old or dysfunctional weapons which are either converted or refurbished.
Other sources of weapons include domestic black markets; theft or corrupt means when state-held supplied are either loaned out or intentionally leaked and hunting rifles which are provided by “sponsors” who equip and finance illegal elephant hunts.
“Larger groups, particularly armed groups, acquire weapons and ammunition through the diversion of stocks from state holdings,” Carlson said defining diversion as “the transfer of an authorised or legal firearm to an unauthorised user”.
Bullet casings found at kill sites can provide information including the country of manufacture, the year of manufacture and the calibre of the ammunition.
Together with information on seized weapons and ammunition, this data can—if collected, recorded, and analysed systematically—shed light on the origins, transit points and networks of weapons and ammunition trafficking and help identify where this intersects with wildlife trafficking.