A person who illegally kills or hunts wild animals is known as a poacher. Hunting animals may be illegal for numerous reasons — in some cases, the hunter does not have a permit to hunt the particular animal, or hunting of an animal is not allowed at the specific time of year. In many cases, however, a poacher will hunt and kill an animal that is protected as an endangered species.
A poacher may target any type of animal, but when endangered species are involved, the most commonly hunted animal is the elephant. A poacher will kill the elephant and cut off its face, so that he can remove the tusks from its body. Because the tusks are made from ivory, they are very valuable, and can be sold on the black market for thousands of dollars. Generally, the elephant's body is simply left to rot.
In other cases, a poacher will target endangered wild cats, such as leopards, tigers, and ocelots, because their furs are considered very valuable. Often, eight or more of a species must be killed and skinned, so that the pelts can be stitched together into a coat. These fur coats often sell for many thousands of dollars, though their sale is officially banned in most countries.
Many animals are highly endangered today because they have been targeted and hunted to near extinction by the poacher. Poachers often frequent countries with many exotic animals, such as those in Africa and Asia. They also cause problems throughout the United States national park system, illegally killing native animals like bears.
When a person steals or illegally removes a plant, flower, or other type of flora, he is also considered to be a poacher. In some cases, flowers worth millions of dollars have been stolen by poachers, who use the original flower to grow their own. Over the last decades, there have been problems with poachers stealing thousands of dollars worth of cacti and bear grass.
For the federal agencies that regulate wild animals and plants, it is often difficult to catch and convict a poacher, because the agencies have to cover very large areas with few staff. Often, a poacher will be caught at an airport, attempting to sneak on a large shipment of illegal poached items. In these cases, the poacher is frequently convicted and sentenced to time in jail.