“Poachers or Protectors?” Event examining the complexity of on the ground wildlife management

Over the last decade there has been a surge in illegal wildlife trade. Poaching of elephants and rhinos for ivory and horn has attracted the most attention, but the trend extends to many other species and commodities. Response to this crisis has largely focused on intensified law enforcement. Whilst practitioners and policymakers recognise the need to engage local communities in the fight against wildlife crime, initiatives that directly and effectively do so remain rare.

Park rangers

On the 20th April 2016, the European Parliament Intergroup “Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development” hosted and chaired by MEP Pavel Poc, invited stakeholders to a discussion on the role of local communities in wildlife conservation at the event: “Poachers or Protectors? Local Communities at the Frontline of Conservation”. The aim of the event was to raise awareness amongst European policy makers of the complexity of wildlife management on the ground; encourage debate on various approaches for conservation and sustainable use of wildlife and showcase effective approaches to community engagement in sustainable wildlife management.

The Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW), established by the Convention on Biological Diversity, is a partnership of 13 international organisations. It focuses on sustainable management of wildlife in order to achieve biodiversity conservation while meeting the livelihood, social, cultural and economic needs of human populations. Within this context, speakers highlighted lessons learnt from various approaches to sustainable wildlife management. Philippe Mayeux (Head of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sector at DG DEVCO) stressed that illegal wildlife trafficking is a complex development issue for which there is no silver bullet solution – on the contrary, solutions have to be adapted to the local situation.

Panelists included David Cooper (Convention on Biological Diversity); Johannes Stahl (CITES Secretariat); Daniel Kobei (Ogiek Peoples Development Program); John E. Fa (Center for International Forestry Research); Ian Redmond (Ape Alliance); Jan Heino (International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and IUFRO - the Global Network for Forest Science); Rosie Cooney (IUCN); Alexander Kasterine (International Trade Centre); Philippe Mayeux (DG DEVCO).

Local Communities: the first line of defence in combating Illegal Wildlife Trade

During the panel presentations, Rosie Cooney (Chair of the CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group at IUCN) stressed the importance of responses to poaching for illegal wildlife trade going beyond "top-down" enforcement-led responses and integrating meaningful involvement of local communities.

Indeed, sole reliance on state or private enforcement-dominated approaches, particularly where heavy-handed or poorly targeted, can be not only ineffective for conservation, but in some cases have resulted in unintended social consequences, including human rights abuses in some of the worst cases. In less extreme cases, they have provoked resentment and undermined the legitimacy of conservation regulations and approaches based on trust. This situation was highlighted at an international symposium in 2015: “Beyond Enforcement” led by IUCN’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group along with IIED (the International Institute for Environment and Development), TRAFFIC and other partners.

Living next to wildlife comes at a cost, particularly living next to large dangerous animals like elephants and lions that destroy crops or raise risks to people's lives. Where local communities bear these costs, but gain no benefits from wildlife, they have no incentives to conserve, protect, or sustainably use wildlife. This exacerbates poaching, retaliatory killing, and the conversion of natural habitats into more lucrative uses such as for crops and livestock. Habitat loss and degradation remains the key threat to terrestrial wildlife, so providing incentives to conserve it are critical. Recognising the rights of communities to benefit from wildlife in context-specific, locally chosen and culturally appropriate ways is fundamental to engaging them in wildlife conservation and in tackling illegal wildlife trade. Local people are uniquely placed to support and participate in law enforcement efforts as they can provide the first line of defence by being the eyes and ears of enforcement agencies. As such, partnerships between law enforcement and local communities could hold the key to finding a lasting solution to illegal wildlife trade. Success stories already exist and should be further explored.

For more information, please contact Rosie Cooney (Chair of the CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group): [email protected]

Work area: 
Protected Areas
European Union
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