Community-led solutions: a key force in tackling wildlife crime

On the eve of World Wildlife Day (3 March) a set of recommendations on engaging communities in combating the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) at the source has been issued by a group of more than 70 researchers, community representatives, government officials, UN agencies and NGOs from five continents.

Rhino horn - Wildlife trade

The recommendations, including recognising the central role of the communities that live close to wildlife in addressing and combating IWT; seeking to understand and respond to community rights, needs and priorities in designing anti-IWT initiatives; and recognising the distinction between IWT and legitimate, sustainable use and trade of wild resources, will be taken to the UN conventions on the international trade in endangered species (CITES) and on biological diversity (CBD) and to the high level IWT conference in Kasane, Botswana later this month.

The objective of the symposium ‘Beyond enforcement: Communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime’, was to identify ways to engage those communities living side by side with the world’s wildlife, to protect key species targeted by the illegal trade while securing their own futures.

“Community-led approaches to combating wildlife crime are often overlooked in the international conversation on how to end wildlife crime,” said Dr Rosie Cooney, Chair, IUCN CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group. “The outcomes from the symposium show that many of these approaches hold the key to truly finding a solution to this illicit trade.”

Case studies of frontline experiences across Africa, Latin America and Asia from communities on the sharp end of the illegal wildlife trade chain were shared, as well as innovative research from around the world on a diverse range of subjects from the economics of the illegal wildlife trade, to using criminology theory to understand what drivers trigger wildlife crime.

The South African Minister of Environmental Affairs, Minister Edna Molewa, addressed the symposium attendees, including government representatives from Austria, Botswana, Germany, Namibia, Tanzania, the UK and US.

“Engagement of communities is crucial for success in reducing poaching and the illegal wildlife trade,” said Nick Ahlers of TRAFFIC. “We are right now in the grip of a poaching crisis, with many countries currently in the process of implementing their National Ivory Action Plans, so the Beyond Enforcement symposium recommendations are incredibly timely and relevant.”

The illegal wildlife trade is becoming ever more pervasive and increasingly impacting human livelihoods and species conservation. In recent years it has grown more sophisticated and dangerous.

Despite the global attention on wildlife crime, the international responses to date have largely focussed on strengthening law enforcement efforts and reducing consumer demand for illegally sourced wildlife commodities. Much more emphasis must now be placed on the role of indigenous and local communities, and this needs to be included as an important issue in the context of wider discussions around sustainable development.

“Approaches based on trust building, engagement and empowerment of communities, which enhance the social and economic benefits of conservation, are just as vital as enforcement to tackling wildlife crime,” said Dr Dilys Roe, Biodiversity Team Leader at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). “People should be able to profit from activities such as wildlife tourism and sustainable use while protecting species targeted by illegal trade.”

Wildlife can be an important asset for rural communities, providing a foundation for investment and economic development – for example through tourism or trade in forest products. Depletion of this asset as a result of illegal trade undermines this foundation, limiting options for local and national sustainable development.

The organisers intend that crucial learning’s from the symposium for creating an inclusive approach to combating the illegal wildlife trade will be shared with other sectors outside the conservation world that could benefit from successful community approaches to tackling poaching.

The symposium has been organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), Austrian Ministry of Environment, the University of Queensland / ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED), the North West University (South Africa) – African Centre for Disaster Studies and TRAFFIC - the wildlife trade monitoring network.

The following recommendations are made to governments, international organisations, NGOs, overseas development agencies, donors, and multilateral policy processes, when developing and implementing approaches to address IWT:

Support community rights and responsibilities through:
• recognising that IWT is a development as well as a conservation issue;
• recognising the central role of the communities that live close to wildlife in addressing and combating IWT;
• seeking to understand, respect and respond to community rights, needs and priorities in designing initiatives to combat IWT;
• recognising the distinction between IWT and legitimate, sustainable use and trade of wild resources;
• ensuring enforcement efforts are sensitive to potential negative impacts on local communities and are accompanied by appropriate accountability mechanisms;
• recognising, supporting and providing an enabling environment for communities to be involved in wildlife governance and derive benefits from its conservation and sustainable use.

Strengthen community voices through:
• supporting a mechanism for communities affected by IWT to learn from each other and to have their voices heard in national and international policy fora; and
• strengthening the ability of communities to be involved in decision-making surrounding action to combat IWT, including use and management of wildlife, and to derive benefits from conserving wildlife.

Strengthen partnerships through:
• encouraging the development of partnerships between communities, conservation NGOs and law enforcement agencies in tackling IWT; and
• recognising the role of the private sector in generating the benefits from wildlife that support community engagement in conservation.

Strengthen the evidence base through:
• building knowledge and understanding about the motivations for, drivers of, dynamics of, and responses to, IWT.

The symposium was supported by the Austrian Ministry of Environment, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented in co-operation with GIZ, on behalf of and financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

For more information please contact:
Lynne Labanne, IUCN Global Species Programme, m +41 79 527 7221, [email protected]  

Work area: 
Wildlife trade
East and Southern Africa
South Africa
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