Indigenous and local communities are on the frontline of the surge of wildlife crime that is devastating populations of iconic species such as elephants and rhinos, as well as a host of lesser known taxa such as timbers, pangolins, and reptiles. Communities can be powerful and positive partners in tackling wildlife crime, and indeed state-led top down enforcement efforts are very unlikely to succeed in stemming the crisis without their active engagement. These were some of the key messages from a symposium earlier this year in Muldersdrift, South Africa, convened by the CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) with partners IIED, TRAFFIC, the Austrian Ministry of the Environment and the University of Queensland Centre for Environmental Decisions, supported by USAID, GIZ and the Austrian Ministry of the Environment.
On June 22nd this year, many of the same partners worked with IUCN member European Bureau of Conservation and Development (EBCD) to convene an event in the European Parliament, bringing these messages to a key group of European decision makers - Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Member States and the European Commission, as well as many attendees from the NGO community. Several presenters from the Muldersdrift symposium presented case studies (www.ebcd.org/event/the-role-of-communities-in-tackling-illegal-wildlife-trade/). Rodgers Lubilo (Southern African Wildlife College, who travelled from Zambia for the meeting), Susan Canney (Mali Elephant Project) and Calvin Cottar (Cottar's Safari Service, Kenya, via video), each presenting insights on the importance of communities in combating illegal wildlife trade. Rodgers Lubilo highlighted the importance of communities receiving economic benefits from conservation and sustainable use in order to change behaviour. He highlighted how communities in Mangalane, Mozambique, on the border of Kruger National Park were resentful of protected areas with a strong sense of injustice, and consequently supported poachers using the area as a transit point to enter Kruger to hunt rhino. When these communities gained the right to retain the benefits from trophy hunting in the region, however, attitudes changes remarkably and the communities supported and engaged in enforcement against the poaching. Susan Canney highlighted how communities in Mali value elephants as indicators of ecosystem health, and how long term, respectful NGO interventions had helped them mobilise in volunteer anti-poaching patrols to protect both the elephants and their cattle. This study highlighted the important role of community pride and cultural values, and the need for interventions that respond to community as well as conservation priorities. Calvin Cottar, whose organisation works closely with Maasai communities in the Maasai Mara highlighted the backdrop of land use change against which we need to understand the poaching crisis - in Kenya, that backdrop is a 4% loss of wildlife per year and even more importantly, an 8% loss of habitat. This habitat loss is driven by the comparative lack of value of wildlife to communities. In the absence of high-value hunting as an option under Kenya's regime he outlined a proposed leasing system by which developed regions could contribute to fund the costs of conservation while meeting local livelihood needs.
A panel made up of representatives of the Parliament's MEPs for Wildlife group (MEP Catherine Bearder), European Commission (Cristiana Pasca Palma and Enrico Peronio of DG-Devt), and the CITES Secretariat (Tom de Meulenaer) then responded to these presentations, with Luc Bas of the IUCN Brussels office facilitating. The event was positive and constructive. Some points raised in discussion included: the difficulty of mobilising political will and funding to adequately address IWT; the need for political responses to engage with community aspects, but the lack of understanding around how to do this; the frequent need for a "crisis" to mobilise attention, when effective actions should have started much sooner; the central role of CITES in combating IWT; the recognition of community aspects in the European Commission's African conservation strategy document "Larger than Elephants"; the need to integrate community-level responses into the forthcoming EU Action Plan on IWT (which will address actions not just within Europe but externally as well; and the important but controversial role of trophy hunting in generating community benefits that can reduce incentives for IWT.