New report: local people are crucial to combating illegal wildlife trade

News, 3 August 2016
A new report focuses on the importance of indigenous peoples and local communities in countering illegal wildlife trade.

Rhinos in the Serengeti National Park. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that poachers killed at least 1,338 rhinos across Africa in 2015 (Photo: Nicholas Maxim, Creative Commons via Flickr)

A new report on combating the illegal trade in wildlife highlights the vital importance – and complexities – of involving indigenous people and local communities in conservation efforts. 

The report, entitled 'Beyond enforcement: involving indigenous peoples and local communities in combating illegal wildlife trade (PDF), documents a workshop in Limbe, Cameroon, in February 2016 which brought together practitioners, government officials and researchers from 12 countries to discuss how to combat illegal wildlife trade (IWT) .

The workshop focused on the neglected role of indigenous peoples and local communities – the people often most heavily impacted by poaching and associated crime.

The report has been published as governments around the world prepare for the next global review meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). With 181 parties, CITES is the main treaty promoting biodiversity conservation through the regulation of trade in wild fauna and flora. The 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CITES COP17) takes place in South Africa from 24 September to 5 October, 2016. 

The 20-page report includes a 35-point summary of the lessons learned about the role of indigenous peoples and local communities, and ways of developing effective and just responses to IWT.

Poaching and associated IWT is devastating populations of iconic wildlife species such as rhinos and elephants, as well as a host of lesser known species. Across West and Central Africa, wildlife crime is impacting elephants, timber, great apes, pangolins, birds, reptiles and medicinal plants.

Despite high-level recognition of the problem, proposed solutions to date have focused on strengthening law enforcement efforts and reducing consumer demand for illicitly sourced wildlife commodities. Considerably less emphasis has been placed on the role of the indigenous peoples and local communities who live with wildlife.

Focus on local people

The report says IWT has an enormous impact on local communities. They are affected the depletion of important livelihood and economic assets, and by insecurity, while often being excluded from the benefits of conservation.

They can also be very negatively affected by heavy-handed, militarised responses to wildlife crime that frequently make little distinction between the illegal activities driven by large scale profits, or crimes of greed, versus those driven by poverty, crimes of need.

"For too long the voices of those who hold the key to solving the poaching crisis have not been heard." said Rosie Cooney, chair of IUCN's Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi). "This meeting aimed to address that and provide a platform for those at the grassroots level to speak up to protect their livelihoods and their futures from the treats posed by illegal wildlife trade." 

The Limbe workshop focused on anti-poaching and IWT efforts in West and Central Africa. A key theme was making conservation more rewarding than illegal exploitation. "There is a clear need to raise awareness of examples where sustainable use of wildlife benefits local communities and engages them in conservation and protection against outsiders who would exploit these assets for their own gain," said Roland Melisch, senior director for Africa and Europe at TRAFFIC

The meeting also looked at the role of local people in overseeing natural areas and watching for criminal activity. "Without assistance from local communities to curtail wildlife crime, even the most focused and well-resourced enforcement efforts will struggle to contain wildlife crime effectively," said Dilys Roe, leader of IIED's biodiversity team. 

 The workshop presentations showed a range of strategies and projects, including:

The workshop was hosted by the IUCN CEESP/SSC SULi and Regional Programme for West and Central Africa (IUCN PACO), IIED, TRAFFIC – the wildlife trade monitoring network, and the Network for Environment and Sustainable Development in Africa (NESDA-Cameroon).

It was funded by the Austrian Ministry of the Environment, Germany's Polifund project, which is co-ordinated by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, and the Wildlife Trafficking Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) Project, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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