Beyond enforcement

Since mid-2014, IIED has co-organised a series of events to highlight the importance of local communities in efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade, and the impact of heavy-handed approaches to law enforcement on these communities and on their incentives to engage in conservation.

2014 - ongoing
Dilys Roe

Principal researcher and team leader (biodiversity), Natural Resources

Conservation, communities and equity
A programme of work showing how IIED is building capacity to understand and implement equitable conservation and enhance community voice in conservation policymaking
Community scouts on patrol in the Greater Kilimajaro Landscape (Photo: African Wildlife Foundation)

Community scouts on patrol in the Greater Kilimajaro Landscape (Photo: copyright African Wildlife Foundation)

The illegal wildife trade (IWT) has an enormous impact on indigenous peoples and local communities. They are affected by insecurity and the depletion of important livelihood and economic assets that result from IWT, while at the same time often being excluded from the benefits of conservation and of efforts to tackle IWT.

They can also be very negatively affected by heavy-handed, militarised responses to law enforcement that frequently make little distinction between the illegal activities driven by large-scale profits (crimes of greed) and those driven by poverty (crimes of need). They get caught in the crossfire of shoot-to-kill policies or deliberately targeted by misguided or prejudiced law enforcement efforts.

Where the economic and social value of wildlife populations for local people is positive, they will be more motivated to support and engage in efforts to combat and manage poaching and illicit trade. But where local people do not play a role in wildlife management and where it generates no benefits, strong incentives for illegal use and trade are likely to exist.

Even the most focused and well-resourced enforcement efforts (which few countries can afford or have the political will to implement) will struggle to effectively control wildlife crime in the face of strong incentives for complicity by local people.

There are many examples of approaches that empower local people to manage wildlife sustainably and generate social and economic benefits. In a number of cases, these approaches have been successful in reducing illegal wildlife use and trade – sometimes dramatically – and incentivising strong community engagement in enforcement efforts.

However, there is a clear need to raise awareness of these examples, distil lessons learnt, and ensure this experience influences the ongoing international IWT policy debate and implementation of approaches.

What is IIED doing?

Since 2014, IIED has been working with the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) and TRAFFIC to raise awareness of the importance of indigenous peoples and local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade, and the negative impacts of heavy-handed law enforcement on them.

We have done this through a series of international and regional “Beyond Enforcement” workshops that bring together local community representatives, NGOs and policymakers. These efforts have included:

Our experience from running these events, and the network of community representatives we have developed as a result, also provided the foundations for our new Communities and IWT Learning and Action Platform (LeAP) and the Community Voices event that was organised ahead of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference: London 2018.

Additional resources

All the presentations from the workshops are available from the IUCN SULi website

Community-led approaches to tackling illegal wildlife trade (2019), Case study | en español

Blog: Beyond Enforcement: SULi and partners highlight the role of communities in tackling wildlife in the European Parliament (2015)


German “Polifund” initiative, implemented by GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB),

Austrian Ministry of the Environment

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) via the Wildlife TRAPS programme, implemented by TRAFFIC