Community-based wildlife management as a tool to tackle illegal wildlife trade


Successfully fighting wildlife crime depends on engaging with local communities. IIED is working with partners to find out how actions to improve local livelihoods can reduce poaching and promote conservation.

Patrolling in Keyna's Tsavo West National Park: rangers and wardens guard against poachers, but also work with local communities to resolve human-wildlife conflicts (Photo: Ninara, Creative Commons, via Flickr)

The long-term survival of wildlife populations, and in particular the success of interventions to combat illegal wildlife trade, will depend to a large extent on engagement of the local communities who live alongside them. Where the economic and social value of wildlife 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 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.

The London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trafficking (2014) notes that: "We recognise the importance of engaging communities living with wildlife as active partners in conservation, by reducing human‐wildlife conflict and supporting community efforts to advance their rights and capacity to manage and benefit from wildlife and their habitats" (para 12). 

Similarly, United for Wildlife, a coalition of international conservation NGOs, has highlighted "supporting successful models of community management" as one of a number of solutions to tackling illegal wildlife trade. There is currently, however, little agreement as to what these models look like. 

Successful community management

This project will identify, profile and promote examples of successful community management models, exploring key ingredients for success.

A missing element of the current discussions around the role of communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade is a framework that articulates how actions on livelihoods (encompassing actions related to rights, participation, governance, benefit-sharing, human-wildlife conflict, and so on) change the incentives facing communities to engage in poaching, stewardship and anti-poaching activities, and therefore impact on the level of illegal wildlife trade. 

Such a framework could help to support appropriate investments in community-based initiatives, as well as helping to identify where such approaches are unlikely to work, such as different sorts of poaching scenarios, different values of the resource, different governance contexts and so on.

Working in partnership with IUCN's Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) and the University of Brisbane's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED), this project will make a direct contribution to helping countries meet their commitments on community engagement.

Symposiums on the role of communities in tackling wildlife crime

IIED and four international partners have organised three international symposiums on fighting wildlife crime. 

  1. 'Beyond enforcement: communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime' in Muldersdrift, South Africa on 26-28 February, 2015
  2. 'Beyond enforcement: indigenous peoples and local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade' in Limbe, Cameroon 24-25 February 2016, and
  3. 'Beyond enforcement: involving indigenous peoples and local communities in combating illegal wildlife trade' in Hanoi, Vietnam on 15-16 November 2016. Read the report of the symposium, which focused on the Lower Mekong.

The symposiums evaluated whether and under what circumstances community-based interventions are likely to achieve success in combating current patterns of illegal use and trade of wildlife (both plants and animals).

Organisers provided examples, information about lessons learnt, and guidance in order to help governments and organisations meet relevant international commitments.

Conservation, Crime and Communities database

Our Conservation, Crime and Communities database, launched in September 2016, contains case study summaries of community-level interventions that aim to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, as well as overviews of the national policy context for IWT and community engagement.

You can contribute your case studies to help this database become a useful resource for practitioners and policymakers.


Local communities: the overlooked first line of defence for wildlife, Dilys Roe, Holly Dublin, Leo Niskanen, Diane Skinner, Akshay Vishwanath (2018) IIED Briefing

First line of defence? A review of evidence on the effectiveness of engaging communities to tackle illegal wildlife trade (2016), Dilys Roe, Francesca Booker, IIED Report

Hard-won wisdom: what conservationists need to know about wildlife-related corruption, Aled Williams, Rob Parry-​Jones, Dilys Roe (2016), IIED Briefing

Saving Africa's vanishing wildlife: how civil society can help turn the tide (2016), Fred Nelson, Emmanuel Sulle, Dilys Roe, IIED Briefing

Engaging local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade. Can a 'theory of change' help?, Duan Biggs, Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe, Holly Dublin, James Allan, Dan Challender, Diane Skinner (2015), IIED Report

Conservation, crime and communities: case studies of efforts to engage local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade, Dilys Roe (2015), IIED Background paper

Beyond enforcement: communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime. Symposium Report, IUCN CEESP/SSC SULi, IIED, Austrian Ministry of Environment, ARC CEED University of Queensland, TRAFFIC (2015), IIED Event Report

Additional resources

The elephant in the room: sustainable use in the illegal wildlife trade debate, Dilys Roe, Simon Milledge, Rosie Cooney, Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, Duan Biggs, Michael Murphree and Alex Kasterine (2014), IIED Briefing Paper

From poachers to protectors: engaging local communities in solutions to illegal wildlife trade (2016), Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe, Holly Dublin, Jacob Phelps, David Wilkie, Aidan Keane, Henry Travers, Diane Skinner, Daniel W S Challender, James R Allan, Duan Biggs, Conservation Society journal

Developing a theory of change for a community-based response to illegal wildlife trade (2016), Duan Biggs, Rosie Cooney, Holly Dublin, James R Allan, Dan Challender, Diane Skinner, Conservation Biology journal


Department for International Development (DfID)


The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi)

The University of Brisbane's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED)