Community-led solutions: key force in tackling wildlife crime

News, 2 March 2015
Researchers, community representatives, United Nations and government officials and NGOs have issued a set of recommendations on engaging communities in combating the illegal wildlife trade. The recommendations come on the eve of World Wildlife Day on 3 March.

A Conservancy Rhino Ranger in Namibia stands proudly before a cow and calf that he has tracked during a patrol. Rhino sightings have increased over the past 12 months thanks to an expanded Rhino Ranger force and support organisations (Photo: Minnesota Zoo and Save the Rhino Trust)

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.

The recommendations 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 on 25 March, and include:

  • 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
  • Recognising the distinction between IWT and legitimate, sustainable use and trade of wild resources
  • Supporting the devolution of wildlife access, management and stewardship rights to the lowest appropriate level, and
  • Encouraging the development of partnerships between communities, conservation NGOs and law enforcement agencies in tackling IWT.

Entitled 'Beyond enforcement: communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime', the symposium looked at 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.

Dr Rosie Cooney, chair of IUCN CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, said: "Community-led approaches to combating wildlife crime are often overlooked in the international conversation on how to end wildlife crime and 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 those 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, Edna Molewa, addressed the symposium attendees, including government representatives from Austria, Botswana, Germany, Namibia, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Nick Ahlers, of TRAFFIC, said: "Engagement of communities is crucial for success in reducing poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. 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 on 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.

Dr Dilys Roe, biodiversity team leader at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said: "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. 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 hope the symposium's crucial learnings 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), the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), the 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.

Additional information

  • The recommendations will help inform the discussion and next steps taken on the sustainable livelihoods and economic development pillar of the London Declaration, which over 40 countries signed up to at the High Level London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade last year.The organising members of the Beyond enforcement symposium (Photo: Katharine Mansell/IIED)
  • High profile examples include the African Elephant Summit (Botswana, November 2013), the EU Parliament Resolution on Wildlife Crime (January 2014) and the high-level London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade (February 2014).
  • Read the full text of the High Level London Conference Declaration (PDF) 

Full group recommendations:

Governments, international organisations, NGOs, development agencies, donors, and policy processes, when developing and implementing approaches to address IWT, should:

  • Recognise the central role of the communities that live close to wildlife in addressing and combating IWT
  • Seek to understand and respond to community rights, needs and priorities in designing anti-IWT initiatives
  • Recognise the distinction between IWT and legitimate, sustainable use and trade of wild resources
  • Recognise that forms of sustainable use that involve removing individual animals from a population have resulted in major conservation successes for some species that are currently the focus of IWT
  • Ensure that communities have
  • Support the devolution of wildlife access, management and stewardship rights to the lowest appropriate level
  • Encourage the development of partnerships between communities, conservation NGOs and law enforcement agencies in tackling IWT
  • Recognise the role of the private sector, and community-private sector partnership, in generating the benefits from wildlife that support community engagement in conservation
  • Recognise the central role of benefit flows from wildlife and conservation in counteracting the incentives and generating the revenue to engage in IWT
  • Recognise and support the value of trophy hunting as an important generator of benefits to counteract the incentives for poaching and IWT in many contexts
  • Ensure enforcement efforts are sensitive to potential negative impacts on local communities and are accompanied by appropriate accountability mechanisms, and
  • Apply sanctions that can undermine positive incentives for communities to work with governments in combating IWT.

Governments and international organisations should:

  • Recognise, support and provide an enabling environment for the ability of communities to benefit from conservation and sustainable use of wildlife as a means to combat IWT.

Contact

For more information, interviewees or to register for the closing media session, contact: Katharine Mansell, IIED press office (Tel: +44 (0)7814 455639; email: katharine.mansell@iied.org; Skype: khmansell)

Notes to editors

For more information on the symposium organising partners, visit:

The organisers are grateful to the support provided to the symposium by GIZ and USAID.

IIED is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development.

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