Symposium examines how communities can be helped to combat wildlife crime

Local communities can play a crucial role in preventing wildlife crime. An international symposium (26-28 February 2015) is looking at how government and institutions can support communities in combating the growing problem of the illegal trade in wildlife.

News, 20 February 2015
Ploughshare and radiated tortoises that have been seized in Bangkok will be among the case studies presented at a wildlife crime symposium in South Africa (Photo: Panjit Tansom/TRAFFIC)

Ploughshare and radiated tortoises that have been seized in Bangkok will be among the case studies presented at a wildlife crime symposium in South Africa (Photo: Panjit Tansom/TRAFFIC)

A three-day symposium in South Africa, titled 'Beyond enforcement: communities, governance, incentives and sustainable use in combating wildlife crime', brought together researchers, government officials, UN agencies, community groups and NGOs to assess the scale of the problem and look at practical examples of successful prevention by local communities.

The meeting at Glenburn Lodge, Muldersdrift, heard how local communities are affected by illegal wildlife trade, with presentations ranging from reports on tiger poaching in Nepal to discussions on smuggling Rhino horn in Mozambique.

The event looked at success stories, and how to help local communities. Case studies reported on the employment of local people as 'eco-guards' in Namibia, sustainable harvesting of olive ridley turtles in Guatemala, and successful community engagement in anti-poaching of the American crocodile in Cispata Bay, Colombia. Download the outline programme.

The symposium was organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and four international partners: the IUCN CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), the Austrian Ministry for the Environment, Australia's Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

Outputs from the meeting were presented at the Inter-governmental Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Botswana in March 2015.

A growing threat and the international response

The illegal wildlife trade is becoming ever more pervasive – a growing threat to human livelihoods and species conservation. In recent years it has become increasingly sophisticated and dangerous. Current reports link it to not only to organised crime but now more commonly to armed militants, and this issue is now a major focus of human security, conservation and policy development.

High profile examples of international action 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).

The March 2015 Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Botswana looked at what has been achieved since the adoption of the London Declaration last year, which noted the vital nature of working with communities to combat wildlife crime.

Despite this recognition of the issue, the international responses to date have largely emphasised strengthening (government-led) law enforcement and reducing consumer demand for illegally sourced wildlife commodities. Much less emphasis has been placed on the role of the local communities who live with wildlife, or the need to raise wildlife as an important issue in the wider scope of sustainable development.

IIED's research

To coincide with the symposium, IIED has published Conservation, crime and communities, by Dilys Roe, principal researcher in IIED’s Natural Resources Group. The publication features case studies looking at different models for engaging local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade. The case studies highlight the fact that while community engagement is not a panacea – and indeed there are examples where it has proved to be a real challenge – it can, under the right circumstances, be highly effective.

IIED has been researching community-based wildlife management as a tool to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. Researchers are seeking to understand who is involved in different types of wildlife crime, as well as to identify examples of successful conservation initiatives and to look at how incentives can be used to encourage communities to participate in anti-crime efforts. 

A key task is to understand the links between the illegal wildlife trade and poverty, as highlighted by research in Uganda.