Wildlife crime and local communities

IIED believes that efforts to tackle wildlife crime are only going to be effective in the long term if they involve the local people who live alongside wildlife.

Article, 03 February 2015
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 engagement in preventin pangolin poaching in Nepal (Photo: Ambika Prasad Khatiwada)

Community engagement in preventing pangolin poaching in Nepal (Photo: Ambika Prasad Khatiwada)

Wildlife crime is at the top of the international conservation agenda. Poaching and associated illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is devastating populations of iconic wildlife species such as rhinos and elephants, as well as a host of lesser known ones such as pangolins, some birds, reptiles, primates, medicinal plants and timber species.

Wildlife trade is big business and there has always been an illegal element to it, but it has gained unprecedented high-level international attention over the last few years as a result of a huge increase in poaching of African elephants and rhinos, and concerns for the longer term survival of these and other already threatened species.

Wildlife crime is also of concern outside of the conservation community. Wildlife can be a key asset for rural communities in Africa and elsewhere, providing a foundation for investment and economic development – for example through tourism or timber trade. Depletion of this asset can undermine this foundation – limiting options for local and national sustainable development.

It is critical therefore that wildlife crime is tackled as a priority issue for both the conservation and development community. However, the way in which wildlife crime is tackled can also have implications for the local communities who live alongside wildlife.

It is well recognised that there is no simple solution to tackling wildlife crime. The different initiatives that have emerged have adopted multiple approaches. These can broadly be classified into three types:

  1. Increase law enforcement and strengthen criminal justice systems
  2. Reduce demand/consumption, and
  3. Support sustainable livelihoods and local economic development.

To date, most attention has been paid to the first two approaches, with relatively limited attention to the third strategy. Working closely with the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) and other partners, we are determined to address that imbalance. Some of our approaches are:

  • Building the evidence base for the effectiveness of community-led approaches: we have established an online learning platform to bring case studies and other resources together in one place
  • Listening to community voices: the Beyond Enforcement initiative and, more recently, the Communities and IWT Learning and Action Platform has brought community representatives together from around the world in a series of workshops to voice their perspectives on illegal wildlife trade and how best to tackle it.
  • Developing and applying a methodology to understand community perspectives on IWT interventions in the field. The First Line of Defence (FLoD) initiative is a collaborative effort with the IUCN East and Southern Africa Regional Office that takes an action research approach to comparing and contrasting the assumptions, perceptions, and logic flows of IWT project designers and target communities, and
  • Building conservation authority capacity for community engagement: in Uganda local communities living around the national parks can be key allies to the Uganda Wildlife Authority in its efforts to tackle wildlife crime. We are building UWA capacity to implement a community-based IWT action plan, including working with volunteer wildlife scouts, intelligence gathering and supporting income generating activities.

Related resources

News and blogs

Blog: Turn up the volume: community voices on illegal wildlife trade (October 2018)

Press release: Community representatives call on London conference to guarantee equal role in tackling illegal wildlife trade (October 2018)

Press release: Governments and agencies need to work with local people for fight against illegal wildlife trade to be successful (October 2018)

News: New “People not poaching” platform supports communities as the first line of defence against IWT (October 2018)

News: New collection of publications on community engagement to tackle illegal wildlife trade (May 2018)

News: Symposium examines how communities can be helped to combat wildlife crime (February 2015)


Wild life, wild livelihoods: involving communities on sustainable wildlife management and combating illegal wildlife trade, Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe, Holly Dublin, Francesca Booker (2021), Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability Research report

From poachers to protectors: engaging local communities in solutions to illegal wildlife trade, 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 (2016), Conservation Society journal

The resource bites back: entry-points for addressing corruption in wildlife crime, David Aled Williams, Rob Parry-Jones, Dilys Roe (2016), Research report

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


Dilys Roe ([email protected]), principal researcher, Natural Resources Group; team leader, biodiversity