The global context
We are committed to building evidence of community-based approaches to tackling illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and here we explain why we think it’s so important to capture case studies of these efforts. We summarise that there’s growing recognition amongst practitioners and policy makers about the need to think about solutions beyond enforcement and ensure that countries are taking action to implement their international commitments to support community involvement.
The People not Poaching Learning Platform aims to facilitate learning and showcase examples of successful community-based approaches to tackling IWT.
IWT is a major current conservation and development challenge. It threatens a wide range of wild species around the world while jeopardising local security and economies, undermining livelihood assets, and destabilising governance regimes.
Globally, most wildlife trade is legal and much is sustainable. This legal and sustainable trade can be a key element in species conservation strategies.
IWT is not formally managed, is highly exploitative, unsustainable and detrimental. Targeted species include familiar and iconic species such as elephants, rhinos, pangolins, and tigers, as well as many birds, reptiles, fish, primates and wild plants, which generally receive less attention.
In recent years, global policy and funding responses to tackle poaching and thwart IWT have relied heavily on state-led (and increasingly privately-led) approaches to strengthen law enforcement. However, it is clear that these methods are not enough on their own. And, importantly, they can make the situation worse - especially when the people who live alongside these species are side-lined. It is also clear that heavy-handed or misdirected enforcement efforts have led to human rights abuses and severe hardship for already vulnerable indigenous peoples and local communities.
Today, there is growing recognition among practitioners and policy makers that support for and the inclusion of local communities as key partners in initiatives aimed at fighting wildlife crime is vital.
Community engagement covers a wide range of approaches including, but not limited to:
- involving communities in law enforcement efforts
- generating incentives for community-based conservation
- involving communities in decision-making on IWT project design and implementation
- recognising and supporting community rights to manage and benefit from wildlife, and
- reducing conflict between communities and wildlife.
You can find examples of all these approaches by exploring our case studies.
International commitments to communities
At numerous international policy forums, governments from a wide range of countries have made commitments to support community engagement as part of their efforts to tackle international illegal wildlife trade (IWT).
"Engage communities living with elephants as active partners in their conservation."
"Increase capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable livelihood opportunities and eradicate poverty Work with, and include local communities in, establishing monitoring and law enforcement networks in areas surrounding wildlife."
"Promote the retention of benefits from wildlife resources by local people where they have traditional and/or legal rights over these resources. We will strengthen policy and legislative frameworks needed to achieve this, reinforce the voice of local people as key stakeholders and implement measures which balance the need to tackle the illegal wildlife trade with the needs of communities, including the sustainable use of wildlife."
"Recognize the rights and increase the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the planning, management and use of wildlife through sustainable use and alternative livelihoods and strengthen their ability to combat wildlife crime."
"Support … the development of sustainable and alternative livelihoods for communities affected by illicit trafficking in wildlife and its adverse impacts, with the full engagement of the communities in and adjacent to wildlife habitats as active partners in conservation and sustainable use, enhancing the rights and capacity of the members of such communities to manage and benefit from wildlife and wilderness; …"
"… recognizing the importance of supporting and engaging communities living with wildlife as active partners in conservation, through reducing human‐wildlife conflict and supporting community efforts to advance their rights and capacity to manage and benefit from wildlife and their habitats; and developing collaborative models of enforcement. The active participation of local people is critical to effective monitoring and law enforcement as well as sustainable socio‐economic development."
"It is important to highlight the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on the sustainable livelihoods of communities, and the importance of countries' obligations to uphold agreements made with indigenous and local communities… We will work to support sustainable livelihoods which provide an alternative to engagement in the illegal wildlife trade. We recognise the essential engagement role and rights of local communities and indigenous people to ensure a sustainable solution to addressing the illegal wildlife trade. We also recognise the importance of local communities acknowledging the value of protected species and habitats, and the benefit this value can bring."
"Remaining concerned about the serious consequences that the illegal wildlife trade has for the conservation of the region's biodiversity and cultural heritage, the livelihoods and well-being of indigenous peoples and local populations, and its adverse social and economic effects that seriously undermine the efforts to achieve the sustainable development for the region and its peoples… We encourage active participation and close collaboration with indigenous peoples, local communities, civil society organizations."
Limited action on communities
International commitments at major IWT conferences are organised into four overarching strategies for tackling IWT:
- eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products,
- building effective legal frameworks,
- strengthening law enforcement, and
- supporting sustainable livelihoods and economic development.
Our analysis of country commitments and progress reports at the four major IWT conferences held in London in 2014, Kasane in 2015 and Hanoi in 2016 showed that of these four overarching strategies, least action had been made against the commitments for supporting livelihoods and economic development. This strategy is directly relevant to supporting communities to tackle IWT. Indeed, we found that in each of the progress reports produced for London, Kasane and Hanoi, reporters flagged that this is a critical gap with poor implementation by countries of their commitments.
- Roe et al (2019) Tackling the illegal wildlife trade: promises made, progress reported. IIED Briefing Paper
- Roe et al (2019) More than words: Are commitments to tackle illegal wildlife trade being met? (PDF) WWF, UK
Building the evidence
One explanation for the lack of attention given to communities and limited progress on operationalising community-based approaches - despite international commitments – is that the current spate of IWT is viewed as a conservation “crisis”. As such, it is seen as requiring a quick, direct, on the ground response – a race against time.
Community engagement strategies, however, take time and are complex. There is no blueprint approach to community engagement and leadership (and indeed there shouldn’t be!).
The result is uncertainty, with project designers, implementers and funders unsure of how best to support community approaches to tackle IWT. Our People not Poaching Learning Platform is intended to help address this problem.
People not Poaching
We are building the evidence base on the effectiveness of community-based approaches to tackling IWT. And, we’re facilitating the sharing of information between communities and those that support them.
The case studies on this Learning Platform show that there are plenty of examples of successful community-based approaches to tackling IWT. These need to be scaled up and scaled out, learning from experience and adapting approaches to fit specific contexts and target specific challenges.
A quarter of the world’s land is owned or managed by communities, meaning they need to be central not peripheral to conservation efforts to tackle IWT.
"We are the people who are the most affected by the illegal wildlife trade and can be the most powerful force to address this problem. But this will only happen if communities are empowered and can benefit from wildlife."
Press releases and news
- Community representatives call on London conference to guarantee equal role in tackling illegal wildlife trade (October 2018)
- Governments and agencies need to work with local people for fight against illegal wildlife trade to be successful (October 2018)
- Symposium examines how communities can be helped to combat wildlife crime (February 2015)
- Community-led approaches to tackling illegal wildlife trade. Case studies from Latin America (Sept 2019)
- Engaging local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade: a synthesis of approaches and lessons for best practice (April 2019)
- From Poachers to Protectors: Engaging Local Communities in Solutions to Illegal Wildlife Trade (Sept 2016)
- Engaging communities to combat illegal wildlife trade: a theory of change (February 2016)
- First Line of Defence against illegal wildlife trade (FLoD) Guidance for implementing the FLoD methodology. Guidance also available in French and Portuguese. For more information and examples of FLoD application in Kenya – FLoD
- IIED's YouTube channel includes a series of interviews with community representatives on IWT
- Introducing the Learning and Action Platform on Communities and IWT
- Presentation on the Learning and action for community engagement against IWT project
- Community Voices: Latin America and the Caribbean (March 2020)
- Community Voices: local perspectives on international responses to illegal wildlife trade (September 2018)
- The Beyond Enforcement Initiative is a series of workshops in 2015 and 2016 that took place in Vietnam, Cameroon and South Africa. The workshops were designed to showcase community engagement approaches to tackling IWT.