Community perspectives on tackling illegal wildlife trade

10 October 2018

Prior to the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade (October 11-12), the IIED, IUCN and TRAFFIC organize a meeting on community perspectives on current efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade. Our partners Bantu Lukambo, director of the Congolese NGO Innovation for the Development and Protection of the Environment (IDPE) and Moses Eiru Olinga, program manager for IFAW Uganda and Horn of Africa, welcome this opportunity to share their insights on measures to take.

The London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) will bring together global leaders to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect the world’s most iconic species from the threat of extinction. “Although previous international conferences and other policy forums have increasingly recognized the important role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities living alongside wildlife in addressing IWT, little emphasis has been placed on making their crucial involvement a reality,” says Henk Simons, Senior Expert Nature Conservation at IUCN NL. “The event organized by IIED, IUCN and TRAFFIC aims to reinforce communities as active stakeholders in the debate.”

The missing link in combating illegal wildlife trade

As a program manager for IFAW Uganda and Horn of Africa, Moses Eiru Olinga oversees wildlife crime prevention programs in DRC, Uganda and the Horn of Africa. He is happy with this opportunity to carry across as few messages from his experience. “I have had the opportunity to work with law enforcement under Uganda Wildlife Authority, whose main focus is on using law enforcement tools to tackle wildlife crime or illegal wildlife trade,” he says. “Unfortunately, this didn’t succeed in stopping or reducing illegal wildlife trade to acceptable levels.”

Olinga widely studied the trends in illegal wildlife trade and concluded that the missing link in combating it has been community involvement. “We need to explore how to create incentives that motivate local communities surrounding protected areas to get involved in collecting information on poaching plans, trade routes, and (local) markets. If communities perform as informant network to support law enforcement efforts, we can prevent IWT rather than respond to it.” In Kenya  and Ethiopia, the installment of community scouts is yielding good results in preventing illegal wildlife trade.

Mitigating human-wildlife conflict

Another point Olinga wants to emphasize is the role of human-wildlife conflict. “Most communities surrounding protected areas are suffering from wildlife attacks, resulting in negative attitudes towards wild animals. Some poaching is done as a revenge measure for wildlife attacks against crops or livestock.” Olinga therefore stresses that measures to mitigate human wildlife conflicts are needed to address illegal wildlife trade.

Consider environmental crime as crime against humanity

Bantu Lukambo, director of the Congolese NGO Innovation for the Development and Protection of the Environment (IDPE), has been committed to the protection of Virunga National Park for over two decades. While there is no place in Africa with a greater variety of wildlife and plants than Virunga National Park, it is also one of the regions most threatened by corruption, by armed conflicts between the official army and rebel groups, by the oil industry and by illegal activities, such as poaching and illegal trafficking.

“Illegal wildlife trade has enormous ecological and socio-economic consequences,” Lukambo stresses. “The revenue it generates fuels terrorism and armed groups. Yet, the legal provisions to tackle these crimes are insufficient. The criminals destroying our environment, our common home, are only mildly punished, while they are comparable to those in other top organized crimes, such as drug trafficking, forgery and human trafficking.”   

Lukambo believes environmental crimes must be considered as crimes against humanity. “This should lead to serious sanctions against any offender.” He also calls on public institutions, at local, national and international level, to coordinate efforts and means to protect Congo’s flora and fauna against criminal trafficking.

“Bringing actors together, investing in collaboration and building strong teams is key in the fight against wildlife crime,” he adds. “Interventions on the ground must contribute to trust building between actors, so that communities and rangers feel entrusted and are able to join efforts and share information.”

Recommendations from community voices

Participants of the meeting on community perspectives will agree on a set of recommendations, which will be fed directly into a panel session in the London Conference on IWT.

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