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How we work: Engaging with communities on illegal wildlife trade

Communities. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI
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Written by: Rebecca Drury
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Wildlife is a vital natural asset for many rural communities around the world, providing products and services that make direct, positive contributions to local livelihoods, wellbeing and culture.

Empowering local people to benefit directly from wildlife resources in turn provides vital incentives to manage these sustainably, and to protect them from illegal hunting and trade. This might include, for example, helping communities to secure and uphold customary tenure and rights over access to forest lands and wildlife, building community institutions for resource management, or establishing community-led law enforcement linked to the relevant authorities. These approaches can contribute to both poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation.

Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) experience shows that conservation efforts which are led by local communities, organisations and governments working together are the foundation for lasting conservation success.

Our work to reduce threats from illegal wildlife trade goes beyond developing alternative livelihood options – we are also engaging directly with local communities, organisations and state agencies to address illegal activity and increase incentives for locally-led stewardship and sustainable management.

Collaboration and participation

FFI’s approach is based on building partnerships and encouraging local people to participate in protecting their wildlife – be it as rangers, informants or guides.

FFI has pioneered the use of collaborative field patrols which employ rangers from forest-edge villages alongside national park authority staff.

Our work with Sumatran tigers in Kerinci Seblat National Park is a fantastic example of how well this approach can work – in the 15 years since they began, the Tiger Protection and Conservation Units (TPCU) patrols have removed almost 6,000 snares and stabilised the park’s critical Sumatran tiger population. Alongside the TPCUs, we have also helped to establish an intelligence network that channels information about poaching threats from forest-edge communities and local NGOs to law enforcement agencies.

Building capacity

FFI’s focus is on developing long-term relationships, establishing trust, and helping local people and groups devise and implement their own solutions to protect threatened wildlife and habitat. This includes establishing or supporting organisations to address illegal wildlife trade.

In Kenya, for example, FFI was a founding partner of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT). Established in 2004, NRT is emerging as a leader in effective community-led conservation across eastern Africa, supporting 26 member conservancies that cover a combined 31,000 km2 of critical habitat and protect a range of threatened species including elephant, black rhino, Grevy’s zebra and hirola antelope.

On Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, meanwhile, FFI has been helping to stop the illegal harvesting of sea turtle eggs by training over 80 community members (including ex-poachers) in turtle protection and hatchery management. As a result of this work, over 90% of Nicaragua’s nesting leatherbacks and 50% of the known nesting hawksbill population in the Eastern Pacific are now protected, while thousands of baby turtles are successfully hatched and released each year.

Supporting local rights to benefit from wildlife

By supporting and upholding local rights to use and benefit from wildlife, are building a sense of collective ownership and encouraging people to take the lead in protecting their local wildlife from the illegal trade.
For example, alongside the TPCUs in Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park, FFI is also supporting the establishment of community forests which empower people with the right to manage their forest. To complement this, FFI is building the capacity of local forest management institutions, supporting sustainable livelihoods activities, and establishing frameworks to measure and reward reductions in forest and biodiversity loss.

Combined, these efforts will foster better environmental stewardship in areas surrounding the Kerinci, effectively extending suitable tiger habitat beyond the park boundaries.

Central to success

Over the last year or so, there has been a renewed global impetus to tackle the illegal trade of threatened wildlife; however this needs to go hand-in-hand locally-led conservation efforts.

FFI will continue to ensure that communities are central in efforts to tackle illegal trade, and that legal wildlife trade is sustainable and ethically managed.

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Rebecca Drury

Rebecca is FFI’s Senior Technical Specialist for Wildlife Trade. With a PhD in Human Ecology, she is interested in the challenges of the relationship between human needs and the environment. Before joining FFI, Rebecca worked on these issues in Egypt, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam. Her work included researching the social drivers of consumer demand for wildlife products in Vietnam. At FFI, Rebecca provides technical input to, and is responsible for the strategic development of, FFI’s work to address illegal trade in wild species.

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