Illegal wildlife trade has long posed a genuine threat to biodiversity, including not only iconic animals such as elephants, rhinos, tigers and pangolins but also other less prominent species such as saiga, helmeted hornbills, geckos and rosewoods.
Recently, however, the exponential increase in demand for products such as ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts has created a market lucrative enough to attract international criminal networks. This has resulted in a wholesale assault on the world’s wildlife, which is decimating global biodiversity, threatening many species with extinction and plundering valuable natural assets that are ultimately worth more alive than dead, particularly to those who rely on natural resources for their very livelihood.
The potentially devastating effects of this unsustainable trade have begun to hit the headlines, focusing global attention on an issue that has been high on the agenda of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) since the 1970s, when we were instrumental in establishing TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
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FFI itself has been at the forefront of efforts to tackle illegal wildlife trade for almost two decades. Our practical, field-based approach revolves around putting in place effective measures on the ground to safeguard wild populations of key species from poaching for illegal trade.
There are multiple strands to FFI’s approach to this complex global issue, but they all involve working closely with our established network of in-country partners in order to ensure that our interventions are appropriate to the local context and sustainable in the long term. In particular, we engage communities as active and motivated partners in species protection and law enforcement, not least by strengthening community rights and helping to ensure that they have a vested interest in safeguarding wildlife.
We focus on strategic long-term partnerships and collaborations with the institutions, groups and individuals who can have a significant influence on the illegal trade, either as consumers, businesses, policy makers, law enforcers or community leaders. And we place strong emphasis on building capacity, improving cooperation and encouraging information sharing in order to increase local effectiveness in cracking down on wildlife crime.
In addition to strengthening law enforcement responses, FFI is working hard to prevent species being illegally taken from the wild in the first place. We are working with criminologists to learn what has been successful in tackling other forms of crime to find smarter ways of reducing opportunities for crime to occur. One area of untapped potential that has shown to be effective in reducing other forms of illegal activity is situational crime prevention (SCP). SCP is a proven approach to building more holistic and targeted strategies to remove opportunities for motivated individuals to act unlawfully. FFI is working to pioneer wider application and evaluation of SCP in conservation and to promote replication globally. By ensuring that the potential of SCP is fully realised, we can truly transform how we address wildlife poaching and trafficking.
Tackling illegal wildlife trade around the world
The geographical spread of FFI’s work to combat illegal wildlife trade reflects our global remit. We are having a direct impact on the ground in Africa, the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Eurasia.
Chuilexi Conservancy, at the heart of Mozambique’s vast Niassa National Reserve is one of FFI’s flagship projects, established in 2012 to provide a safe haven for elephants in response to a rapid rise in ivory poaching. The introduction of anti-poaching measures (including year-round, conservancy-wide patrols by better-equipped rangers) is helping to alleviate this pressure, despite the ongoing scale of the threat.
In 2004, FFI established Ol Pejeta Conservancy – a vital refuge for critically endangered rhinos, including what is now the largest population of black rhinos in East Africa. A combination of anti-poaching ranger units, a canine defence force and state-of-the-art technology is providing round-the-clock security for some of the most threatened wildlife on the planet. In 2016, the number of rhino births outweighed losses to poaching.
Meet Diego, an anti-poaching dog at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
The seeds of an idea that germinated in the late 1990s during informal discussions between FFI staff and the park authorities in Sumatra’s Kerinci Seblat National Park have blossomed into a world-renowned tiger protection programme that continues to hold the line even in the face of intense poaching pressure. Sumatran tiger densities in the core of the park remain stable thanks to an imaginative strategy that puts forest-edge communities at the heart of conservation.
FFI has been working to reduce poaching and consumption of critically endangered leatherback and hawksbill turtles and their eggs on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast since 2002, using a combination of public awareness initiatives, active beach patrols during the nesting season and in situ hatcheries to protect the next generation of turtles. In 2012 alone, the team helped an estimated 1.4 million hatchlings of leatherbacks and other endangered sea turtles to reach the sea.
Saving turtles in Nicaragua by working with communities.<br />
As part of our work to protect the critically endangered saiga antelope, FFI is addressing illegal hunting and cross-border trade in the Ustyurt Plateau between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Following the early success of our pioneering sniffer-dog initiative in detecting smuggled saiga horn, we are extending the programme to deter and detect illicit trafficking of other wildlife products, including snow leopard pelts and live saker falcons.
A snapshot of some of our projects to tackle illegal wildlife trade
Learn more about some of the species affected by illegal wildlife trade