Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been awarded a £350,000 grant by the UK Government’s Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for its work with communities to address the illegal wildlife trade in Chuilexi Conservancy, Mozambique.

This is only the second year that Defra has awarded grants focused specifically on tackling the illegal wildlife trade crisis, and the funding awarded to FFI will help protect Chuilexi Conservancy – part of Mozambique’s critically-important Niassa National Reserve – from the onslaught of poaching that has intensified in the area over the last five years.

The Defra grant will allow FFI to work with communities living in Chuilexi Conservancy, to improve law enforcement while also ensuring that communities have a role in decision-making around management and benefit from its enhanced protection.

Credit: Wim Ebersohn

Concern is growing for Niassa’s lions due to the rising demand for their skins and body parts. Credit: Wim Ebersohn.

A safe spot for elephants and lions

Across Niassa National Reserve as a whole, elephant numbers have crashed by over 60% between 2011 and 2014 to just over 4,400 as a result of rampant elephant poaching.

Thanks to enhanced protection provided by FFI’s ongoing work in Chuilexi, this conservancy has proven to be a vital refuge for Niassa’s elephants and now holds up to a quarter of its remaining population.

Concern is also growing for Niassa’s lions due to the rising demand for their skins and body parts. With Niassa identified as one of five critical sites for lion conservation in Africa, Chuilexi is also likely to play an increasingly important role in the conservation of this species. There are signs that other wildlife species, such as vultures, are also being killed for their body parts.

Credit: Wim Ebersohn

Across Niassa elephant numbers have crashed by over 60% between 2011 and 2014. Credit: Wim Ebersohn.

Resisting the allure of poaching

There is anecdotal evidence that some families living within Chuilexi are sometimes complicit in illegal wildlife trade activities, supporting the international criminal networks working in Mozambique and Tanzania. The villages in Chuilexi are some of the most remote and poor in the country, suffering from a lack of basic services, markets and livelihood options, and thus poverty is one driver for participating in the illegal trade.

FFI is leading a programme of conservation work across Chuilexi to protect elephants and other species, and create local incentives for the long-term protection of this landscape.

Recognising the important role that Chuilexi’s communities will play in the future of the conservancy, FFI is working with local women and men to involve them in decisions about the area’s management, strengthening their ability to sustain livelihoods through agriculture, supporting micro-enterprise and education, and providing incentives for people to support anti-poaching efforts.

Alongside this community work, FFI will continue to strengthen of law enforcement in Chuilexi. Without this protection, and if ivory poaching continues unabated, it is likely Niassa’s elephant population will be lost within five years – and with it substantial opportunities for sustainable livelihood opportunities through wildlife-based tourism.