WILDLIFE crimes, such as rhino poaching and overfishing, were once considered a ‘green’ matter, but this has now changed, with such illicit activities having moved higher up on global security and policy agendas.
This is partly linked to concerns about the extinction of species and the demise of ecosystems.
It’s also been sparked by the involvement of organised criminal networks in illegal wildlife supply chains.
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly is among those paying more attention to wildlife crimes. It has adopted three resolutions to tackle wildlife crimes in the past two years.
Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, and their respective law enforcement agencies, have also declared wildlife trafficking as a priority crime issue.
Rhino poaching has particularly captured public attention. A plethora of protective and regulatory national and international measures, aimed at disrupting consumer markets and criminal networks, which the trade to flourish, have failed.
The problem is that such approaches – which have been applied to other kinds of wildlife crime as well – mostly deal with wildlife crime’s symptoms, rather than its root causes, which are conflicts over access to land, resources and benefits
It’s time to change tack and see conservation issues, such as rhino poaching, in the context of the damage they do, especially to poor people.
This is not a policy problem. The important role of local people in protecting and managing natural resources has started to become a policy prerogative in many Southern African countries. Implementation and accountability are the issues.
The reality is that wildlife conservation continues to benefit economic and political elites.
Local and indigenous communities remain mostly excluded from the real benefits, and conservation often comes at a huge cost to them. They lose their land, access to natural resources and cultural sites. They have limited agency and ownership of areas and their management.
Often the only benefits accruing to communities from wildlife and conservation derive from the poaching profits that trickle down to grassroots level. Instead of recognising local people as important change agents in wildlife conservation, conservationists are calling for more boots on the ground, helicopter gunships and new technologies. Securocrats are leading the war on rhino poaching. Money is spent on security officials and private investigators. Expensive technologies are brought in to deter poachers.
Some scholars have started to look at the root causes of environmental and wildlife crimes, by considering broader economic, political and systemic factors. Their assessment is that broad-based community empowerment is key.
This will not only address structural inequality and poverty, but can alleviate wildlife and other types of crime. This is borne out by Namibia’s experiences, where former poachers have become wildlife guardians.
Although not perfect, the example of communal conservancies in Namibia, where community members are hired to conserve wildlife, provides fascinating insights into the process of incentivising communities. One thing is clear: We need to create happy, sustainable communities that benefit from and live in harmony with ecosystems.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015