Engaging local communities is recognised as a key approach to tackling the trade in illegal wildlife. But how is such engagement done effectively? A new report led by CEED Research Fellow Duan Biggs has developed a ‘theory of change’ that seeks to answer this challenge.
The report, Engaging local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade. Can a 'theory of change' help? is a co-production of the International Institute for Environment and Development (iied), the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) and CEED.
Poaching and the associated illegal wildlife trade are devastating populations of iconic species such as rhinos, elephants and tigers, as well as a host of lesser known species.
Current approaches to tackling the problem focus on law enforcement, reducing market demand and supporting local communities that live in and around regions where the poaching takes place.
To date, most attention has been paid to the first two approaches with relatively limited attention given to the third. The reason is that, while people agree we need to engage local communities in order to tackle illegal trade in wildlife effectively, they don't know what to do, or how to do it.
“When it comes to engaging communities effectively, it is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Biggs.
“There are different approaches to community engagement that may help to reduce illegal wildlife trade and generate lasting change. But which are the most effective?”
Recent alarming rises in illegal wildlife trade show that tough law enforcement is not enough to stop poachers devastating populations of iconic or endangered species. Local people must be empowered to benefit from conservation and be supported to partner with law enforcement agencies in the fight against wildlife crime.
“In our report, we present a ‘Theory of Change’ for understanding how community-level interventions can help in tackling the illegal wildlife trade,” says Biggs. “However, we’re interested in finding out if the ‘pathways’ we present reflect the experiences of people working with projects and programs aimed at reducing the illegal wildlife trade.”
The researchers have put out a call to anyone with experience of working with local people in areas experiencing illegal wildlife trade to join the discussion and help expand the theory to support better policy and practice on the ground.
Image: A Southern White Rhino in South Africa's Kruger National Park. Poaching of rhino in Kruger has more than doubled every year since 2007. Unless neighbouring communities become empowered stakeholders in rhino conservation, the siege is likely to continue. (Photo Duan Biggs)