This module is a resource for lecturers

Key issues

Problem statement

Since the 1980s, community-based interventions have gathered momentum in the conservation community. The conservation and development sectors have recognized that the effective management of natural resources depends on gaining the support of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, who are likely to have had some form of conservation and consumption relationship with natural resources for many generations. This aligns with macro-political and economic developments in the Global South and the rise of post-colonial studies in which the adage of “nothing about us without us” was taking root at the same time.

Often referred to as ‘fortress conservation,’ the traditional conservation model aims to protect ecosystems by keeping wildlife and humans separate. The model promotes the notion of pristine wilderness areas, and thus resident human populations are frequently relocated and fenced out in order to conserve wildlife and ecosystems. The model has received criticism as it appears to cater to the desires of an international tourism market or elite subsets of society. It also has come under fire from a human rights and social justice perspective. Its proponents claim it is more effective than community conservation. Nevertheless, the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that biodiversity was declining at a slower pace on land owned or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLC) than elsewhere (IPBES, 2019). Yet, in large part due to the acceleration of species extinction rates (IPBES 2019), existing funding mechanisms, political will, lack of cross-sectoral collaboration and public sentiment, traditional crime fighting models receive the lion’s share of private and public conservation funding while community-orientated programming receives comparably little. A World Bank study conducted in 2016 found that 46 percent of global funding available to combat illegal wildlife trade was allocated to protected areas management to prevent poaching, and a further 19 percent went to law enforcement. Some 15 percent of $ 1.3 billion spent on this topic was devoted to supporting sustainable community livelihoods (World Bank 2016). Another study found that an increasing portion of foreign assistance for biodiversity conservation in the US is spent on the specific objective of combating wildlife trafficking at the expense of other conservation priorities (Massé and Margulies 2020).

Wildlife poaching and trafficking are often perpetrated by transnational criminal networks (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2020). The linkages to organized crime, as well as claims that illegally hunted elephant ivory was funding terrorism in East Africa, have led to security actors taking interest in what used to be seen as green or conservation issues (McClanahan and Wall 2016). The terror-funding claims have been debunked as speculation and, in one case, as an one off, small-scale occurrence (Maguire and Haenlein 2015, Titeca and Edmond 2019). Nevertheless, the increasing securitization of responses to wildlife trafficking, forestry and fisheries crime is concerning, as security and military responses are reinforcing metaphorical and physical boundaries and power differentials between local people and protected areas (Sithole 2018, Duffy et al. 2019). Although criminal justice and law enforcement interventions are important elements of whole-of-society responses, they are often not focused on community engagement and locally designed solutions. These responses are only set in motion once the wild animal, fish or plant has been taken from the wild and/or killed. In other words, the criminal justice response often seems focused on arresting poachers rather than stopping poaching altogether.

In the scholarly literature on crime prevention and policing, community-based interventions have long been regarded as future-oriented, resilient and just (Hübschle and Shearing 2021, Shearing 2015, Shearing and Froestad 2010). Intergovernmental organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have also mainstreamed community engagement into their crime-prevention initiatives. UNODC (2016a) stresses the importance that “engagement and communication remain among the most important tools that city officials may have in fostering inclusive, resilient and law-abiding societies” (p. 8) when it comes to urban safety governance. This puts governments and conservation authorities, especially in the Global South, into a difficult position: they are being pushed by Intergovernmental Organizations, conservation NGOs and donors to further securitize conservation while simultaneously being asked by these organizations to stress the participatory forms of conservation and wildlife crime prevention.

While local communities and indigenous peoples have historically been excluded from conservation and protected area management, they are the ones who often live in or near protected areas, live off the land, forest or sea, deal with the positive and negative impacts of sharing space with wildlife. They are therefore well placed to either participate in poaching and wildlife trafficking, or to help prevent it – depending on the balance of incentives they face (Cooney, Roe, et al. 2017). The recognition that IPLCs are not only legitimate but key actors and agents of change when it comes to conservation matters, but also important partners in the fight against wildlife trafficking, forestry crimes and crimes in the fisheries sector, is increasingly being codified in on-the-ground activities of diverse conservation crime stakeholders. Community-based Organizations (CBOs), NGOs and Intergovernmental Organizations have been lobbying for, funding, and supporting IPLCs as “fulcrum institutions”, “agents of change”, “eyes and ears” and “the first line of defence against illegal wildlife trade (Skinner et al. 2018, Roe et al. 2020, Hübschle and Shearing 2018). Biggs et al. (2017) suggest pathways that strengthen community action against poaching and reduce community support for poaching ultimately result in reduced pressure on wildlife species. Hübschle and Shearing (2018, 2021) have developed a new framework entitled “pragmatic conservation” that offers design principles aimed at community-centered conservation outcomes.

This module relies on research and practical examples from academics and practitioners to show that community-based responses and sustainable livelihoods are a valuable addition to existing tools being used by the international community, such as the ICCWC Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit (International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime 2012). Community-based approaches offer legitimate and effective means to complement other efforts to resolve wildlife trafficking; these approaches not only provide benefits to local people and the ecosystems with which they interact, but do so in a sustainable, cost efficient, and inclusive way.

This section is made up of the following sub-sections:

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