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Weighing the benefits of building a wildlife economy

December 17, 2019

Discussions on combating illegal wildlife trade at the GEF's CSO Consultations
Photo: IISD/ENB, Francis Dejon

Local communities should be enlisted as “the first line of defense” against the illegal trade of wild animals and plants, which is much more pervasive and complex than is commonly understood, TRAFFIC Executive Director Steve Broad told participants at the GEF Civil Society Consultation Meetings held in Washington this week.

“Wildlife trading is a high volume business, and it spans many thousands of animal species. You hear a lot about elephants, tigers, and rhinos, but it is much bigger than that,” he told civil society representatives from China, India, Nepal, Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia, Panama, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and elsewhere, who shared concern that wildlife trade is booming despite legal bans.

“The underlying problem is demand that is driving over-exploitation of nature,” Broad said, describing potential benefits from having rural and local communities invest in managing instead of exploiting wildlife, at the same time as officials in destination countries focus on modifying and reducing consumer demand.

Conventional approaches to stopping poaching are simply not enough, agreed Kaddu Sebunya, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation, who described an urgent imperative to “stop the killing, stop the trafficking, stop the demand” with action across the supply chain.

Sebunya offered an optimistic view about the transformative power of engaged young people across Africa, who increasingly challenge the idea that modernization and growth must come at the expense of nature. “We need a space for wildlife: it is central to our development aspirations," he said.

Several delegates including Rodgers Lubilo of Zambia's Community Based Natural Resource Management Forum said collaboration between governments and civil society was essential to build trust and get buy-in for conservation efforts and to help people in rural areas regard wild animals in their midst as an opportunity.

“We are willing to build the wildlife economy because it brings many benefits,” Lubilo told the session. “We know as communities that we need to secure the wildlife resource. When we lose the elephants, or the lions, the leopards, or buffalos, we lose our wealth.”

In low-income countries livelihoods disproportionately depend on natural capital. Each year these governments forego an estimated $7 billion to $12 billion in potential fiscal revenues that aren’t collected due to illegal logging, fishing, and wildlife trade, according to a new report published by the Global Wildlife Program.

During the discussion, held ahead of the 57th GEF Council in Washington, several CSO leaders shared successful experiences helping rural communities co-exist with wildlife and helping governments improve monitoring in and around protected areas, including with the deployment of women rangers such as in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Clara Sierra of ASOCAIMAN, Colombia, described a project that has provided benefits to former crocodile hunters for monitoring the species, which increased crocodile numbers by 200 percent over the past two decades.

And Divya Khandal, who attended the CSO consultations with her four year old son, said that the local crafts enterprise she founded was helping both women from a former tiger poaching tribe by providing both training and a source of income from tourists to Rajasthan.

Broad of TRAFFIC said there were also examples of sustainable harvesting of wild plants, describing for instance Zimbabwe's B'Ayoba, a producer of organic baobab products, and others which have been afforded FairWild certification for their practices.

“There are sustainable livelihoods to be had from sustainable wildlife trade,” he said.

The Civil Society Consultation was held just ahead of the 57th GEF Council Meeting in Washington, and was organized in collaboration with the GEF-CSO Network, the GEF Small Grants Programme, the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group, and the GEF-funded Global Wildlife Program led by the World Bank.

The Global Environment Facility is one of the largest public funders in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade. It has allocated $168 million over its new funding cycle - known as GEF-7 - for work in this area, up from $131 million over the previous four year period.