Challenging problems are often solved when a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and viewpoints come together for mutual benefit. Solving environmental crime is no different: history shows that building trust and respect for fellow human beings and future generations is more powerful than the threat of force. Effective law enforcement efforts, which require multi-level cooperation from international structures down to individual people (Box 16.7), are often characterized by partnerships between wildlife agencies and local people (Biggs et al., 2016). These partnerships may take the form of environmental educational campaigns to incentivize conservation action and sustainable resource use (Abensperg-Traun, 2009). Cooperation between different individuals at the grassroots level is another very effective means to ensure sustainable resource use. These efforts may take many forms, but they begin with individual and group decisions to prevent the destruction of habitats and species to preserve something of perceived economic, cultural, biological, scientific, or recreational value. Through collaboration and cooperation, both from the grassroots level up, and governments down, conservation biologists can achieve their goals, by ensuring free and fair treatment of all citizens regardless of their diverse and sometimes opposing viewpoints on natural resource management.
Biodiversity Conservation consultant.
The two main causes of the alarmingly rapid wildlife loss in Africa today are: (1) unsustainable use of land and natural resources, mostly related to decision making that does not prioritize conservation considerations; and (2) overharvesting of wild animals and plants through poaching and illegal logging.
Poaching and illegal logging can be locally driven for subsistence use, resulting from poverty; for lack of other protein, energy, and income sources; and, at times, by the intensifying impact of armed conflict or post-conflict situations. In a country like Angola, for example, where war has significantly diminished wildlife populations, the continuous impact of intensive bushmeat poaching may well lead to the extinction of remnant core populations of species that have initially survived the armed conflict. It is severely impacting even the iconic and endemic giant black sable (Hippotragus niger variani, CR). Bushmeat poaching is typically unselective; it targets mainly large and medium sized mammals, but also smaller mammals, birds, reptiles and freshwater fish. Similarly, illegal logging for wood, charcoal, or slash-and-burn-based cultivation, results in rapid and irreversible biodiversity degradation and loss.
In contrast, commercial poaching is often driven by international trafficking, whether of live animals (Figure 16.6.1) or animal and plant products, from source countries to destination markets. Illegal traffickers are often well financed, sophisticated, and involved in other forms of serious crime, at times even in terrorism (e.g. Nellemann et al., 2014). Illegal wildlife trade is selective and forms an imminent threat to iconic species with commercial value, such as elephants, rhinoceros, big cats, great apes, pangolins, sea turtles, parrots, and rosewood, to name a few.
While the core causes, nature, and impacts of subsistence and commercial poaching are different, local community members are a centerpiece of both. Their intimate acquaintance with local wildlife and their habitats is vital; therefore, effective wildlife protection is based on their active engagement. After many generations of alienation, local community members must be included in the decision-making process for the sustainable management of natural resources. The Namibian conservancies offer a model of success in engaging communities in conservation, by protecting their rights, securing their fair benefits as the resource owners and not merely as workers, and providing them with adequate training.
Wildlife crime is a serious threat to biodiversity and while local influences should be recognized and addressed, these crimes should be treated as a global enforcement priority. Continuous and coordinated national efforts of all relevant sectors, and with global cooperation, are essential to success. Such efforts must include: (1) improving awareness at all levels; (2) adequate legislation and policies; (3) realistically deterring punishments and forfeiture of wildlife crime revenues; (4) strengthening enforcement and intelligence capacities in all source, destination, and transit countries; (5) addressing governance challenges; and (6) trying to eradicate the markets, or at least to reduce the demand for illicit wildlife products. The poaching drivers, international crime syndicates, and middlemen, must be targeted. Enforcement focused mostly at the poachers’ level can never achieve the desired results. Often, they are no less victims than their target species. Further, if the world wants to protect iconic species, it cannot be expected that the burden of their conservation, and human-wildlife-conflict damages, should fall solely on those communities that happen to share their habitat. The global effort and substantive support required should not be viewed as a contribution, but as mutual responsibility for achieving a global goal.
Lastly, we may have to accept that total eradication of wildlife crime may not be achievable. There is no magic remedy, nor a single perpetrator. Nevertheless, integrated efforts to reduce these crimes must be strengthened at all levels. We simply cannot give up on our fellow species.