‘People need stake in rhino’s survival’ Independent Online Full coverage
The large number of anti-poaching, conservation and management measures that have been implemented to protect rhinos are bound to fail because they don’t involve the most important “change agents” in conservation – people who live in or near game reserves.
This is the main finding of a new report, Ending Wildlife Trafficking, Local Communities as Change Agents, published by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.
The international donor community, conservation NGOs and governments have disbursed millions of dollars to fight the illegal wildlife trade and continue to do so. But still rhino protection is failing.
Communities remain the missing link, argues Annette Hübschle, a senior fellow with the Global Initiative, in her report.
“As long as local communities remain on the margins of protected areas and are excluded from the economic benefits of conservation, one should not be surprised when they fail to support the conservation drive or even take to poaching.”
The report aims to provide a better understanding of why rural communities participate in wildlife economies, legal and illegal, and how alternative, community-oriented strategies can help “build a more resilient” response to organised wildlife crime.
“The embattled environmental and conservation authorities in southern African countries have put emergency measures in place to save the last rhinos.
“But the outlook is bleak, owing to the combined forces of growing demand for rhino horn and the presence of highly efficient trafficking and illicit trade networks.
“The rhino is a so-called keystone species, which means it has important environmental functions.”
The species is also revered among many African communities.
“There is also an economic imperative to save rhinos in that they attract visitors to national parks.
“Given these imperatives, why is rhino protection failing, especially as the threat of the criminal networks is well known?
“One reason is that wildlife conservation has always benefited economic elites, while local communities remain mostly excluded.”
Black communities, the report states, look after just 0.5% of black rhinos through a WWF-sponsored custodian programme.
“At the heart of the rhino poaching crisis and the illicit trade, therefore, is a conflict over access to resources, benefits and land.
“Although the goal of conservation is the protection of the environment, conservation often comes at a huge cost to local communities.
“In many instances, the only benefits accruing to communities from wildlife are not from its conservation, but from the money to be made by being part of the illicit wildlife trade.
“For most communities living adjacent to Africa’s national parks, a dead rhino is simply more valuable than a living one.”
Some poachers originate in local communities living near parks.
“However, what should be more worrisome is the finding that many local communities shield poachers from law enforcement.”
The report uncovers deep rifts in the conservation field, “most notably between communities and conservation management authorities”.