Thursday, January 17, 2019
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Militarisation not the answer to wildlife poaching – University of Cape Town

UCT on rhino poachingMillions have been disbursed to fight the illegal wildlife trade but have so far not succeeded in disrupting or ending rhino poaching. New research by the University of Cape Town’s global risk governance programme indicates local communities near or in protected wildlife areas can be change agents in tackling the illegal wildlife economy.

The study “Ending Wildlife Trafficking: Local Communities as Change Agents” explored the challenges of illegal wildlife trafficking – in particular as it affects rhino. The study also focused on transnational criminal networks engaged in wildlife trafficking with research findings and recommendations for community interventions to tackle the illegal wildlife economy.

Local communities are in the periphery of basic service delivery and only a small number of conservation initiatives partner with or enrol local people in their work. Often the only benefits for these communities from wildlife economies are profits from poaching.

Dr Annette Hübschle, lead author and senior researcher at UCT’s global risk governance programme, said: “During our research we found local community members felt government, conservation authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) valued the lives of wild animals more highly than those of rural black people.”

While rhinos are protected by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), wildlife veterinarians are looking after their health and conservation authorities provide supplementary food and water to rhinos – some communities adjacent to them do not have a permanent police presence, basic healthcare facilities, schools or shops.

“The rhino has its own doctor, its own policeman, its own helicopter, its own land and there are rangers to protect it. We don’t have these things. If the rhino goes extinct tomorrow, maybe we can finally get basic services,” said a local community member from the greater Kruger National Park.

The research found many local communities shield poachers and wildlife criminals from law enforcement agencies. It further describes rifts and conflicts between stakeholders in conservation – most notably local communities and private and public conservation management authorities. By giving local communities a voice in this report, the research hopes to contribute to a deeper understanding of lived experiences, systematic exploitation and questionable assumptions of what the report calls “the dominant conservation regime in South Africa”.

Since the latest escalation of rhino poaching, most conservation funding has been diverted to anti-poaching initiatives and project administration costs of international NGOs and conservation authorities.

The international community is focusing on a militarisation of anti-poaching initiatives, with calls for more helicopter gunships, drone protection and boots on the ground. This has led to unintended consequences impeding community-orientated conservation initiatives and broad-based economic transformation.

The study highlights that investing solely in military-type approaches does not disrupt the supply chain or demand for illicit wildlife products. Furthermore, the current rhino control paradigm and associated conservation policies are aimed at controlling poachers and advancing security, but hindering community empowerment.

There are limits to what conservation authorities can do to uplift communities near national parks. Hübschle highlights the need to “explore other forms of rural employment, resource sharing and income generation beyond hunting, anti-poaching and tourism.”

Needs and services of conservation interventions should be provided through community empowerment projects and teach community members the skills needed to build, develop and maintain own projects. Women should be involved in mediating positive conservation outcomes.

“Women command considerable power and influence in communities in question. In light of the patriarchal structure of many rural African communities, this suggestion may appear counter-intuitive. There are countless examples demonstrating women can exert a strong influence on conservation outcomes,” Hübschle explained.

The focus of the study is not on stopping poaching or catching poachers. The aim is to change the incentive structures for members of local communities by participating in legal economies rather than illegal wildlife. Some case studies in the study show how former poachers and wildlife traffickers have turned into wildlife guardians.