Wildlife protection funding moves toward community-based approaches

A black rhino roams in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Photo by: Ray Morris / CC BY-NC-ND

Conservation advocates concerned about a dearth in funding are urging governments, aid organizations, and international agencies to include wildlife protection into a broad range of institutions and interventions. They see this holistic approach as having the best chance to make an impact in reducing wildlife crime and supporting local communities.

Global representatives meeting in South Africa at the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora welcomed a recent boost in wildlife funding from the World Bank’s new $131 million Global Environment Facility. Further resources are now flowing into wildlife crime prevention from governments and philanthropists, John Scanlon, CITES general secretary, told Devex.

But truly addressing the challenges of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade will require much more — and more comprehensive — funding, advocates told Devex. Funding wasn’t a standout item on the agenda, but many conservationists spent the conference busily pursuing potential donors at side events and special meetings.

Scanlon urged awareness and investment from across all sectors of governments’ development programs, as well as international organizations’ agendas. This process has started in some countries, particularly in Southern Africa.  

“You tap into multiple pots of money that are there for development; that are there for tourism; that are there for addressing security concerns; that are there for addressing transnational organized crime; combatting corruption,” he told Devex. “Because if you just look at this as a wildlife issue, the pot is very, very small.”

John Scanlon, CITES general secretary

The rising star: Community conservation

The increased focus on holistic approaches has raised the profile of so-called community conservation models. Representatives for communities who depend on ecosystems for their food, fuel and livelihoods were visible in the conference and convention halls at this CITES meeting.

A conservation community is a group of individuals and families living in an area who are committed to saving its biodiversity—for example, protecting the grasslands and wildlife in Northern Kenya. In a community-based conservation model, the local citizens are both participants in and beneficiaries of the program, which also provides them with needed jobs.

Colman O’Criodain, WWF global wildlife policy expert told Devex that many of the successful community-based funding models are found in Southern Africa, including in Namibia which uses “community-based conservancies where decision-making is devolved to a local level,” he said.

Colman O’Criodain, WWF global wildlife policy expert

The Namibian government has assessed that community conservation can generate a broad range of community — and individual income, usually enough to cover wildlife protection costs. Examples include joint-venture tourism and conservation hunting, also known as ‘trophy-hunting’, in which hunters are allowed to kill or cull animals for a fee.

Total cash income and in-kind benefits generated in conservancies grew from less than $1 million Namibian dollars (about $70,000) in 1998 to more than 87 million Namibian dollars in 2014, according to a brochure from The Namibian CBNRM Program.

South Africa is also working on creating a more unified strategy for engaging with communities, Thea Carroll, director of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, told Devex. Part of this will include sharing best practices.

“Some of us are repeating almost the same projects that have been proven not to be successful, and thereby wasting unnecessary funds,” she said. “We feel that there is an opportunity where we can work as a collective and use the collective’s sources of funding that we will have available to give that more impetus and more focus moving forward,” she added.

Carroll said it would be difficult to put an exact figure to what’s being spent on community interaction, because the activities are so spread out among agencies and partners. But with new planning processes, detailed implementation plans will be costed.

Thea Carroll, director of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs

South Africa also collaborates with neighboring countries through the Southern African Development Community’s Transfrontier Conservation Areas. TFCAs are large natural areas, or parks, that straddle frontiers between two or more countries. SADC, through the TFCA Network, encourages partnership with the community to build a conservation-based economy that improves livelihoods.

The rationale behind this model is to persuade communities that it is in their economic interest to protect the environment. “Organized criminal networks often find recruits amongst poor rural communities,” according to a TFCA Network invitation leaflet for a side event. “Only if and when they become beneficiaries from conservation can they also become custodians of biodiversity.”

“We recognize the community as being part of the solution” to wildlife trafficking, said Seth Maphalala, SADC TFCA Network chairperson.  

Seth Maphalala, SADC TFCA Network chairperson.  

A new pool of funding

Among the most significant new pools of funding for wildlife conservation is Global Environmental Facility’s Global Wildlife Program, launched last summer. GWP aims to approach poaching “holistically,” the fund’s website says. It “seeks to reduce both the supply and demand that drives the illegal wildlife trade, and protect species and habitats through integrated landscape planning”.

GWP has “bumped up” the seven-year grant program from an initial $91 million to $131 million, said Dr. Claudia Sobrevila, GWP program manager at the World Bank. That means the program will be able to assist 19 countries in Asia and Africa, an increase over an initial 10 countries.

The 10 countries that joined in June 2015 are Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia. In June 2016, the GEF Council approved the expansion of the program to include Afghanistan, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Countries are selected for funding based on GEF pre-allocation criteria that examine, for example, biodiversity and governance. The program also leverages additional matching funds from country governments and bilateral NGOs. Of the overall $131 million, about $89 million will be used to reduce poaching and improve community benefits and co-management; and about $29 million will be used to reduce wildlife trafficking.

Each country decides how to focus on combatting the illegal wildlife trade, but Sobrevila said the majority of the grant money is used directly at “site level,” for example in surveying, patrolling and community engagement.

South Africa is set to receive $4.9 million over seven years for a program to strengthen institutions, information management and monitoring to reduce the rate of illegal wildlife trade. The implementing agency is the U.N. Environment Program.

Zimbabwe will get $10.1 million over seven years to strengthen biodiversity and ecosystems management and climate-smart landscapes in the mid- to lower-Zambezi region. The implementing agency is U.N. Development Program.

In addition to GWP, new global funding schemes responding to the illegal wildlife trade crisis include the U.K.’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund and USAID’s Wildlife Trafficking Tech Challenge. 

As the CoP17 CITES meeting closed, Scanlon described deliberations as “a game changer.”

“CoP17 adopted decisions that saw wildlife firmly embedded in the agendas of global enforcement, development and financing agencies that have the capacity and technical expertise to help ensure implementation of the convention on the front lines, where it matters most,” he said in the event’s final press release.

Now, it’s up to implementors, governments, communities and other stakeholders to ensure the measures make a dent in the multibillion dollar annual illegal wildlife trade.

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About the author

  • Img 00000883elj

    Eva-Lotta Jansson

    Eva-Lotta Jansson is a photojournalist and video journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She often travels the region on assignments. And when she can get away, she loves to go to the bush and work on her elephant book.