No Easy Alternatives to Wildlife Conservation Enforcement

Authors: J. Phelps1, C.R. Shepherd2, R. Reeve1,3, M.A. Niissalo4, & E.L.Webb4. Courtesy of Dr. Chris Shepherd, Regional Director, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

Editor’s note: No Easy Alternatives to Conservation Enforcement is in response to the publication Poaching is more than an enforcement problem in which authors Challender and MacMillan argue that because prices for “high-value wildlife” are rising, “sustainable off-take mechanisms such as regulated trade, ranching and wildlife farming” should be considered as measures to “drive prices down” on wildlife products, rather than rely on enforcement and regulatory approaches to conserve wildlife. Examples of “high-value wildlife” mentioned by Challender and MacMillan: Tiger, Chinese and Sunda pangolin, musk deer, saiga antelope, snow leopard, white and Sumatran rhino, Asiatic black bear, and African elephant.

There is limited empirical evidence to support a transition away from regulation/enforcement in addressing illegal wildlife trade. Photo © & courtesy of TRAFFIC
“There is a need for research into the various governance dimensions of illegal trade, including associated corruption and money laundering, alternative enforcement arrangements and technologies (e.g., engaging local communities), and improved analysis of environmental crime and customs data.” Photo © & courtesy of TRAFFIC

There is limited empirical evidence to support a transition away from regulation/enforcement — and toward supply-side solutions — when addressing illegal wildlife trade.

Challender & MacMillan (2014) discuss the escalating challenges facing enforcement-based approaches to illegal wildlife trade, and propose “a change in approach” that more widely adopts incentive-based conservation, wildlife farming, and behavior modification. However, the authors confidently advocate for mainstreaming strategies that we are not sure will work. Moreover, they characterize those who support enforcement and question the viability of farming as driven by animal welfare concerns.

In fact, there are multiple reasons — grounded in science — for a more cautious approach. For example,the authors propose use of nonfinancial incentives to promote conservation, but do not reflect on the mixed outcomes of decades of Integrated Conservation and Development Programs (ICDPs). The authors also propose the use of high-value payments for conservation, but overlook governance and implementation challenges (e.g., those learned from PES/REDD+) and potential unintended consequences (e.g., increased consumption, increased capital for hunting equipment). They only tangentially consider whether empowered communities could successfully counter organized criminal poaching of high-value species. Moreover, recent research highlights reasons why farming interventions can fail (Phelps et al. 2013), including consumer preferences for wild products (e.g., Dutton et al. 2011) and laundering of wild specimens via breeding facilities and legal trade mechanisms (e.g., Shepherd et al. 2012). While simple economic models suggest that market and incentive-based interventions should work, evidence suggests solutions are more complicated in practice. Rigorous study is needed on existing farming efforts and their conservation outcomes (e.g., bears and tigers for traditional medicines, African megafauna for trophies, various ornamental and medicinal plants, and porcupines, peccaries, and iguanas for meat).

There is equally a need to understand why existing regulations and enforcement are failing. Increasing prices, growing demand, and the mounting sophistication of some poachers represent only partial explanations. Our research notes clear scope to dramatically strengthen the implementation of existing trade regulations (Phelps et al. 2010), cover trade loop-holes, and create unambiguous deterrents via increased prosecutions, fines, and jail terms, especially in regions where poaching and illegal trade go largely unpunished (Shepherd 2010). There is also the need for research into the various governance dimensions of illegal trade, including associated corruption and money laundering, alternative enforcement arrangements and technologies (e.g., engaging local communities), and improved analysis of environmental crime and customs data.

We agree with Challender and MacMillan about the potential for consumer behavior modification. A major first step would be achieved with the public denouncement of protected wildlife consumption by top societal figures. However, even in this context it is important to consider the role of regulation, and the potential for enacting enforceable anti-consumption laws.

Enforcement and regulation-based approaches are not simple, guaranteed, or well understood, and there is a need to consider diverse strategies for addressing illegal trade. However, there is limited empirical evidence to support a transition away from regulation/enforcement and toward supply-side solutions. Moreover, there is need for caution when issuing policy advice—especially when offering convenient, legible solutions that are likely to enter mainstream media and influence policy debates.


1 Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Jalan CIFOR, Situ Gede, Bogor Barat 16115, Indonesia
2 TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Unit 3-2, 1st Floor, SS23/11, Taman SEA, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
3 Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Ave., Lungsod Quezon 1108, Philippines
4 Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, 14 Science Dr. 4, Singapore 117543

References

Challender, D.W.S. & MacMillan, D.C. (2014) Poaching is more than an enforcement problem. Cons. Lett., doi:10.1111/conl.12082.
Dutton, A.J., Hepburn, C. & Macdonald, D.W. (2011) A stated preference investigation into the Chinese demand for farmed vs. wild bear bile. PLOS One, 6, e21243.
Phelps, J., Webb, E.L., Bickford, D., Nijman, V. & Sodhi, N.S.(2010) Boosting CITES. Science, 330, 1752-1753.
Phelps, J., Carrasco, R.L. & Webb, E.L. (2013) A framework for assessing supply-side wildlife conservation. Cons. Bio., 28, 244-257.
Shepherd, C.R. (2010) Illegal primate trade in Indonesia exemplified by surveys carried out over a decade in North Sumatra. Endanger. Sp. Res., 11, 201-205.
Shepherd, C.R., Stengel, C.J. & Nijman, V. (2012) The export and re-export of CITES-listed birds from the Solomon Islands. TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Available from: http://www.trafficj.org/publication/12 The Export and Re-export of CITES-Listed Birds.pdf

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