Issue of the Week: Community Involvement in Wildlife Conservation

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Globally, over a billion rural people are dependent for some part of their livelihood on the use and trade of wild natural resources. In some areas, 25–40% of household income is being derived from wild resources.  These astounding realities are reported in a 2011 IUCN paper called “Raising Local Community Voices: CITES, Livelihoods and Sustainable Use.”

With such reliance on wildlife, it is crucial that community involvement is central to conservation. Broad, centralized government oversight of wildlife management has shown to be difficult to implement and enforce, whereas localized, community-based wildlife management quickly addresses the needs of the people while ensuring resource sustainability.

Private organizations, such as the Community Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE), are working with local communities to create incentives for people not only to tolerate wildlife, but to embrace their existence and their value. CAMPFIRE is an innovative rural development strategy in Zimbabwe that has significantly increased economic benefits to communities who rely on revenues generated from the sustainable utilization of natural resources, and particularly wildlife.

CAMPFIRE programs pay for priorities of the local communities such as wildlife conservation and antipoaching, water supply and quality, and community infrastructure and schools.  CAMPFIRE areas comprise about 12.7% of Zimbabwe’s total land area, which is not supported by government taxes and dividends.  It is local wildlife that pays for these programs.  A surprising 90% of CAMPFIRE’s revenue comes from hunting. 11052008305

Poaching has been in the spotlight lately, particularly African elephants and rhinoceros. This issue has led to changes in policy and legislation around the world, including President Obama’s Executive Order on Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. While government involvement is a necessity when searching for solutions to reducing poaching, such as judicial and legal processes, SCI Foundation hopes that community-based approaches are treated as a high priority. Convincing local people to protect their wildlife is a long-term solution.

Domestic policy on international species often fails to address the potential social and economic effects on the communities reliant on those species. Conservationists believe that decentralizing power over natural resources and placing that power more locally will create more effective and beneficial conservation strategies.

As poaching increases across Africa, new, innovative management practices are becoming essential.  A leading threat to wildlife in Africa is the illegal retaliatory killings of animals by people who view them as “nuisance” species. Many of these animals are shot on sight in order to protect livestock and preserve crops. The late Anthony King, former director of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum, addressed the need for programs that educated locals on the potential benefits of wildlife.  In his words, “the lack of an enabling institutional environment to reconnect people and wildlife continues to give most rural Kenyan’s no reason to conserve.”

It’s not just Kenya; it’s everywhere. But empowering communities to be ambassadors of their wildlife reignites that connection compelling locals to fight against poaching and fight for conservation.

Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news. 

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