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Keywords:

  • PES;
  • wildlife farming;
  • CITES;
  • regulation;
  • incentive

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 mega-fauna 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.

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