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Evidence to Action: Research to Address Illegal Wildlife Trade

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Tools and expertise to improve the evidence base for national and international Illegal Wildlife Trade policy already exist but are underutilised. Tapping into these resources would produce substantive benefits for wildlife conservation and associated sectors, enabling governments to better meet their obligations under the Sustainable Development Goals and international biodiversity conventions. This can be achieved through enhanced funding support for inter-sectoral research collaborations, engaging researchers in priority setting and programme design, increasing developing country research capacity and engaging researchers and community voices in policy processes. This briefing, addressed to policy makers and practitioners, is part of the 2018 Evidence to Action: Research to Address Illegal Wildlife Trade event programme, organised by five of the UK’s most active IWT research institutions, to support the London 2018 IWT Conference.
Briefing note for policy-makers
and practitioners
Oxford Martin Programme on the
Research to
address the
illegal wildlife
Tools and expertise to improve the evidence base for national
and international Illegal Wildlife Trade policy already exist but
are underutilised. Tapping into these resources would produce
substantive benefits for wildlife conservation and associated
sectors, enabling governments to better meet their obligations
under the Sustainable Development Goals and international
biodiversity conventions.
This can be achieved through enhanced funding support for
inter-sectoral research collaborations, engaging researchers in
priority setting and programme design, increasing developing
country research capacity and engaging researchers and
community voices in policy processes.
Key messages
fIllegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a major and widespread threat to a wide range of wildlife species, both plants and
animals, which is provoking substantial public interest. It is also a governance and livelihoods issue.
fIWT is a complex, fast-changing and heterogeneous issue. Solutions need innovative thinking across natural
and social sciences, arts and humanities, including incorporating local and indigenous knowledge.
fSignificant uncertainty exists surrounding the scale, threat, and appropriate responses to IWT. A systematic
approach is needed to address the most critical evidence gaps.
fDespite the sense of urgency, acting without a robust understanding of the issues, and an appreciation of the
uncertainties, can lead to inadequate, unethical, or counterproductive outcomes for both wildlife and people.
fA greater emphasis on designing interventions in order to learn, impact evaluation, and sharing of datasets and
lessons is required from all actors, including governments, funders, researchers and NGOs.
fBetter aligning public policy discourse and action with research evidence would make IWT policy more effective.
Policy-makers and practitioners are generally committed to evidence-based decision-making, but this can be
challenging in the face of misinformation, lobbying and inadequate information.
In this briefing note, we outline key areas where research evidence has lessons for IWT policy, highlight
critical uncertainties where research is required, and emphasise the need for better design and evaluation of
interventions in order to improve the effectiveness of both policy and practice in tackling IWT.
Research Evidence on the
Illegal Wildlife Trade
The current IWT discourse would benefit from reframing
to better align with research findings.
“Neglected” organisms threatened by IWT require
more policy attention and funding.
fIllegal wildlife trade affects a wide range of species
in virtually all countries. While charismatic mammals
often dominate policy and funding efforts, less
well-publicised groups such as fish, timber, reptiles
and ornamental plants are trafficked in far greater
volumes and with potentially profound ecological
impacts. Newly discovered and rare species can
rapidly become IWT targets.
Effective IWT interventions require a more nuanced
understanding of the whole supply chain.
fIWT is not a single entity that can be addressed
through a “one size fits all” solution. The trades in
elephant ivory, pangolin products, dried seafood,
medicinal plants and rosewood timber are only
comparable at a very superficial level. Even for one
species, individual products can have different
supply, trade and demand characteristics, which
may vary geographically (e.g., pangolin species).
New species of concern and trade routes continue
to emerge (e.g., cave invertebrates from the
Balkans). The trade in different products can
interact in complex ways, for example the use of
lion bone in purported tiger bone products.
IWT is both an international and a domestic issue,
including diverse actors.
fCurrent IWT policies often focus on Africa and Asia,
potentially overlooking important UK, European and
Latin American markets that act as key suppliers,
consumer markets and trade hubs. Examples include
eels and sturgeons for luxury foodstuffs and reptiles
and birds for the exotic pet industry (Box 1).
Strong evidence links IWT to criminal activities
and corruption but terrorism links are less well
fIllegal wildlife trade is often linked to criminal
behaviour and corrupt practices, ranging from small-
scale individual harvesters and traders to organized
international crime syndicates. The associated
breakdown in governance and rule of law can
exacerbate local conflict and undermine livelihoods.
Actions to improve governance would therefore
benefit both wildlife and people. Despite some
popular narratives, the evidence of the illegal wildlife
trade playing a role in funding terrorism is largely
anecdotal and distracts from the main issues.
Initiatives based on communities’ knowledge and
perspectives, explicitly recognising trade-offs,
would build greater local support for tackling IWT.
fAlthough enforcement is vital, particularly
where armed gangs threaten both local security
and wildlife, over-emphasis on militarised and
enforcement-first approaches risks eroding trust
between local people and conservation staff.
The use of natural resources is a vital part of the
livelihoods of millions of people in developing
countries. It is essential to include the values,
needs, rights and perspectives of these people
into IWT planning and enforcement strategies so
that they can be enabled to act as stewards of
their resources (Box 2). Often ‘alternative livelihood’
projects are added onto initiatives without
sufficient understanding of the local context,
incentives and barriers to more sustainable
livelihoods, leading to ineffective, socially unjust
or counterproductive outcomes.
Cacti and orchids
for horticulture
A neglected international and domestic issue
Collection for the horticultural trade threatens
many orchid and cacti species, despite these
groups combined representing almost 75% of
all CITES-listed species. Research has shown
that illegal trade in cacti from Latin America
is widespread, and that orchids are wild-
collected for trade globally, from Mexico, to
Vietnam, to Thailand to Greece. These plants
often move through complex domestic and
international trade chains spanning legal and
illegal markets to reach specialist consumers
all over the world, including Europe.
More support for core needs (i.e., basic capacity,
infrastructure and equipment) for tackling IWT at its
source is likely to have a high return on investment.
fThere is a strong focus on new technologies to
tackle IWT, including forensics, drones, mobile phone
apps and machine learning algorithms. Although
underpinned by cutting edge research and with
great potential for supporting IWT action, particularly
online, at borders and transit points, new technologies
alone are insufficient to address complex trade and
governance issues. Traffickers rapidly adapt to avoid
detection. Factors such as corruption can easily
undermine these systems. Technologies do not
address the basic drivers of hunting such as poverty
and poor governance. The social contexts in which
they are deployed can raise ethical concerns. By
contrast, prioritising the motivation, wellbeing and
working conditions of law enforcement officials is likely
substantially to enhance their effectiveness.
Demand-influencing campaigns should go beyond
awareness-raising towards stimulating realistic,
nuanced and locally appropriate behaviour change.
fInfluencing consumer demand for IWT products
is critical and goes hand-in-hand with improved
regulation and enforcement. Conservationists often
aim to achieve large scale impact in short time
periods, using awareness-raising approaches. More
evidence-based interventions would use experience
from fields like public health to instead focus
campaigns on specific target groups.
IWT policies should consider the “winners” and “losers”
(both people and wildlife) of their interventions.
fIWT interventions often focus on single species,
without fully accounting for other downstream
impacts. Yet interventions affect not only the
targeted species, but also other species and
ecosystems, as well as people’s livelihoods and
wellbeing (Box 2). The relationship between IWT and
poverty is complex and dynamic, while the demand
for IWT products is affected both by environmental
policy and external factors. There is a need to ensure
that interventions do not act as blunt instruments
that undermine working examples of sustainable use
or cause collateral damage to the conservation of
other species or the livelihoods of vulnerable people.
interactions in
Research at three National Parks in Uganda
found high levels of illegal resource use. Links
between IWT and poverty were complex
and multidirectional. A tourism levy aimed
at providing compensation for the costs of
living with wildlife was inequitably shared,
causing resentment. The wildlife department
had a very limited budget for community
engagement and mistrust was high between
Park staff and hunters. Willingness existed on
both sides to find solutions.
Uncertainties and research
opportunities for IWT policy
Research has highlighted critical gaps
in understanding that are priorities to
support better policy-making.
More efforts are required to document the source,
trade volumes and routes of illegally traded species.
fFor most species, there remain huge gaps in our
ability to describe even the most basic of IWT trade
chains, or to understand the impacts of IWT on wild
populations. This leads to interventions based on
unsubstantiated assumptions. A better understanding
is needed of the role of trade in species declines, in
the context of other threatening factors such as land
conversion, in order that resources are appropriately
prioritised. This includes better documentation and
reporting of wildlife trade (legal and illegal).
Case studies to untangle complex trade dynamics
would better predict the outcomes of policy
fLittle is known about the factors affecting IWT, how
they interact and, crucially, how they shift with policy
interventions, technological changes and external
drivers. For example, there is little understanding of
how banning wildlife products (e.g., burning ivory
stockpiles) or introducing new products into a market
(e.g., synthetic horn) affects prices and
consumer behaviour. IWT policy must be
grounded in a systemic understanding
of the nature of supply factors,
market structure and consumer
demand (Box 3).
Effective demand-influencing requires research into
the factors underlying the use of IWT products.
fConsumer demand interventions require a much
better understanding of the complex factors that
motivate people’s decisions to buy IWT products,
such as perceived health benefits, cultural status or
understanding of the provenance and legal status
of a product. The influences of income levels, prices,
and the availability of acceptable substitutes are
also under-researched. Without this understanding,
interventions to change demand cannot be
effectively designed.
Improved research and collaboration are needed to
understand online IWT and intervene effectively.
fE-commerce and social media platforms provide
a widely accessible communication tool for IWT
networks, opening up new markets, and reaching an
unprecedented number of IWT users. Evolving financial
technologies, such as online and mobile payment
platforms, provide new mechanisms to enable IWT
transactions to take place. Addressing these requires
new collaborations with actors in technology and
finance, supported by appropriate research.
The need for more evidence-
based IWT interventions
A lack of evidence-based design
and evaluation of IWT interventions
risks ineffective or harmful
outcomes, and limits knowledge
exchange opportunities.
Investment in IWT interventions should be guided
by a clear theory of change, underpinned by
an understanding of the likely impacts on both
wildlife and people.
fWhether it aims to promote behaviour change among
consumers, or captive-breed threatened species,
no single intervention is likely to be adequate in
isolation. Each approach has its respective strengths
and challenges, and is suitable to addressing IWT
in different markets, species groups or points in the
trade chain. Careful design, with an explicit theory of
change, is essential to ensure that the chosen set of
interventions is appropriate, and that the underlying
assumptions hold (Box 3).
Funders should require appropriate plans for
monitoring and evaluation of interventions,
robust ethics processes, and sharing of data
and lessons learnt.
fImpact evaluation methods are well established
in international development and public health.
Approaches such as before-after-control-intervention
designs and process-tracing could be much more
widely used for IWT. Platforms for sharing of
methods, datasets and lessons learnt (e.g., Wildlife
Consumer Behaviour Change Toolkit1) would add
significantly to the evidence-base and enhance
intervention effectiveness. More robust and holistic
ethics procedures, following best practice and
regularly re-evaluated, will minimise the potential for
unintended impacts on vulnerable people and wildlife.
Funders should support research that involves
people from IWT-affected countries and integrates
local knowledge.
fSustainable solutions to IWT require all IWT-affected
actors to have sufficient capacity and a strong
knowledge base. International collaborations that
build a strong research base in IWT-affected countries
(particularly low-income countries as prioritised by the
UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund2),
integrate local and indigenous knowledge, and support
early-career researchers are critical. Failure to integrate
these actors’ perspectives risks undermining the
sustainability and local acceptability of IWT initiatives.
Design and evaluation
of demand-influencing
IWT interventions -
rhino horn in Vietnam
Ten interventions to reduce demand for rhino
horn in Vietnam were assessed against a
behaviour change framework. Only one had
measurable objectives and collected outcome
indicators which would enable attribution of
impact. Less than a third had a theory of change,
used research evidence to formulate messages
or evaluated outcomes. Indicators were based
mostly on activities rather than outcomes.
Grounding the design and evaluation of such
campaigns in best practice from behaviour
change research would both improve outcomes
and enhance learning for future interventions.
Where can I get
more information?
3 Some issues discussed in this briefing note were identified through a global horizon scanning exercise led by the
Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, with ideas from an interdisciplinary pool of over 130 experts.
Tel: +44 (0) 1865 271 121
Further references3
Milner-Gulland, E.J., Cugnière, L., Hinsley, A., Phelps,
J., ‘t Sas-Rolfes, M., Verissimo, D. (2018) Evidence to
Action: Research to address the illegal wildlife trade.
Briefing note to policy-makers and practitioners.
doi: 10.31235/
Contributors: Arias, M., Challender, D., Clements, T.,
Duffy, R., Durant, S., Esmail, N., Laird, J., Margulies,
J., Massé, F., Olmedo, A., De Ornellas, P., Roberts, D.,
Robinson, J., Roe, D., Rowcliffe, M.
This briefing is part of the 2018 Evidence to Action: Research to Address Illegal Wildlife Trade4 event programme,
organised by five of the UK’s most active IWT research institutions, to support the London 2018 IWT Conference5.
... The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a key driver of biodiversity decline, and it has great policy resonance worldwide, drawing considerable attention and financial resources ('t Sas-Rolfes et al., 2019;Massé & Margulies, 2020). However, like other topics in conservation, IWT is affected by the multiple challenges to evidence-based conservation, particularly the lack of evidence surrounding its prevalence, characteristics and drivers (Milner-Gulland et al., 2018;Symes et al., 2018). Due to its covert nature, most of the available information on IWT is restricted to seizure events reported by national authorities or documented by the media (UNODC, 2020). ...
... This approach can contribute towards more evidence-based practice within the field of biodiversity conservation, with applications to IWT and beyond. the IWT policy space, often facilitated by the media, there could be unintended consequences for the wildlife concerned, resulting from a lack of nuanced interventions, the criminalization of local livelihoods and the neglect of key organisms with respect to policy attention and funding (Duffy, 2014;Milner-Gulland et al., 2018). ...
Full-text available
There are calls to ground policies aimed at addressing the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), and biodiversity conservation more generally, on the best available evidence. However, evidence on IWT can be highly uncertain and difficult to obtain due to the illegal nature of the trade. Even when the evidence exists, there are numerous barriers to its uptake by decision makers, pertaining to the evidence itself and to the characteristics and contexts of those using it. The surfacing of the illegal trade in jaguars Panthera onca provides an example of how evidence is, and is not, used for decision‐making on IWT. We interviewed 38 conservation practitioners in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, who had knowledge about, or experience dealing with, illegal jaguar trade. Interviewees described their information sources and decision‐making processes, and explicitly and implicitly prioritized jaguar trade evidence, based on attributes like the evidence's source, the scale and purpose of the trade, its temporal and spatial dimensions and the nationality of offenders. Even though interviewees stated that they use scientific evidence to make decisions, they gave more weight to evidence involving foreign actors and commercial purposes than local and non‐commercial ones, paying less attention to the potential impact on jaguars or the source of the information. They were also more inclined to favour events that were spatially and temporally closer to their own reality. Our results show that the interpretation and uptake of evidence are subject to contextual constraints and personal biases, which are common across fields and sectors, even amongst experienced decision makers. We propose an approach for evaluating evidence and informing decision‐making within IWT and biodiversity conservation. Our approach aims to guide conservation decision makers and practitioners to assess the relevance and uncertainty of the evidence, to recognize their own interpretation biases, to identify the actions that are appropriate based on the evidence and to improve the transparency of their decisions. It can also guide evidence ‘producers’ to develop evidence that is more aligned to conservation policy and practice. This approach can contribute towards more evidence‐based practice within the field of biodiversity conservation, with applications to IWT and beyond. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article. Se ha hecho un llamado a que las políticas e intervenciones destinadas a abordar el tráfico de vida silvestre (TVS), y la conservación de la biodiversidad en general, sean basadas en la mejor evidencia disponible. Sin embargo, la evidencia sobre el TVS puede ser incierta y difícil de obtener debido a su naturaleza ilegal. Incluso cuando la evidencia se encuentra disponible, existen varias barreras para su uso y asimilación por parte de los tomadores de decisiones, relacionadas con las características de la evidencia y de quienes la utilizan, según su contexto específico. El abordaje del tráfico de jaguares Panthera onca es un ejemplo de cómo la evidencia es utilizada y no utilizada para la toma de decisiones sobre el TVS. Entrevistamos a 38 conservacionistas y tomadores de decisiones en materia de vida silvestre en Belice, Guatemala y Honduras, quienes tenían conocimiento o experiencia combatiendo el tráfico de jaguares. Estas personas describieron sus fuentes de información y procesos de toma de decisiones, y priorizaron explícita e implícitamente ejemplos de evidencia sobre el tráfico de jaguares, basándose en atributos como la fuente de la evidencia, la escala y el propósito del tráfico, sus dimensiones temporales y espaciales y la nacionalidad de los infractores. A pesar de que los entrevistados/as manifestaron que utilizan evidencia científica para tomar decisiones, muchos le dieron más peso a la evidencia que involucra a actores extranjeros y fines comerciales que a los actores locales y propósitos no‐comerciales, prestando menos atención al impacto potencial sobre los jaguares o la fuente de la información. También presentaron una inclinación hacia favorecer los eventos que estaban espacial y temporalmente más cercanos a su propia realidad. Nuestros resultados muestran que la interpretación y la asimilación de la evidencia están sujetas a restricciones contextuales y sesgos personales, que son comunes en todos los campos y sectores, incluso entre los tomadores de decisiones con experiencia y preparación científica. Proponemos un enfoque para evaluar la evidencia e informar la toma de decisiones dentro del TVS y la conservación de la biodiversidad. Nuestro enfoque tiene como objetivo guiar a los tomadores de decisiones y profesionales de la conservación para evaluar la relevancia e incertidumbre detrás de la evidencia, reconocer sus propios sesgos de interpretación, identificar las acciones que son apropiadas en base a la evidencia y mejorar la transparencia de sus decisiones. Nuestro enfoque sugerido también puede orientar a quienes producen la evidencia, para hacerlo de una manera más alineada con las políticas y prácticas de quienes toman las decisiones en el ámbito de la conservación. Este enfoque puede contribuir hacia una práctica de conservación más fundamentada en la evidencia, con aplicaciones para el combate al TVS y más allá. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.
... Policymakers and donors emphasize law enforcement efforts as an essential part of crime control (e.g., U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Strategy, African Union Strategy to Combat Illegal Trade in Wild Flora and Fauna in Africa). Improving the efficacy of efforts to deter IWT using evidence-based approaches has been highlighted as a high-priority policy objective (e.g., Milner-Gulland et al. 2018). ...
Full-text available
The unprecedented global scale of illegal wildlife trade poses threats to humans and ecosystems. Policies calling for increased enforcement to control illicit trade are rooted in the idea that more enforcement will result in greater deterrence, but as yet it is unclear how the illegal wildlife supply chain responds to enforcement actions. To evaluate the impact of formal or informal deterrence, it may be pertinent to consider strategies used by illicit networks to avoid sanction threats. Using an exploratory case study on urban wild meat trade (Republic of Congo), we describe some of the strategies used to avoid detection and consider how the concept of restrictive deterrence can be used to advance our understanding of the broader impacts of sanction threats on offender decision-making in illegal wildlife supply chains.
... Due to IWT's concealed nature, those working to address it must often make decisions under high levels of uncertainty ('t Sas-Rolfes, Challender, Hinsley, Veríssimo, & Milner-Gulland, 2019). However, given its complex local and global drivers, strategies to address IWT should be rooted in cross-scale evidence in order to be effective (Milner-Gulland et al., 2018). This is particularly important in the case of wild felids, many of which are highly threatened by IWT due to domestic and international demand for their body parts (Nijman et al., 2019), adding to the pressures that they face from habitat loss and prey depletion (Macdonald & Loveridge, 2010). ...
Full-text available
Recent seizures of jaguar body parts in Bolivia have prompted concern about illegal trade to China, but a detailed understanding of this emerging trade continues to be lacking. We interviewed 1,107 people in a rural area implicated in the trade, using direct and indirect questions through the Ballot Box Method (BBM) to explore the prevalence and characteristics of the illegal jaguar trade and its links to foreign demand. Jaguar trade is a common, and mostly non‐sensitive practice; 46% of respondents reported some involvement over the past 5 years. The most common behavior was owning jaguar body parts, such as skins, fat and teeth for decorative, medicinal, and cultural purposes. The most mentioned traders were Bolivian, followed by traders of Asian descent. However, regression analysis shows that the presence of traders of European descent was more significantly and positively associated with jaguar trade related behaviors, ahead of Asian descent and regional traders. Overall, jaguar trade in Bolivia has more diverse actors and drivers than seizures may suggest. Therefore, conservation interventions, in addition to targeting demand from Chinese wildlife markets, should address other foreign and domestic markets and trade chains. gOVJaguar trade is a common, non‐sensitive practice; 46% of respondents reported some involvement over the past 5 years. The most common behavior was owning jaguar body parts, such as skins, fat and teeth for decorative, medicinal, and cultural purposes. Bolivians were the most reported traders, and presence of traders of European descent was significantly and positively associated with jaguar trade, ahead of Asian and regional traders. Conservation interventions, in addition to targeting demand from Chinese wildlife markets, should address other foreign and domestic trade chains.
... For many species, data on international wildlife trade routes, including their impact on wild populations, remains elusive (Milner-Gulland et al., 2018). Giraffe are no exception: historically, there has been a lack of collected data regarding this practice; therefore, the scale of illegal hunting and the motivations behind the subsequent use and/or trade are not well understood (IUCN Global Species Programme and Specialist Survival Commission & TRAFFIC, 2019). ...
Full-text available
Three of the four newly distinguished giraffe species are in significant decline. Concern over the species' threat status prompted a proposal to list the giraffe, which is still recognized as a single species by the IUCN, in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). However, there is a distinct lack of quantitative data and research on the scale, extent and purpose of both illegal and legal hunting, and the use and/or trading of giraffe and their parts. As a first step towards addressing these knowledge gaps, we conducted a literature review as well as a specialist survey regarding the use and trade of giraffe. We found that the dynamics of legal and illegal trade and the use of giraffe parts vary throughout Africa, ranging from local consumption to cross border and international trade, and from ornamental adornment to medicinal and consumption use. While the CITES listing of giraffe provides a mechanism through which international trade can be monitored, our findings suggest that the majority of illegal hunting currently occurs domestically and only within certain giraffe populations. This article is the first step towards understanding the drivers and managing the associated impacts of unsustainable and illegal giraffe use and trade.
... This use takes many forms, ranging from the "Asian songbird crisis," where threatened songbird species are taken into captivity [2], to the well-publicized demand for rhino horn for medicine in Vietnam [3], to the consumption of bear bile for medicine in Cambodia [4], to many more examples of unsustainable demand and rapid decline. Yet, despite increasing global attention on unsustainable wildlife trade, many species and regions continue to be neglected in research and policy [5]. This is the case for many countries within Southeast Asia, perhaps due to adjacency to China and Vietnam, which are arguably the largest wildlife consumer markets [6,7] and thus the focus of much of the ...
Full-text available
Unsustainable wildlife trade is a well-publicized area of international concern in Laos. Historically rich in both ethnic and biological diversity, Laos has emerged in recent years as a nexus for cross-border trade in floral and faunal wildlife, including endangered and threatened species. However, there has been little sustained research into the scale and scope of consumption of wildlife by Laos nationals themselves. Here, we conducted 100 semistructured interviews to gain a snapshot of consumption of wildlife in northern Laos, where international and in some cases illegal wildlife trade is known to occur. We found that although bear bile for medicine was the most common product consumed, individuals also used a variety of other products, including animals considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN. The majority of animals we found consumed are classified as “Vulnerable” or “Least Threatened” by the IUCN; however, sufficient demand for a species can cause increased, rapid decline in the species’ population and significantly increase the challenge of conserving them. These results therefore illuminate where conservation priorities should shift towards, so that stable-yet-consumed species do not mirror the fate of highly trafficked animals.
... These trends have spurred global debate over enforcement-based and militarized conservation (e.g., Biggs et al., 2017;Büscher, 2018;Challender & MacMillan, 2014;Gray & Gauntlett, 2017;McCann, 2017), including their purported effectiveness at protecting biodiversity, and the potential for negative social repercussions, such as the criminalization of local resource users, including poor and indigenous communities (Cooney et al., 2016;Duffy, 2014;Milner-Gulland, Cugniere, Hinsley, Phelps, & Veríssimo, 2018), and potential for facilitating human rights abuses (e. g., Warren & Baker, 2019). There is also mounting interest in the relative benefits of enforcement-based strategies versus alternatives, such as demand reduction, incentives and alternative livelihood development (e.g., Challender & MacMillan, 2014;Holden et al., 2019;Veríssimo & Wan, 2019). ...
Full-text available
There are long‐standing debates about the effectiveness and social impacts of enforcement‐based conservation, particularly as investments into enforcement increase in response to growing alarm about Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT). However, there is little data on the people subject to this enforcement, including prison sentences, species targeted, what motivates and deters them, and the social impacts of enforcement. This study identified 384 individuals across Nepal who were in prison for IWT offences in late 2016, and involved interviews (n = 116) focused on respondents' trade practices, economic circumstances and motivations. IWT prisoners represented 10–20% of the total prison populations in two regions and often received stiff sanctions, with a range of downstream impacts on respondents' families. Most respondents were arrested for their involvement in the rhinoceros trade (61%). Most were poor (56%) and from indigenous communities (75%), highlighting potentially inequitable impacts of enforcement. Despite common assumptions about the links between IWT, poverty and organized crime, most respondents were motivated by the desire to earn extra income and by the ease of IWT compared to other employment. IWT was neither a primary livelihood strategy, nor had the attributes for formal organized crime. Respondents, particularly poor respondents, seemed to underestimate the risks of detection and incompletely understood the scale of sanctions. Improved public awareness about the scale and social impacts of sanctions could help increase deterrence effects while reducing unintended social harms of enforcement.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.