Volume 19 Number 4 2021
Volume 19 Number 4 2021
Conservation and Society 19(4): 294-306, 2021
The relationship between poverty and environmental
degradation has received a lot of attention in recent years
from researchers and conservation practitioners alike
(Duffy and St John 2013; Twinamatsiko et al. 2014;
Duy et al. 2016; Lunstrum and Givá 2020). Integrating
economic, social, and environmental development and
poverty-sensitive approaches to biodiversity conservation
have become priorities under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development (United Nations 2015). Many studies have
focused on the various impacts that protected areas and
conservation eorts have on local livelihoods (Cooper 2020).
However, understanding how poverty alleviation may impact
conservation is similarly important as the majority of people
who live in poverty are concentrated in rural areas of the
tropics and subtropics with rich natural resources (Fisher
and Christopher 2007; Redford et al. 2008). The COVID-19
pandemic presents new challenges to poverty reduction in these
areas, but the implications of this for biodiversity and wildlife
crime have not been explored.
Often considered from a strictly economic perspective,
poverty encompasses all aspects of human well-being
(OECD 2001; Bourguignon and Chakravarty 2019).
Impoverished households often lack food security, and
access to basic education, healthcare, clean water, and
energy (Sen 2000, 2001). The Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD 2001) denes poverty
as having ve core inter-linking dimensions which include
Poverty, Pandemics, and Wildlife Crime
Michelle Anagnostoua,#, William D. Moretob, Charlie J. Gardnerc, Brent Dobersteina
aGeography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Canada
bDepartment of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, USA
cDurrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, UK
#Corresponding author. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global recession and mass unemployment. Through reductions in trade and
international tourism, the pandemic has particularly aected rural economies of tropical low- and middle-income
countries where biodiversity is concentrated. As this adversity is exacerbating poverty in these regions, it is important
to examine the relationship between poverty and wildlife crime in order to better anticipate and respond to the
impact of the pandemic on biodiversity. To that end, we explore the relationship between poverty and wildlife
crime, and its relevance in the context of a global pandemic. We examine literature from conservation, criminology,
criminal justice, and social psychology to piece together how the various dimensions of poverty relate directly and
indirectly to general criminal oending and the challenges this poses to conservation. We provide a theoretical
framework and a road map for understanding how poverty alleviation relates to reduced wildlife crime through
improved economic, human, socio-cultural, political, and protective capabilities. We also discuss the implications
of this research for policy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. We conclude that multidimensional poverty
and wildlife crime are intricately linked, and that initiatives to enhance each of the ve dimensions can reduce the
poverty-related risks of wildlife crime.
Keywords: conservation, COVID-19, environmental crime, criminology, poaching, rural development
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Poverty and wildlife crime / 295
the lack of economic, human, socio-cultural, political, and/
or protective capabilities. Ineective and inequitable natural
resource revenue sharing, vulnerability to climate change,
and the lack of basic capabilities results in people being
forced to spend most of their time working in low-level jobs
and/or gathering resources (Bradshaw 2007; Barbier 2010;
Bauer et al. 2016). The world’s most impoverished rural
people are often forced into resource exploitation, which can
degrade the very natural resources that their survival depends
on (Barbier and Hochard 2018) and lower their ability to
access capacity-building opportunities to break out of the
poverty trap. Hence, studies on the relationship between
poverty and conservation have referred to a ‘downward
spiral’ of poverty and ecosystem degradation (Scherr 2000;
Barbier and Hochard 2018). The downward spiral concept
encompasses the idea that people living in poverty place
increasing pressure on their local environment, creating a
feedback loop which increases human populations, further
limits access to natural resources, and limits the capacity
for sustainable resource management (Scherr 2000). The
resulting environmental degradation leads, in turn, to
declining wages, consumption, human health, and food
security (Cleaver and Schreiber 1994; Animashaun 2019).
This ultimately leaves people living in poverty entrapped
in a vicious cycle (Kassa et al. 2018a; Barbier and Hochard
2018; Animashaun 2019).
The poverty-conservation nexus is an important consideration
in the context of COVID-19, which threatens rural livelihoods,
especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
For the rst time in two decades of global poverty reduction,
poverty rates will increase (World Bank 2021a). As the global
economy continues to fall into a recession, unemployment rates
will increase, wage rates will decrease, and a large number of
remaining jobs will be part-time, low quality, and have little
or no security. Widespread border closings, and restrictions on
travel and public gatherings, have also led global tourism to
a near halt (Gössling et al. 2020). Even informal employment
and earnings are threatened by decline of urban markets for
rural goods and services, social distancing rules, and a lack of
childcare options—a threat which is most impactful on women-
owned businesses (Fox and Signé 2020). The pandemic will
continue to cause severe disruptions to essential well-being
services, education, and healthcare systems (World Bank
2021a). Based solely on a unidimensional denition of income
poverty, the World Bank (2021a) is estimating that between
119 and 124 million people either fell below or were prevented
from escaping the extreme poverty line in 2020 as a result of
Generally speaking, poverty in all of its dimensions leaves
people marginalised and under pressure to engage in innovative
forms of deviance and criminality (Goode 2016), including
environmental and wildlife crime. Here, we consider wildlife
crime to be any act committed contrary to national laws and
regulations intended to protect fauna and ora (CITES 2012).
Many people living in LMICs lack easy access to legitimate,
stable market opportunities, and therefore may engage in the
production side of wildlife crime as an economic survival
strategy. This also includes people in locations with ineective
or corrupt institutional support for mainstream business
(Venkatesh 2006; Gilman et al. 2011). Similarly, poverty can
directly impact the rates of illegal use of natural resources.
Continuous engagement in environmental crime can provide
economic support to individuals and communities as a source
of regular income, a safety net, or even as capital reserves and
assets to start a more legitimate business (Duy and St John
2013; Gilman et al. 2011).
To date, limited evidence exists on the consequences
of poverty alleviation on wildlife crime. We provide a
theoretical framework to illustrate how being deprived of
basic ‘capabilities’ interferes with conservation objectives
and strengthens the illegal system under which wildlife
crime operates. We rst outline deciencies in ve distinct
capabilities that contribute to, and sustain, impoverished
circumstances, which in turn can result in engagement in
wildlife crime. It is important to note that our emphasis here
focuses on the supply stage of wildlife crime as it relates to
illicit trade, wildlife crimes for personal use (i.e., subsistence,
cultural and traditional practices, religious practices, etc.), and
on illegal killings due to negative human-wildlife interactions
(HWI). Furthermore, we situate this discussion within the
context of the COVID-19 pandemic and outline a road map on
how conservation and development eorts can better address
A common aspect of virtually all denitions of poverty is
the lack of opportunities to earn an adequate income, and to
have assets. This links with a large body of literature that has
identied a relationship between increasing crime levels and
poor labour-market conditions, indicated by decreasing wage
rates or increasing unemployment rates (e.g., Fadaei-Tehrani
1989; Raphael and Winter-Ebmer 2001; Machin and Meghir
2004; Tang 2011). Poor economic and labour-market factors
are also believed to be a key driver of illicit hunting and
resource extraction (e.g., Nurse 2015; Harrison et al. 2015;
Hauenstein et al. 2019; Figure 1). Natural resources such as
timber or bushmeat are extracted illegally and sold locally to
make money to meet individuals’ basic needs (Brashares et
al. 2004; Kassa et al. 2018b). This was observed following
the 2008 nancial crisis, when increased unemployment rates
led many people to turn to illegal hunting and destructive
agricultural practices (Sayer et al. 2012). Illegal charcoal
production can also be used to generate income for households
suering from declining agricultural yields (Gardner et al.
The inability to secure steady or sucient nancial resources
can lead individuals to turn to illicit activity to generate income,
to stabilise household consumption, or as an outlet for poverty-
related psychological stress (Chaln and Raphael 2011). Indeed,
296 / Anagnostou et al.
economic strain has long been recognised as an important
correlate of criminal behaviour with prior scholars highlighting
the role of structural inequality, and the disconnect between
cultural goals and the means to achieve said goals. In his seminal
article, Merton (1938) outlined how cultural goals, including
those centered on economic activity and success, are inuenced
by the availability of legitimate institutionalised means (e.g.,
employment). In short, individual psychological strain develops
when people are unable to achieve culturally-dened goals
(e.g., home ownership). The interaction between culture goals,
the (un)availability of institutional means, and strain leads to
ve distinct adaptations: conformity, innovation, ritualism,
retreatism, and, perhaps most relevant for wildlife crime,
rebellion. Innovation is also relevant to our discussion here since
individuals within this group subscribe to culturally-dened
goals, but use illegitimate means (e.g., wildlife crime) to attain
them (Merton 1938). Agnew’s (1992) general strain theory
can also be applied to explain the link between economic
and labour-market factors, and wildlife crime. Agnew (1992)
proposed that people experience strain when a positively
viewed component of their lives (e.g., steady employment) is
removed or when a negative element is added (e.g., pandemic).
This is particularly relevant given the impact of COVID-19
on conservation revenue, employment opportunities, and
associated reduced availability of protection services to mediate
negative HWI (see Section ’Political capabilities’).
The ability to achieve cultural goals have also been shaped by
powerful processes of exploitation, discrimination, exclusion,
A simplied theoretical framework outlining the various pathways linking poverty alleviation and reduced wildlife crime
Poverty and wildlife crime / 297
and oppression that have led to immense inequalities within
and between countries. Many LMIC and high-income countries
alike are recovering from historical legacies that have dened
social classes, including structural divides based on race,
ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, and caste systems.
As such, overall gains in global poverty reduction have not
always corresponded to a reduction in inter- and intra-country
inequalities. This is important as economic inequality may be
the main driver of illegal hunting in some contexts (Lunstrum
and Givá 2020). Furthermore, recent research has found that
many proposed COVID-19 recovery polices, programmes,
and initiatives do not take an equity approach, and therefore
will exacerbate existing inequities (Mawani et al. 2021). As
will be discussed, post-COVID-19 economic interventions
should prioritize equity and social justice, and should be well-
targeted so that support for economic capabilities reaches the
Human capabilities include access to food, healthcare,
education, clean water, and shelter (OECD 2001), and there
are clear and direct links to how related deprivations lead to
illegal resource use (Figure 1). For instance, sh and bushmeat
are frequently harvested illegally to directly meet subsistence
needs as a source of protein (Brashares et al. 2004; Knapp
2012; Knapp et al. 2017). Protected areas are frequently
exploited for building materials, rewood for cooking, and
medicinal plants (Chamberlain et al. 2004; Harrison et al.
2015). Other resources are collected to make goods when they
are preferred, more accessible, or cheaper than manufactured
alternatives (Twinamatsiko et al. 2014; Harrison et al. 2015).
Illegal resource use is often not a livelihood of choice, but
can provide a “safety net” or “gap-ller” function for people
when their preferred sources of income fall through (Sunderlin
et al. 2005), and where wider society does not have eective
safety nets. Examples of safety net functions include gap-lling
employment and sources of food in the agricultural o-season,
savings for old age, and emergency income following shocks
and tragedies (Sunderlin et al. 2005; Gardner et al. 2015).
These human capabilities also interact among themselves.
For example, a lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and
healthcare facilities means children are more likely to miss
school due to illnesses. Conversely, education increases labour-
market prospects and therefore increases the opportunity cost
of crime and reduces post-school criminal activity (Lochner
and Moretti 2004). Parental education is also correlated
with nutritional status of children (Iftikhar et al. 2017), and
household welfare (Orbeta 2005). The relationship between
poverty, vulnerability and family size is strong and long-lasting
(Orbeta 2005). Households with a large number of dependents,
tend to be most directly reliant on natural resources to meet
basic needs, and to have a greater likelihood of engaging in
illegal forest activities (e.g., Atuo et al. 2020).
Immediate eorts to improve human capabilities as part of
COVID-19 recovery can include conditional or unconditional
cash transfers to help stabilise livelihoods for people who
have struggled to retain employment (Mawani et al. 2021).
In-kind transfers may also include distribution of food, school
feeding programmes, vouchers, and other basic items such as
soaps (Mawani et al. 2021). While state-sponsored provision
of food or medicine may be the most appropriate response in
some cases, such as following disaster events, in the long-
term this approach is disempowering and does little to build
capacity, or relieve food insecurity (Booth and Pollard 2020).
Poverty alleviation requires improving the social structures in
place (Booth and Pollard 2020). An example of this may be
expanding workplace development programmes, and providing
skill development training to create avenues for low-income
people to transition to secure employment (Mawani et al.
2021), so that they can enhance their human capabilities in a
Socio-cultural capabilities refer to one’s ability to participate as
a valued member of a community (OECD 2001). Criminological
ndings have determined a myriad of poverty-related social
factors associated with participation in crime and theories of
criminal behaviour (Sharkey et al. 2017). Though a structural
problem, at the individual level, poverty can relate to impaired
decision-making and self-regulation of youth (Spears 2011;
Sheehy-Skengton and Rea 2017); physical and psychosocial
stress (Evans and Kim 2012); reduced social attachment to
everyday activities and intrinsic career motivation (Hirschi
1969; Matsueda and Heimer 1987; Sampson 1987; Sheehy-
Skengton and Rea 2017); lack of commitment to a future
based on conventional behaviour (Hale et al. 2013); as well as
lack of connection to school and children’s social networks and
peer-group inuences (Haynie 2001; Haynie et al. 2006). These
factors are also often interconnected to parental mental health
problems, parental criminality, a history of abuse, and lack of
academic achievement (e.g., Farrington et al. 2001; Murray
et al. 2012; Wang et al. 2014; Taşkıran et al. 2017; Sharkey et
al. 2017). Since variations of these pathways can contribute
to an association between poverty and criminal behaviour,
investing in modest mental health and social initiatives is
thought to benet society through reduced oending (Knapp
et al. 2011; Peay 2011). The role of social norms and peer
inuences has been evidenced in the context of conservation,
where non-compliance with wildlife regulations is greater for
people with family members or friends who approve of the
oence (Atuo et al. 2020; Figure 1).
The ability to achieve socio-cultural capabilities is often
defined by legacies of historical injustices and enduring
structural issues. Poverty reduction eorts to mitigate the
impacts of COVID-19 should take an equity approach by
focusing on high-risk groups. Depending on the context, this
may include informal workers; women; racialised groups;
youth; older workers; low-educated and less-educated people;
people with disabilities; refugees and internally displaced
people; ethnic minorities; Indigenous people; and precarious
298 / Anagnostou et al.
workers (Mawani et al. 2021). Legal and policy frameworks
can promote community-based approaches to facilitating social
cohesion. Engaging local leaders in these eorts may be a
productive approach, as their inuence can overturn social
norms in their communities for upstream change.
The ability to participate as a valued member of a community
also relates to desistance pathways away from ‘criminal
careers’ after oences have been committed. These paths
are inhibited by social stigmas associated with the ‘oender’
label attached to ex-oenders (Bain 2019). These stigmas
inhibit reintegration and can cause a cycle or feedback loop
that perpetuates further oending and criminal behaviour
(Lemert 1951). This highlights the importance of preventative
measures, destigmatising past oences, and breaking the
system of crime through poverty alleviation, rather than
inflicting harsh sanctions on poverty-stricken offenders.
Desistance from a ‘criminal career’ only becomes attainable
through tackling social exclusion and equipping past oenders
with relevant skills required by local employers, and life skills
more generally (“soft skills”; Bain 2019). Providing positive
transition points (see Warr 1998) can disrupt an individual’s
offending trajectory and encourage desistance. It further
facilitates feelings of belonging and achievement, and reduced
pressure to return to criminality (Bain 2019). In the absence,
the oender is left feeling isolated and further marginalised
(Nugent and Schinkel 2016), which can strengthen the
propensity for criminal behaviour (Bain 2019). Additionally,
the lack of connectedness with conventional norms could
result in the association with deviant individuals (Sutherland
and Cressey 1970) and perpetuation of deviant sub-cultures
Poverty alleviation includes politically-based human rights
components, such as having a voice in policy creation and
establishing political priorities (OECD 2001; Figure 1).
Illegal hunting is thought to be driven in some cases by
prestige, identity and custom (MacDonald 2004), as an
expression of hegemonic masculinity (Sollund 2020), or as a
politicised practice of civil disobedience or resistance when
there is a lack of democratic safeguards for traditional hunting
lifestyles against prevailing environmentalist ideologies
(Nurse 2015; von Essen and Allen 2017). Wildlife crime as
a form of civil disobedience can arise when relevant citizens
are excluded from the democratic process, or biases and
predetermined agendas set by powerful interests override
local concerns (von Essen and Allen 2017; Fernández-
Llamazares et al. 2020). These political motivations for
wildlife crime may be especially pronounced where there is
a historical legacy of colonialism that has left communities
without legal rights to harvest their own local resources
(Duy and St John 2013). This means that an equitable
COVID-19 recovery will require inclusion of marginalised
voices in the design of conservation and social protection
policies to improve political capabilities.
Protective capabilities refer to people’s capacity to endure
times of economic, social, or environmental stresses (OECD
2001). Protective capabilities enable people to withstand
natural disasters, threats to person and property, and nancial
crises, such as through the provisioning of insurance (OECD
2001). Climate change can increase the frequency and severity
of stressors, which decreases protective capabilities and can,
for example, force herders to graze livestock inside protected
areas, or participate in illegal hunting (White 2018). A
growing body of literature shows that crime can be a function
of climatic factors and weather shocks which decrease
protective capabilities (Agnew 2012; White 2018). For
instance, both drought and excessive rainfall cause an increase
in thefts, cattle raiding, and property crimes in agriculture
dependent communities in Southeast Asia (Papaioannou 2017;
Papaioannou and de Haas 2017). Farmers that have lost their
protective capabilities may also turn to charcoal production,
shifting cultivation, or destructive shing practices (Gardner
et al. 2015; Cripps and Gardner 2016).
In addition, environmental shocks can increase risks of local
and regional conicts (Hendrix and Salehyan 2012). Shocks
and conicts further decrease protective capabilities and add
strain to people living in poverty, increasing their likelihood
of committing wildlife oences (Mbiba et al. 2019). Similarly,
shocks can force vulnerable populations to migrate, become
displaced, or to become ‘trapped’, depending on their mobility
potential (Black et al. 2013). In either of these three cases,
people may lose their social capital, and consequently become
more dependent on extracting natural resources (Mbiba et al.
Negative HWI and the spread of diseases can also rapidly
diminish protective capabilities and household productivity,
making households more reliant on exploiting local natural
resources for survival and providing for children (Harrison
et al. 2015; Figure 1). Negative interactions including crop
raiding, livestock depredation, and harm to people can provoke
retaliatory killings and illegal hunting (Moreto 2019). The mere
presence of wildlife in communities that have experienced
negative HWI in the past can contribute to individual- and
community-levels of strain (Agnew 1992) and decrease
protective capabilities, which, in turn, can result in pre-emptive
illegal retaliatory killings (Moreto 2019).
Wildlife crime prevention strategies could proactively
identify and address drivers of risks and exposure to stressors.
Targeted interventions to buffer shocks could focus on
protecting high-risk communities in hotspots for adverse HWI,
and in climate sensitive sectors. No single social protection
programme will completely alleviate the burden of shocks
related to COVID-19 and compounding stresses (such as
climactic stresses) that signicantly aect vulnerable people.
Rather, a carefully devised set of policies and programmes can
reinforce each other and “weave a safety net” that can alleviate
shocks to households (Grosh et al. 2014). For example,
interventions may include a combination of cash transfers,
Poverty and wildlife crime / 299
social pensions, food programmes, emergency benets, and/
or public works programmes (Grosh et al. 2014), along with
supports to prevent and compensate for damages from HWI.
This requires careful planning to provide comprehensive
coverage for enhancing protective capabilities, and addressing
chronic poverty and inequality (Grosh et al. 2014).
Complexities in the relationship between poverty and
On the other side of the poverty and conservation relationship
are rising income levels leading to increased consumption,
consumerism, waste, and pollution (Reardon and Vosti 1995;
Farias and Farias 2010). Indeed, the growth of auence
and the emergence of new consumers is a driver of global
environmental destruction (Wiedmann et al. 2020). There is a
known positive relationship between wealth and consumption
for personal gains (Myers and Kent 2004), occupying larger
land areas (Scherr 2000), and purchasing forest and high-value
wildlife products to signify status (e.g., Drury 2011; Scales
et al. 2017).
Furthermore, some development approaches, such as clear-
cutting of forests for cattle grazing, contribute to economic
growth since the associated infrastructure provides important
access to markets and services, and creates new jobs (Minten
1999; Wilkie et al. 2000). However, this growth is not always
distributed equally, can impose added stresses on marginalised
people (Zepharovich et al. 2020), and can intensify gender
inequality (UNDP 2020). It also comes at the expense of
biodiversity by fragmenting habitats and paving the way for
new landscape conversions and resource exploitation.
In light of this, it is important to keep in mind that the
global distribution of wealth has led to highly disproportionate
levels of consumption. The wealthiest 1% of income earners
account for 100 times more carbon emissions each year than
the poorest 50%, due to unsustainable and unjust patterns of
consumption, production, and investment (UNDP 2020). Per
capita use of resources is far higher in high-income countries
than it is near tropical/sub-tropical biodiversity hotspots. It
is this consumption that is boosting demand for soy, beef/
leather, timber, and palm oil, and promoting the continued
conversion of tropical forests (Walker et al. 2013). So, while
increased income levels may lead to increased consumption
and deforestation, the activities of people alleviated from
poverty still only account for a tiny proportion of resource use
at an international scale.
Overall, the relationship between poverty alleviation and
conservation is complex (Barbier and Hochard 2018; UNDP
2020). Whether poverty alleviation contributes to biodiversity
loss depends on the choices made in policy and planning when
people have higher capabilities (Roe et al. 2011). Research
ndings indicate that poverty may favour behaviours that
make it more dicult to escape poverty and to invest in long-
term improvements (Haushofer and Fehr 2014). Alleviating
people from poverty does not necessarily mean they will
become unsustainable consumptive users of natural resources.
Rather, poverty alleviation should be seen as the process of
empowering individuals by expanding their capabilities and
freedoms (including political freedoms), economic facilities,
social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective
security (Sen 2000, 2001). With reduced poverty comes
reduced hunger, mortality, and increased global health, access
to basic social services, and participation in public and political
life. Therefore, people are more empowered to make decisions
that align with long-term sustainability (Barbier 2000), rather
than focusing on immediate benets to ensure day-to-day
Poverty alleviation is also an important consideration
when it comes to crime deterrence, which typically relies on
a blend of ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’. Although criminal sanctions
(sticks) have been shown to successfully deter wildlife
crimes (Aimer and Goeschl 2010), research suggests that
individuals are more responsive to incentives (carrots) that
are the most immediate, which is especially true for people
living in poverty (Chaln and McCrary 2017). Improving
policing, either through increased personnel or monitoring
and policing productivity, and improving local labour-market
conditions have an immediate eect on the relative benets
and costs of engaging in criminal activities. On the other hand,
changes to incarceration policies (e.g., increasing sentences)
may be a smaller deterrent because these policy changes are
often unknown to potential oenders, and the cost of a prison
sentence is perceived to be something that may be avoided or
only experienced in the future (Chaln and McCrary 2017).
Poverty and wildlife crime in the shadow of COVID-19
Assessing the intersection of poverty and crime has a
considerable history within criminological literature. For
example, prior research has examined citizen perceptions of
safety and vulnerability, and their relationship with poverty
(Pantazis 2000), while a meta-analysis examining research
during the 1970s and the 1980s found strong support linking
poverty and income inequality with violent crime (Hsieh
and Pugh 1993). To date, however, the impact of poverty on
crime during and after a pandemic is not well-known, and
the current pandemic provides a unique (albeit unfortunate)
opportunity to probe these links (Stickle and Felson 2020).
There have been reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has led
to certain decreased organised crime activities as a result of
macro-economic swings, increased law enforcement presence
in public areas, and increased trade and travel restrictions at
borders (GIATOC 2020a). This may be part of the reason
that Kruger National Park has seen a decline in illegal rhino
hunting (BBC 2021), in addition to the provision of social
grants provided by the government. It is also believed that
potential offenders may be suspending activities due to
personal concerns about contracting COVID-19, although
further research on this is needed (GIATOC 2020a). That said,
there is evidence to suggest that trackers are simply biding
their time and stockpiling wildlife products, such as ivory and
pangolin scales (WJC 2020).
300 / Anagnostou et al.
COVID-19 will likely aect wildlife crime by negatively
impacting each of the ve capability dimensions of poverty
(Figure 2). For instance, marginalised children and youth
living in remote villages are at a severe disadvantage due to
widespread school closures (Parsitau and Jepkemei 2020)
and a downturn in nature-based and rural tourism. Education
that is mediated through technology and smartphones will
be out of reach to many rural children and their parents due
to the cost of internet, limited connectivity, and barriers to
technology purchase (Parsitau and Jepkemei 2020). School
closures also present an obstacle to providing children with
adequate nutrition for learners who depend on school feeding
programmes (UNESCO 2020).
These COVID-19 changes can force marginalised people
into illicit extraction of natural resources for nutrition,
and as a result of being less occupied with work or school
(Anagnostou et al. 2020). Parents who are still able to work
may have to leave their children and youth unattended
and socially isolated (UNESCO 2020). This leaves young
people more prone to risky behaviours and substance abuse,
and causes children to miss out on social attachments that
are essential for learning, development, cognitive control
(UNESCO 2020), and for preventing associated criminal
behaviour. The deprivation of education, food, healthcare,
and social networks can all indirectly decrease children’s
capabilities, which may then increase incentives to engage in
wildlife crime. COVID-19 has likely had (and will continue
to have) a direct impact on the routine activities of individuals
(and potential oenders) resulting in the convergence in time
and space between oenders and target resources, and the lack
of capable and invested resource guardians (Cohen and Felson
1979; Moreto and Pires 2018).
COVID-19 will also likely have more direct impacts on
wildlife crime. Demand and distribution channels for many
preferred local products (e.g., legal meat and other food
products) and services will dwindle or become blocked or
eliminated entirely. As economic returns from legitimate
employment deteriorate or disappear altogether, crime rates
will likely increase. Research has found this same trend in
previous times of economic hardship (e.g., Hale 1998; Hale
et al. 2013). The pandemic crisis has also caused internal
mass migrations as many people who have lost their jobs
in urban areas are returning to family villages in rural areas
(World Bank 2020b). This increases the interface for negative
HWI and opportunistic wildlife harvesting, and consequently
this migration may contribute to a rise in wildlife crime.
Surveillance and policing capacity of protected areas are in
dramatic decline as law enforcement eorts are being redirected
to support pandemic responses (Wittig 2020). Decreased law
enforcement and park management resources has previously
led to decreased wildlife populations due to illegal hunting
(Leader-Williams et al. 1990; Hilborn et al. 2006). An
added challenge for communities near protected areas is that
international tourism has declined dramatically, and many
countries have closed their parks and reserves to minimise
spread of the pathogen. This is important as eco-tourism
revenue is often the main source of funding for conservation,
community livelihood initiatives, and anti-poaching patrols.
Furthermore, conservation funding, including from public
spending, may become more limited as a result of society
realigning its spending priorities (Kavousi et al. 2020). Thus,
the impact of COVID-19 on law enforcement and management
in protected areas may be three-fold: 1) decreased formal forms
of guardianship due to reduced patrol activities; 2) decreased
revenue and associated community-based initiatives, including
services to reduce negative HWI; and 3) decreased informal
guardianship from tourists. This reduced law enforcement
presence in protected areas, the potential increase in negative
HWI, and lack of informal guardianship may decrease the
opportunity costs of illegally harvesting natural resources
(Kurland et al. 2017; Moreto and Pires 2018). At the same time,
people involved in tracking wildlife products are marketing
their products in consumer states as cures to COVID-19,
which will further drive illegal hunting (EIA 2020a, 2020b;
Save the Rhino 2020). Likely as a result of a combination
of these factors, authorities around the world have reported
increases in illegal hunting since the start of the pandemic.
This includes, for instance, in South America (e.g., Colombia;
Georgiou 2020), in Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Zambia, Malawi,
Zimbabwe; Box 1; GIATOC 2020b), and in South Asia (e.g.,
India, Nepal and Pakistan; Godbole 2020).
Importantly, the economic impact of COVID-19 is not
restricted to local communities or potential oenders. Rangers
themselves are often from marginalised communities, have low
Pentagon framework of the capabilities/dimensions of poverty that relate
to wildlife crime oending
Poverty and wildlife crime / 301
salaries, are underpaid, paid late, have no insurance, and lack the
necessary equipment to perform their jobs (Moreto 2016; Belecky
et al. 2019; Spira et al. 2019). A reduction in tourism revenue
may negatively aect the well-being and job security of rangers
tasked with anti-poaching eorts. This could result in deleterious
impact on rangers’ salary, facilities, and other related occupational
provisions. Furthermore, COVID-19 may have a considerable
impact on the health and nances of rangers and their families
as well. This in itself could result in increased job stress (Moreto
2016), which may also contribute to establishing an environment
for ranger corruption (Moreto et al. 2015). Corruption, however,
is not limited to micro-level interactions. Political capabilities of
communities in illegal wildlife source, transit, and destination
states may be at risk from decreased governance as public
ocials become more susceptible to corruption and bribery (van
Uhm and Moreto 2018; Wittig 2020).
IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICYMAKERS
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, wildlife crimes were
often under-detected or undetected due to a variety of reasons,
including, lack of surveillance in remote areas; crimes falling
between the responsibilities of dierent authorities, such as
criminal justice and environmental authorities; and cases
being dismissed due to a lack of evidence (Ceccato and
Uittenbogaard 2013). Despite a myriad of interventions to stop
wildlife crime, there is a general lack of outcome evaluations to
determine which initiatives are, in fact, successful (Kurland et
al. 2017). Furthermore, such interventions may be largely based
on available resources, that are likely to have been disrupted
due to COVID-19. As such, it would be apt for policymakers
to identify and address structural and social determinants of
wildlife crime. We suggest that there is a critical need for
more accurate framing of wildlife crime oenders in terms
of systemic causes of poverty and inequalities. Here, we
have collated evidence that improving people’s well-being
through poverty alleviation is essential for preventing wildlife
crime. Government and wildlife authority responses should
involve cooperation, inclusive multilateralism, and innovative
partnerships so that citizens see a culture of integrity and
transparency, which paves the way towards collective ecacy
and responsibility for wildlife crime control (Ventura 2020;
Anagnostou et al. 2020).
Policymakers have persisted for decades with policies
that are failing to adequately address wildlife crime, and
we argue that it is time to bring in a poverty alleviation
approach that builds rural community capabilities to reduce
the likelihood of residents engaging in wildlife crime.
Under our poverty-wildlife crime framework, enhancing
the capacity of communities to achieve well-being has the
potential to achieve this. Furthermore, governments that
take an aggressively prohibitionist approach (while poverty
conditions remain the same) can contribute to a feedback
loop that inadvertently exacerbates poverty for people
whose livelihoods are directly dependent on local natural
resources. These approaches may also simply remove the
weakest actors, and present an opportunity for more clever
and adaptable groups and individuals to ourish in wildlife
crime networks (Gilman et al. 2011). Regulated use should
be considered until these communities have achieved at least
enough well-being to have the capacity to democratically
Example of how COVID-19 is aecting illegal wildlife use in Sub-Saharan African countries+
Several Sub-Saharan African countries, including Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, among others, have reported a spike in low-level bushmeat
hunting (e.g., Figure 3) since the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded. Bushmeat hunting is thought to be driven by a number of capabilities-related
factors linked to the pandemic:
1. With borders closed and even local movement restricted in some areas, rural people have been prevented from selling their seasonal crops
(e.g., tobacco and cotton), creating nancial pressures that have driven some to turn to harvesting bushmeat.+
2. As unemployment has spread in urban areas, family remittances to rural areas have dried up, driving some rural families to illegally hunt
wildlife to mitigate food insecurity.+
3. Rural communities that were previously dependent on nature-based tourism for employment and community development have seen tourism
dollars evaporate, creating broad nancial pressures on rural communities.+
4. Parks and protected area authorities across Africa are challenged to pay the salaries of their rangers and wardens, resulting in layos, non-
payment of salaries, corruption and post abandonment. The resulting ‘oversight vacuum’ has led to increased illegal hunting inside protected
areas, and some parks are reporting thefts of critical parks infrastructure such as solar panels designed to pump water for park wildlife.+
Although these negative impacts have been documented in certain countries, more empirical research is needed to understand how COVID-19 is
impacting illegal wildlife harvest and trade.
African palm civet sold as bushmeat in the Republic of the Congo*
+Source: GIATOC 2020b
*Photo source: Jean-Baptiste Dodane © jbdodane.com
302 / Anagnostou et al.
adopt a sustainable, alternate source of income, with training
to manage it. This is especially true as studies have shown that
harvesting natural resources illegally is often only selected
when external shocks are particularly severe, and where other
safety-net functions remain unavailable or underdeveloped
(Wunder et al. 2014).
In applying our model to this context, poverty alleviation
should be seen as an overall positive strategy for global
sustainability and the decline of wildlife crime. That
said, development policies must still account for possibly
irreplaceable losses of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity.
Governments and transnational corporations should continue
to invest critical technologies, expertise, and funds into
LMICs, and specically high-risk populations, to improve the
capacity to employ the highest environmental standards. This
is particularly vital for Africa, where over half the population
is suffering from multidimensional poverty, and poverty
reduction has been slow (Alkire et al. 2016).
The rst step could be developing context-specic evidence
through socio-economic assessments, perception surveys,
community input, and establishing baselines (ILO 2020).
This information can then be used to develop integrated
approaches for socio-economic recovery such as designing
and supporting the implementation of health, water,
sanitation, hygiene, and public employment programmes
(ILO 2020). Additional actions can include initiating social
insurance for workers in the informal sector; social assistance
such as conditional cash transfers; a growth strategy that
protects the agriculture sector; and wage subsidies, among
others (Mawani et al. 2021).
While these are all important services for promoting equitable
access to livelihoods, these programmes are often out of reach
for people living in extreme and chronic poverty conditions.
Holistic ‘graduation approaches’ are examples of how to
address this challenge, and the associated overrepresentation of
women in poverty (Sulaiman et al. 2016; BRAC 2017). Closing
the gender poverty gap not only promotes gender equity, but
also improves access to education, health, and nutrition for
the next generation, and increases broader economic security
(Christensen 2019). Graduation initiatives involve supporting
women and other high-risk groups to meet basic needs by
rst provisioning food or cash to stabilise households (BRAC
2017). Participants are then provided with a productive asset
for a decent livelihood, such as livestock, a sewing machine,
a food cart, or access to formal employment. Support sta
then frequently visit for technical training on how to manage
the asset and savings, and coaching to reinforce skills, build
condence, and support social inclusion in the long-term.
Health education and access to health care are also integral
steps (BRAC 2017).
As discussed earlier in this essay, poorly planned economic
growth strategies can have detrimental costs to biodiversity,
and can exacerbate inequalities. While many are calling for a
Green Recovery to COVID-19 (OECD 2020), it is imperative
that the most vulnerable people are able to benet from new
opportunities through targeted training, skill development,
and access to markets. Conservation organisations, civil
society, international development organisations, and the
private sector should collaborate to deliver multidimensional
supports for sustainable livelihoods. Multidimensional
initiatives that also use an equity approach will help high-
risk communities build resilience in the aftermath of the
pandemic, and in doing so, reduce the poverty-related risks
of wildlife crime.
It is clear that both poverty and poverty alleviation can impact
conservation to varying degrees depending on the context. Not
all environmental degradation in LMICs is linked to poverty.
However, evidence suggests that conservationists need to
recognise that deciencies in any of the ve main capabilities
can counter biodiversity protection. We have outlined various
risk factors for wildlife crime including increased levels of
acute shocks such as unemployment, decreased wage rates,
poor access to education and healthy social networks, decreased
community participation and political capabilities, emotional
distress, and a lack of access to essential services such as
healthcare, all of which may be worsened by COVID-19 and
future pandemics (McMahon et al. 2013; Chen et al. 2016).
While it is no easy task, poverty reduction should be considered
from all of these dimensions to deliver win-win situations for
both development and conservation purposes (Chaigneau et
COVID-19 has highlighted the vital need for improvements
in how conservation eorts are executed in LMICs. The
challenge going forward will be to nd new ways to ensure
that people living in poverty have a stronger voice in how
capability enhancement and conservation strategies are created
and implemented. In this way, people alleviated from poverty
will be more likely to exercise their freedoms and continue to
align their decisions with conservation objectives (Sanderson
and Redford 2003; Roe 2015). This essay suggests that the
interactions between poverty alleviation and wildlife crime are
extensive, and that improving the lives of communities living
with and near wildlife is crucial for reduced criminal oending,
and ensuring human and ecosystem wellbeing.
Author Contributions Statement
Michelle Anagnostou conceived and designed the research, and
led the drafting of the manuscript; William D. Moreto, Charlie
J. Gardner, and Brent Doberstein all contributed critical,
intellectual content to the drafts and gave nal approval of the
version to be published.
Declaration of Competing Interests
The authors declare that they have no known competing
nancial interests or personal relationships that could have
appeared to inuence the work reported in this paper.
Poverty and wildlife crime / 303
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Received: 21-Sep-2020; Revised: 16-Jul-2021; Accepted: 16-Jul-2021; Published: 22-Sep-2021