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Kent comment: Protection of wildlife should be handed to local communities

Professor Douglas MacMillan, of the Durrell Institute for Conservation Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent, has challenged the extent of intervention to address the rate of wildlife extinction and illegal trade across the world.

Speaking after attending the meeting for the Illegal Wildlife Trade (21 May), hosted by HRH Prince Charles in coordination with Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Professor MacMillan welcomed the new proposals but voiced concern over the extent they will go to tackle a resurgence in the illegal trade in wildlife and their body parts.

Professor MacMillan said: ‘Based on recent trends there is a genuine possibility that iconic species that we all grew up with, such as rhinos, elephants and big cats, will be more or less extinct in the wild due to poaching. We need to take immediate and more dramatic action in critical situations, in Africa and Asia especially.

‘What we need right now is a recognition that local people, many of whom are fighting crippling poverty, hold the key to the survival of these wonderful creatures. We need to divert money currently being funnelled into ineffective conservation projects run by governments and conservation Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) directly into the hands of local communities who should be empowered and paid to protect the species from poachers.

‘At best, and with a few notable exceptions around the world, local communities have been bystanders as the battle between conservation organisations and poachers has been waged. Based on what I am learning from my own research with local people in India, Bangladesh, China and Vietnam I am convinced that we need to change the game by recognising that it is right and proper that local people can escape poverty by protecting valuable wildlife using whatever approaches are deemed effective and legal.

Professor Macmillan argues that local people should be given the rights and benefits associated with protecting wildlife. He said: ‘We all know that these animals are worth much more to millions of people across the world and it is time we allowed local people to get benefit financially from protecting rather than killing. So in other words, let’s pay people 10 times more as wildlife protectors than what they currently earn from traditional livelihoods.’

Furthermore, Professor MacMillan argues that we should look again at proposals to allow limited hunting and trade in the body parts in order to create a sustainable flow of money in the future, and to create a legitimate trade in valuable products, such as ivory - where trade volumes can be monitored and government taxes paid. He added: ‘High taxation will be critical to the success of any legalised trade as it will pay for the costs of management and enforcement but will also make the consumers of the products pay the full and proper price for their destructive use of wildlife.’

Professor MacMillan concluded: ‘The new focus on reducing demand for wildlife and poverty alleviation is particularly welcome because it recognises that the trade itself is inextricably linked to globalisation and dynamic economic growth in countries such as China and Vietnam where demand for wildlife exists. However, managing demand is a challenging and long term project and it is likely many species will go extinct before many of these measures have an impact.’

The meeting at Clarence House, London has laid out the groundwork for a high-level meeting of Heads of State and Ministers in the Autumn to win the “battle” against wildlife trafficking with a focus on: (i) reducing demand for endangered wildlife and related products in markets around the world; (ii) increase capacity for global enforcement against the organized syndicates engaged in this activity; and (iii) assist rural communities to find long-term, viable alternatives to the trade.

More detailed exposition of Professor MacMillan’s argument can be seen in a collaborative paper with Daniel Challender, also from DICE at the University of Kent, titled: Protecting the most wanted wildlife - why the ‘war on poaching’ is misguided and potentially disastrous. The paper can be requested via: Prof MacMillan (

The Durrell Institute for Conservation Ecology (DICE) is part of the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation.


Story published at 2:20pm 21 May 2013

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Last Updated: 12/06/2013