Joblessness and wildlife trafficking: finding solutions in southern Africa

High rates of joblessness in farming areas and settlements surrounding towns near conservation areas like the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA) might leave unemployed young men vulnerable to being recruited into wildlife trafficking and poaching.

Dr Herbert Ntuli, resource economist who recently joined WWF-South Africa, will spearhead a range of new studies to create a better and more holistic understanding of the illegal wildlife trade in the GLTFCA. The studies will investigate potential livelihood alternatives, solutions to human-wildlife conflict, and benefits of wildlife conservation for communities living in the conservation area. These will consider approaches to reduce the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on key species in the GLTFCA, as well as the people who live with wildlife in the region.

Most studies of this kind focus on rural communities farming on the edge of large conservation areas. However, there is little research on communities living in and around towns in the vicinity of the GLTFCA, and few consider appropriate conservation models to meet the needs of these communities in particular.

The GLTFCA links the Great Limpopo National Park - which consists of the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, the Kruger National Park in South Africa, and the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe - with other communal, private, and state-owned conservation areas in the three countries. Hundreds of thousands of people live in rural areas or near towns in and around the GLTFCA.

One study will consider what livelihood alternatives there might be for jobless people living in farming communities and towns on the fringes of the GLTFCA, to help prevent them getting caught up in poaching and the illegal trade of live wild animals or animal parts. Another will look at other value chains associated with wildlife trafficking in this region. According to Ntuli, the most trafficked items are animal parts such as ivory, rhino horn, and lion bones and teeth, as well as live animals like pangolins.

Ntuli and his team will also look at the potential solutions to the human-wildlife conflict on the South African side of the GLTFCA, and consider the benefits which communities could get from wildlife conservation.

Until recently, the Zimbabwean-born economist was based at the University of Cape Town’s Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU), where his doctoral and post-doctoral work focused mainly on how small scale farmers in communities living near Gonarezhou National Park in south-eastern Zimbabwe benefited from wildlife conservation.

‘Zimbabwe has a conservation model that allows small scale and commercial farmers around the parks to earn an income from legal trophy hunting,’ he explains.

One of Ntuli’s findings, after studying the effectiveness of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) project, was that poaching decreased in areas where community-based conservancy initiatives benefitted from wildlife conservation. But when compared with private landowner conservancy initiatives, the community-based CAMPFIRE programme showed to be less effective in reducing poaching.

The private landowner conservancy initiatives generated a substantial amount of income from tourism and legal trophy hunting. The conservancies also invested in tourism infrastructure and effective anti-poaching efforts, which reduced poaching and created jobs and income which the wider community benefitted from, says Ntuli.

The lessons learned from these types of initiatives can help policymakers in the region draw up different approaches that include communities in conservation efforts in a way that can benefit the people living near parks as well as help protect species in the parks.

Governments in southern Africa are experimenting with a number of different conservation models, which Ntuli says others can draw on to inform ideas about supporting communities around the GLTFCA.

‘There’s an initiative in Zambia which works alongside farmers on the edge of reserves by encouraging them to grow chilli peppers around their fields as an approach to address human-wildlife conflict. Elephants generally avoid these ‘spicy’ areas and the farmers’ fields remain protected,’ explains Ntuli.

The initiative also supports farmers to grow ground nuts which they process and package specifically for the more lucrative export market. In Uganda, part of the parks’ entrance fees goes towards community development projects. In Namibia, the community wildlife conservancy approach allows its members to contribute land towards conservation by dissolving the boundaries between farms and drawing local communities into the wildlife management process.

‘These are ideas we’d like to explore, improve and consider for potential use in areas where there are high levels of wildlife crime, such as the Mozambican side of the GLTFCA, because that’s where much of the trafficking problem starts,’ says Ntuli. 'The Mozambican government, for instance, has a secure land tenure system that offers land ownership rights to local communities and individuals, so they could consider a similar model to that of Namibia.’

News | 27 May 2019