Effectively addressing the Illegal Wildlife trade (IWT) involves two key activities: increasing the economic gain from conservation by generating more funding and more jobs for people living around wildlife so they no longer poach, and; developing well-trained and intelligence-led counter-poaching operations to counteract organised criminal poaching groups.
At the moment the IWT is worth up to $23 billion a year, a massive market financing the murder and destruction of wildlife and our natural world.
While hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on conservation each year, wildlife and habitats continue to disappear.
We need to create a market for conservation at least as large, if not larger, than IWT, which would directly fund the protection of the natural world by providing jobs to people living around wildlife and funding highly effective counter-poaching operations against organised criminal poachers.
IWT is fundamentally an economic issue.
Poaching and deforestation are cheap and quick to carry out, and an ivory tusk, rhino horn or pangolin can readily be converted into cash.
In contrast, conservation generates little revenue or jobs, and counter-poaching operations are very expensive to conduct.
There is therefore a pool of people living in poverty who poach because they have no other way to feed their families, as well as organised crime groups poaching high-value products. At the same time, teams of rangers need salaries and supplies and must be everywhere, all the time to stop poaching, whereas the poacher need only be in the right place at the right time once.
The economics are therefore tilted in favour of IWT.
It is that economic equation that we need to change, generating jobs to stop poaching driven by poverty, and generating revenue to fund more effective counter-poaching operations to stop organised crime poaching.
To change the economics of the trade, the government should carry out the following three key activities:
1) Engage with businesses to develop products and services that will directly help wildlife by generating revenue and jobs from conservation. In its simplest terms, this is about creating sustainable commercial buffer-zones around national parks, employing thousands of local people and creating a barrier between people and wildlife. The intent is that, for example, a tea plantation around a national park could help save elephants by employing former poachers, so every time someone drank a cup of tea they would be protecting elephants. Examples of this already exist around the world on a small-scale, but a blueprint to deliver this more widely needs to be developed.
2) Engage with marketing teams to develop new sponsorship models. Every sports stadium in the UK is sponsored by a large company, so why not do the same for national parks? We need to work with marketing teams to develop sponsorship packages that appeal to those businesses like sports sponsorships do, then work with developing countries to implement those sponsorships to fund conservation. This will help generate the increased funding needed for conservation, and marketing budgets are far larger than charity budgets, so there is more finance available.
3) Work with investors and entrepreneurs to develop products and services that include donations to conservation organisations. Individual donations alone do not provide enough funding for conservation, so we need to find other ways to enable people to support the cause. By way of example, if WWF owned the rights to The Lion King franchise, they need never fundraise again. We need to setup a UK challenge to develop and publicise a range of products that will help raise funds to save wildlife.
Those three activities would have a major impact on changing the economics of the IWT to make conservation pay.
A simple rule in life is ‘if it pays it stays’. If we can find ways that national parks generate significant revenues and jobs, they are likely to be well-protected.
Even as revenue increases, however, there will still be come criminal elements seeking to poach high-value wildlife, so highly effective counter-poaching operations are required to stop them.
The British Army’s Op CORDED shows the way forward in this area.
By training rangers to be much more effective, they are better able to deal with the poaching threat. However, the British Army’s current work could be improved; short term training teams delivering basic infantry skills training misses much of the value that the Army could offer.
Op CORDED should be expanded, with small teams working with rangers in national parks to not only enhance the field-skills of rangers, but also to develop intelligence-led counter-poaching capabilities.
Highly trained rangers, directed by effective intelligence, have been shown to rapidly reduce poaching to near zero.
The Army has the capability and experience to provide that training, all at a relatively low cost to government as the wages of soldiers (the largest expense) are sunk costs. It will also help recruitment and retention and be a great way to utilise infantry and intelligence corps soldiers on small operations.
Generating more jobs and revenue from parks will make conservation pay, and will solve 80-90% of the poaching problem, if not more; most poaching is carried out by people with no other choice. Give them a job and they stop poaching. The remainder can be controlled by effective counter-poaching forces, which are intelligence-led.
To put this into context, if each household in the UK could spend just £10 per week on products that saved wildlife, we would create a £14 billion annual market to save wildlife, creating jobs to stop poaching and funding highly effective counter-poaching operations.
That’s almost as much as the entire current IWT market, just from UK households spending £10 per week.
It’s simple; if we can enable people to pay, then we will ensure wildlife will stay.