The global context

Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a major current conservation and development challenge. It threatens a wide range of wild species around the world while jeopardising local security and economies, undermining livelihood assets, and destabilising governance regimes.

Globally, most wildlife trade is legal and much is sustainable. This legal and sustainable trade can be a key element in species conservation strategies.

IWT is not formally managed, is highly exploitative, unsustainable and detrimental. Targeted species include familiar and iconic species such as elephants, rhinos, pangolins, and tigers, as well as many birds, reptiles, fish, primates and wild plants, which generally receive less attention.

Beyond enforcement

In recent years, global policy and funding responses to tackle poaching and thwart IWT have relied heavily on state-led (and increasingly privately-led) approaches to strengthen law enforcement. However, it is clear that these methods are not enough on their own. And, importantly, they can make the situation worse - especially when the people who live alongside these species are side-lined. It is also clear that heavy-handed or misdirected enforcement efforts have led to human rights abuses and severe hardship for already vulnerable indigenous peoples and local communities.

Today, there is growing recognition among practitioners and policy-makers that support for and the inclusion of local communities as key partners in initiatives aimed at fighting wildlife crime is vital.

Community engagement covers a wide range of approaches including, but not limited to:

  • involving communities in law enforcement efforts
  • generating incentives for community-based conservation
  • involving communities in decision-making on IWT project design and implementation
  • recognising and supporting community rights to manage and benefit from wildlife, and
  • reducing conflict between communities and wildlife.

You can find examples of all these approaches by exploring our case studies.

International commitments to communities

At numerous international policy forums, governments from a wide range of countries have made commitments to support community engagement as part of their efforts to tackle international illegal wildlife trade (IWT).


Engage communities living with elephants as active partners in their conservation.

African Elephant Summit (December 2013)

Increase capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable livelihood opportunities and eradicate poverty Work with, and include local communities in, establishing monitoring and law enforcement networks in areas surrounding wildlife.

London Conference (February 2014)

Promote the retention of benefits from wildlife resources by local people where they have traditional and/or legal rights over these resources. We will strengthen policy and legislative frameworks needed to achieve this, reinforce the voice of local people as key stakeholders and implement measures which balance the need to tackle the illegal wildlife trade with the needs of communities, including the sustainable use of wildlife.

Kasane Conference (March 2015)

Recognize the rights and increase the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the planning, management and use of wildlife through sustainable use and alternative livelihoods and strengthen their ability to combat wildlife crime.

International Conference on Illegal Exploitation and Illicit Trade in Wild Flora and Fauna in Africa, Brazzaville (April 2015)

Support … the development of sustainable and alternative livelihoods for communities affected by illicit trafficking in wildlife and its adverse impacts, with the full engagement of the communities in and adjacent to wildlife habitats as active partners in conservation and sustainable use, enhancing the rights and capacity of the members of such communities to manage and benefit from wildlife and wilderness; …

UN General Assembly Resolution 69/314 on Tackling Illicit Trafficking In Wildlife (July 2015)

… recognizing the importance of supporting and engaging communities living with wildlife as active partners in conservation, through reducing human‐wildlife conflict and supporting community efforts to advance their rights and capacity to manage and benefit from wildlife and their habitats; and developing collaborative models of enforcement. The active participation of local people is critical to effective monitoring and law enforcement as well as sustainable socio‐economic development.

Hanoi Conference (November 2016)

It is important to highlight the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on the sustainable livelihoods of communities, and the importance of countries' obligations to uphold agreements made with indigenous and local communities… We will work to support sustainable livelihoods which provide an alternative to engagement in the illegal wildlife trade. We recognise the essential engagement role and rights of local communities and indigenous people to ensure a sustainable solution to addressing the illegal wildlife trade. We also recognise the importance of local communities acknowledging the value of protected species and habitats, and the benefit this value can bring.

London Conference (October 2018)


Countries participating in major IWT conferences

To date, there have been four major IWT conferences - London 2014, Kasane 2015, Hanoi 2016 and London 2018. At these conferences, governments (as well as other parties such as NGOs and donors) make public commitments on the actions they will take to tackle IWT. 

On average 45 countries have participated in these major events - though only 22 of these countries have been present at all four conferences.

Notable absences from the conferences include important IWT source countries such as Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, as well as significant IWT transit countries such as Qatar and IWT transit and destination countries such as India, Hong Kong SAR, and Thailand. It is also striking that fewer countries from Latin America have participated compared to other regions.

London 2018 received a higher level of country participation than the previous conferences, with 65 countries signing up to the conference declaration. It also included some of the countries noted above as being significant along the IWT value chain but previously absent including Nigeria, Qatar, India and Thailand; and a greater number of Latin American countries including Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.

London '14
Kasane '15
Hanoi '16
London '18
Côte d’Ivoire
Sierra Leone
South Africa

Middle East and Asia
London '14
Kasane '15
Hanoi '16
London '18
Saudi Arabia
Sri Lanka

North America
London '14
Kasane '15
Hanoi '16
London '18

Central and Latin America
London '14
Kasane '15
Hanoi '16
London '18
Costa Rica

Ocenania and the Pacific
London '14
Kasane '15
Hanoi '16
London '18
New Zealand

European Union
London '14
Kasane '15
Hanoi '16
London '18
Czech Republic

Progress on international commitments

Limited funding?

Despite international policy commitments to communities, there has been limited funding globally for supporting community approaches to tackling IWT. 
An analysis by the World Bank of projects in Africa and Asia as well as global initiatives showed that US$ 1.3 billion of donor funding was committed to tackling IWT between 2010 and 2016. Their analysis found that 46% of the funding supported protected area management, 19% went to law enforcement and 15% for sustainable use and alternative livelihoods (see the below graph).

Graph showing Cumulative IWT Commitment Amounts by Intervention Category, 2010–2016

World Bank analysis of allocation of IWT funding to different types of intervention in Africa and Asia

The World Bank’s analysis also showed that 63% of the US$ 1.3 billion of donor funding was dedicated toward efforts in Africa ($833 million), 29% to Asia ($381 million), 6% to global programmes ($81 million), and 2% to projects covering both Africa and Asia ($35 million). The top five recipient countries were Tanzania (8%), the Democratic Republic of Congo (5%), Mozambique (5%), Gabon (3%), and Bangladesh (3%).

Read more,

Limited action?

International commitments at major IWT conferences are organised into four overarching strategies for tackling IWT:

  1. eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products,
  2. building effective legal frameworks,
  3. strengthening law enforcement, and
  4. supporting sustainable livelihoods and economic development.

Our analysis of government commitments and progress reports following the international IWT conferences held in London in 2014, Kasane in 2015 and Hanoi in 2016 showed that of these four overarching strategies, least action had been made against the commitments for supporting livelihoods and economic development. This strategy is directly relevant to supporting communities to tackle IWT. Indeed, we found that in each of the progress reports produced for London, Kasane and Hanoi, reporters flagged that this is a critical gap with poor implementation by countries of their commitments.

Read more:

Building the evidence

One explanation for the lack of attention given to communities – and limited progress on operationalising community-based approaches – is that the current spate of IWT is viewed as a conservation “crisis”. As such, it is seen as requiring a quick, direct, on the ground response – a race against time.

Community engagement strategies, however, take time and are complex. There is no blueprint approach to community engagement and leadership (and indeed there shouldn’t be!).

The result is uncertainty, with project designers, implementers and funders unsure of how best to support community approaches to tackle IWT.

People not Poaching

Our Learning Platform is intended to help address this problem.

We are building the evidence base on the effectiveness of community-based approaches to tackling IWT. And, we’re facilitating the sharing of information between communities and those that support them.

The case studies on this Learning Platform show that there are plenty of examples of successful community-based approaches to tackling IWT. These need to be scaled up and scaled out, learning from experience and adapting approaches to fit specific contexts and target specific challenges.

A quarter of the world’s land is owned or managed by communities, meaning they need to be central not peripheral to conservation efforts to tackle IWT.

"We are the people who are the most affected by the illegal wildlife trade and can be the most powerful force to address this problem. But this will only happen if communities are empowered and can benefit from wildlife."

Useful links

Press releases and news



  • First Line of Defence against illegal wildlife trade (FLoD) Guidance for implementing the FLoD methodology. Guidance also available in French and Portuguese. For more information and examples of FLoD application in Kenya – FLoD