Lee White delivers powerful presentation in Saturday’s double session about the need for concerted efforts and strong political support to effectively combat poaching. Photo by Linda Holcombe

World Parks Congress Divided by Wildlife Crime

Today the Yale F&ES student delegation to the 6th World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia had the opportunity to sit in on a paneled debate among world leaders on “The Nature of Crime”, wildlife crime and enforcement.

On the panel:

Moderated by Paul Rose- Expedition Leader for Pristine Seas, National Geographic and President of Royal Geographical Society.

Copyright Linda Holcombe

World Leaders Dialogue Panel on the Nature of Wildlife Crime. Photo by Linda Holcombe

The Panel started out with introductory statements ranging from calls for increased support to the front line rangers (White and Willmore) to better collaboration with local communities (Dr. Cooney, Dr. Ramono). Lee White introduced the bounds of the problem: that rangers are dealing with everything from “subsistence hunters to organized criminals massacring our natural heritage.” Sean Willmore brought the audience with him to the front line with tragic personal accounts from rangers and the reminder that park guards risk their lives every day for minimal pay and often work in extreme environments without the basic tools to do so, such as weapons, boots, rain gear, and mosquito nets.

Many panelists returned to the theme of collaboration and integration across governance structures and agencies. All participants seemed to agree that wildlife crime and its associated problems desperately need more attention, both political and public, and “support from all levels”, as Dr. Sue Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) summarized in a previous session. Without support, financial, political, and social, efforts to stem wildlife crime would fail.

Copyright Linda Holcombe

Hon. Edna Molewa Responds to Question from Audience on Legal Sale of Rhino Horn. Photo by Linda Holcombe.

The most interesting part of the session, however, was not on topics the panel could all agree on such as the need for better protection of rangers, community involvement, and political support. Responding to a question from the audience, Hon. Edna Molewa requested the question of legal sale of rhino horn be left “to lie in wait” as South Africa was doing all it could in its constant battle with poachers and saw such a thing as an absolute last resort. There was no further direct discussion of the question, although several panel members snuck their thoughts into their responses to other questions, such as John Scanlon discussing sanctions and the international ban on ivory trade (excepting pre-convention ivory and legal domestic markets). A cleverly framed question later shifted the question from rhino horn to ivory and we had the chance to peek into the global debate on using sustainable use and one-off sales to address wildlife crime and poaching. The audience response was even more telling than the individual panelists comments. Applause for Mary Rice’s assertion that regardless of philosophies, the trade has been stimulated by legal sales and Rosie Cooney’s caution against conclusions that stopping trade means stopping poaching revealed an almost equal split among attendees for each side of the issue.

This entry is entitled “Divided on Wildlife Crime” because one of my main takeaways from this dialogue was that the conservation community is as divided on legal sale of certain wildlife products as our class debates are at FES. Last spring, Dr. Amy Vedder organized three class sessions devoted to “knotty issues” where students brought tough, seemingly intractable conservation issues to the table for a 15min discussion. Among other wicked problems like reviving extinct species and ethical boundaries in conservation advertising, conservation hunting and its re-invested proceeds inspired lively debate among our group. It was very interesting to see world leaders in wildlife conservation grappling with the same issues we do in Kroon.

Copyright Linda Holcombe

Lee White delivers powerful presentation in Saturday’s double session about the need for concerted efforts and strong political support to effectively combat poaching. Photo by Linda Holcombe

The Promise of Sydney is being compiled as I write this. What is included in this document will theoretically guide our work on Protected Areas for the next 10yrs. I worked this summer with reformed poachers picking invasives from a national park, and came to FES from a criminology undergrad. In both wildlife and general crime there are many theories, many “solutions”, and few (though inspiring) success stories. At the end of our discussions and debates, however, Minister Molewa put it well: “the winner needs to be wildlife”.

The entire dialogue is available here.

A description of Saturday’s double session on wildlife crime can be found here.