The World Bank, as lead agency for the Global Wildlife Program (GWP) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in partnership with the Government of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), and with support from UNDP and IUCN, co-hosted the 2023 annual conference. The conference was the first to bring together GWP projects across GEF-6, GEF-7, and GEF-8 phases.
The conference included two parts: (i) in Bangkok from 27-29 November with panel sessions, thematic discussions and roundtables, and (ii) a field visit to Khao Yai – Dong Phayayen Forest Complex from 29 November – 1 December.
The objectives of the conference were to bring together GWP project teams, government representatives, and partners to:
1) Share experiences and reflections on GWP project progress and impacts;
2) Facilitate knowledge exchange on challenges and opportunities related to wildlife conservation for development themes, and identify priority technical needs to strengthen collaboration and learning across the GWP;
3) Promote networking opportunities between project teams to support peer-to-peer learning, including through introduction of the new GEF-8 countries.
Over 140 participants joined including government focal points and project managers from 29 GWP participating countries, Thailand government officials and project partners, GEF Agency and GWP Program Steering Committee partners, external speakers, and the GWP coordination team at the World Bank.
The conference included a mix of interactive thematic discussions, breakout groups, panel discussions, and networking opportunities that enabled GWP project teams to share their challenges, learn about new solutions and offer ideas for collaboration and partnerships.
The conference was opened by the Thailand Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) Deputy Permanent Secretary, Chayanan Pakdeejit, who provided remarks on wildlife conservation priorities and successes under a recently completed GWP illegal wildlife trade project. The opening also included remarks from Dr. Adriana Moreira, GWP coordinator at GEF Secretariat, who emphasized the importance of partnerships for conservation and development.
As the GWP has expanded to include GEF-8 projects, many sessions in the conference focused on integrating the new projects into the GWP knowledge platform and promoting the GWP objective of peer-to-peer learning and exchange. A highlight was the “GWP Twinning” session where projects were paired from different countries in GEF-6 and GEF-7 to share commonalities and differences in their approaches to conservation. The GWP now includes 38 countries and experiences from one country can offer solutions or best practices for another. The twinning session was a way to draw out these lessons. For example, the projects in Belize and Kenya – ,although focused on different aspects with the former looking at jaguar conservation and the latter looking at community conservation – had common activities on stakeholder engagement and capacity building where they could learn from one another. Indonesia and Tanzania were paired, leading to the realization that both projects are working on establishing operations control centers to combat illegal wildlife trade and would like to learn from each other about developing centralized wildlife crime databases. Other ‘twins’ also discussed what they could do together post-conference to stay in touch and help each other by sharing experiences.
One focus of the annual conference is to understand the knowledge needs and priorities of projects. The coordination team at the World Bank presented on the opportunities provided by the GWP knowledge platform and shared the results of the 2023 knowledge needs survey. Projects were also introduced to levers of change, i.e., policy, innovation, data, capacity building, finance and partnerships as a means of understanding how projects could transform knowledge through the platform into action. Projects shared their vision and challenges that need to be addressed in order to create long lasting impact in their project sites and countries.
Levers of change interactive session with project representatives from Madagascar, Rinah Razafindrabe, Director General, and Rado Andrianirin Rakotomanana, Project Manager; Krishna Kumar, National Project Officer, India SECURE.
On Day 2 of the conference, a panel discussion on wildlife law enforcement moderated by Jenna Dawson-Faber, Asia-Pacific coordinator, Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment, UNODC with panelists from Ecuador, Kenya, Malaysia and WCS. Sustained capacity building at different levels and across departments was seen as key, as was building trust across institutions and countries. The same day also emphasized partnerships to support conservation and development. Fifteen partners (ADB, CITES Secretariat, CMS Secretariat, IUCN, RECOFTC, USAID, UNDP, UNEP, UNODC, WCS, WildLabs, WildAid, WWF, Wildlife Justice Commission, and Zoological Society of London for URSA) hosted roundtables that promoted tools, practices and resources. Participants had a chance to learn about these new initiatives and discuss potential opportunities to collaborate.
(left to right) Participants listening to partners share their tools and services. Stephanie O’Donnell, Executive Manager, Wildlabs presented on their technology platform and Sandra Petrone, WWF presented on approaches to manage human-wildlife conflict and promote coexistence.
The GWP conference also hosted the 2023 UN-convened Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards ceremony, which recognizes standout efforts in combating transboundary environmental crime and included, for the first time, an award on Africa-Asia collaboration in combating wildlife crime.
On Day 3, the final day in Bangkok, participants chose between four breakout groups: (i) conservation livelihoods, (ii) zoonotic spillover risks and One Health, (iii) behavior change, and (iv) technology and wildlife forensics. The breakouts had a mix of presentations from experts, case studies and examples from government representatives, and feedback from participants on their priority technical needs and challenges. For example, in the conservation livelihoods panel, Apollinaris Apollonius Kannyinga, Deputy Director, North East Regions, Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, Namibia emphasized the importance of a legal and regulatory framework in underpinning community benefits and conservancies while stating that one of the biggest challenges in engaging communities is around skills development. There were also case study examples from Bhutan, Colombia and Ethiopia on additional livelihoods that can support community-based conservation.
The technology breakout focused on two case studies, one from Thailand presented by Dr. Kanita Ouitavon, Wildlife Forensics Laboratory Center, DNP, Thailand on forensics as a tool to combat illegal wildlife trade, and the other from Krishna Kumar from India on how mobile apps have streamlined the handling of large volumes of data for better reporting and resolution of human-wildlife conflict. The zoonotic spillover session facilitated by WCS discussed lessons from COVID-19 and priorities to effectively manage zoonotic spillover risk interfaces. Participants noted a need for support to develop standard operating procedures and policies on biosecurity for front line officers, as well as basic information on which species carry what diseases.
Finally, a behavior change clinic facilitated by TRAFFIC allowed a deep dive into how projects can apply social and behavior change approaches to wildlife conservation with examples from Bhutan, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand and Uganda. Participants discussed opportunities to use behavior change approaches, the use of indicators and benchmarks and highlighted a need for more guidance on how to evaluate behavior change impacts.
This was followed by a session on the sustainability of GWP impact and the importance of making sure that sustainability is included in the design of projects. This will be an important topic moving forward since many projects that are coming to a close are looking for ways of continuing the impact that has been created.
On November 30 and December 1, participants traveled to the World Heritage-listed Khao Yai National Park and adjacent Thap Lan National Park for a field trip where Thailand’s DNP staff showcased efforts on tiger conservation and efforts to manage human-wildlife conflict in adjacent communities.
Following the presentations, participants had a chance to experience Khao Yai National Park through outdoor activities such as making a saltlick and hiking to a waterfall.
At Thap Lan National Park, participants heard from the superintendent on conservation efforts and experienced an interactive demonstration of SMART patrolling provided by WCS.
Participants at Thap Lan National Park.
The 2023 annual conference helped new GEF-8 countries integrate into the GWP community, facilitated connections between project team members, and helped identify priority knowledge and technical needs for the GWP. The GWP coordination team will incorporate the insights shared by participants in upcoming GWP activities and continue to build on the enthusiasm generated throughout the conference.