Engaging Communities in Wildlife Conservation

July 12, 2016


Source: WWF - Nepal

  • Local communities play a vital role in the fight against wildlife crime. However, engaging communities to support wildlife conservation activities is often challenging and in most cases, takes a long time.
  • The Global Wildlife Program (GWP) hosted a thematic workshop on “Engaging Communities in Wildlife Conservation” to support proposed national government projects.
  • The key takeaway was to build community institutions at the project site that represent community voices, follow democratic processes and support communities in acquiring project management skills so they can lead project activities.

In the fertile lowlands of the Terai Arc landscape in Nepal, communities in partnership with wildlife authorities have managed to eliminate poaching -- a commendable achievement in light of the increasing threats to wildlife due to poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

This landscape, home to rhinos and tigers is one of the most biologically important ecoregions in the world. It is also inhabited by eight million people comprising of indigenous “Tharu” and migrants from other parts of Nepal and India. Due to limited income opportunities, local communities are dependent on forests for their livelihoods. In order to sustain this landscape, it was imperative to find a balance between land for wildlife habitat and land to maintain livelihoods. This dilemma is common across Asia and Africa and where countries have been unable to find a solution, competing land uses and lack of integrated landscape planning have resulted in habitat degradation, loss of livelihoods and loss of biodiversity. 

By 2008, the Government of Nepal had given the community, management rights to one third of the country’s forests and shared 30-50 percent of revenues from all protected areas. The transfer of rights to communities and equitable benefit sharing was a catalyst for eliminating poaching in Nepal. This case study, presented by Mr. Shubash Lohani, WWF’s Director of Sustainable Landscapes was one of many other case studies from India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia presented by technical experts, panelists and government representatives at the GWP Kenya Conference 2016.

Her Excellency, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta opened the Conference with a positive note, “My hope, is that through this conference many more organizations will adopt such a model where local populations find avenues to contribute their insights, views and voices to the conservation conversation, and many more community led conservation initiatives emerge”. 


First Lady of Kenya, Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta delivering the Keynote Speech at the GWP Kenya Conference, May 18, 2016

The GWP is a $131 million grant program led by the World Bank in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other implementing agencies to address illegal wildlife trade across 19 countries in Asia and Africa (see map below). This program will increase the level of collaboration between national governments, development agencies and conservation partners to implement an integrated approach for biodiversity conservation, crime prevention and sustainable development.


Global Wildlife Program - Participating Country Projects

The GWP Kenya Conference brought together 15 government partners from nine of the 10 countries including Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, and Zambia to share experiences in engaging communities in conservation. In many instances, communities live in close proximity to wildlife and that comes at a cost in the form of human-wildlife conflict and the destabilizing effects of poaching (instability in the region and security threats). Where local communities bear the brunt of living with wildlife the incentive to conserve species is minimal. This further exacerbates poaching, revenge killing and encourages the conversion of land to more profitable land uses. The speakers at the Conference alluded to the fact that top-down, enforcement led approaches in such cases would not be sufficient and suggested that wildlife authorities partner with local communities to ensure that they support patrolling efforts in return for them benefitting from wildlife.

An important lesson learned was expressed by Dr. Brian Child from the GEF Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel advisory to the GWP and Dr. Mike Harrison, from the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya on the importance of building community institutions that represent the voice of the people. Further, it is important that communities acquire critical skills such as planning, budgeting, financial management, and monitoring to help them engage and lead project activities.

Representatives from GWP countries presented their ideas on how they would incorporate some of these lessons learned at the conference into their program design. Since countries have varied legal, policy frameworks, and diverse cultural norms, the proposed community engagement interventions within the GWP vary. For example, Cameroon, and Republic of Congo, will consider increasing incentives for stewardship by strengthening the relationship between wildlife authorities and local communities, and conducting social and ecological assessments to analyze the potential for community engagement approaches; while Mozambique will consider strengthening disincentives for illegal behavior by involving communities in law enforcement operations, and creating community managed conservancies.

The GWP Kenya Conference achieved its objective of bringing together project implementers and experts to share experiences and support the preparation efforts of the national projects to create stronger incentives for local communities to engage in wildlife conservation. The GWP will continue to deliver virtual knowledge exchanges and in-person events based on themes suggested by national partners.

To learn more about GWP knowledge exchanges, please contact Claudia Sobrevila, Global Wildlife Program Manager <csobrevila@worldbank.org>.