Livelihoods, Jobs, and the Illegal Wildlife Trade

The illegal wildlife trade is big business. Not including the illegal trade in timber, it exceeds $19 billion annually. Photo: ©WCS Vietnam.

By John G. Robinson

The illegal wildlife trade is big business. Not including the illegal trade in timber, it exceeds $19 billion annually. The trade is heavily capitalized and is part of the same criminal networks that are involved in drugs, weapons, and human trafficking.

The impacts on wildlife populations – including elephants, tigers, and fish species – are widely known. We are losing 35,000 African elephants a year. Tiger populations have been extirpated from Vietnam and Cambodia.

The illegal wildlife trade is big business. Not including the illegal trade in timber, it exceeds $19 billion annually. Photo: ©WCS Vietnam.

Yet the effect on human livelihoods, community integrity, income-generating jobs, sustainable development, and national economies is equally pervasive.

The illegal wildlife trade affects individuals directly. Trafficking networks often contract local people to poach. Even when poachers are from outside the community, local people are conscripted to help provide food, accommodation, information, and to act as guides. This incentivizes people to drop out of the formal economy and enter the illegal underground economy.

At the same time, this trade harms local people that depend on wildlife and fish for food. Rural people in the forests of tropical Africa consume over a million metric tons of wild meat annually. Roughly a billion people around the world who rely on fish as a primary protein source are threatened by illegal fishing that largely benefits consumers in wealthy countries.

In the coastal communities of the Indian Ocean, coral reef fish are a staple on the menu of millions of people, providing protein and other critical nutrients. Photo: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS.

The illegal wildlife trade also undercuts the livelihoods of many local peoples whose occupations depend on the presence of wildlife. Trophy hunting, for example, can provide jobs, cash, and development incentives for rural communities in Africa. Wildlife tourism —> Read More

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