The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants

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From Saturday 24th September, experts from all over the World will gather in Johannesburg for the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES CoP17 for short.

CITES is one of the core conventions that Darwin Initiative projects support, and we wanted to highlight this with our upcoming newsletter by inviting articles from projects working on illegal or legal trade of species. In advance of the full newsletter being published next week, we wanted to share a sneak peak!

The article below comes from Darwin project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to guide CITES policy, led by the University of Reading. Although the project finished in 2012, its legacy is ongoing. Find out more below!

At the upcoming CITES CoP, trends in the illegal ivory trade will be a key focus of discussions. These discussions will be based around a report using data on illegal ivory seizures collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). ETIS is one of two global monitoring systems for elephants that were mandated by CITES in 1997 and it is managed by TRAFFIC International (the other being MIKE – Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants).

Clearly, it is the results that are of most interest to the audience (of policy makers and NGOs) to help inform decision making about elephants but some work is needed to obtain these results. To turn ivory seizures data into useful information about trends in the illegal ivory trade requires quite a complex statistical analysis; the analysis is complex because of the inherent biases in seizures data. Specifically, countries differ in their ability to make and report seizures – so an increase in seizures might be because of increased law enforcement, or countries getting better at reporting their seizures to ETIS, not because the illegal ivory trade is increasing. Thus, strategies for accounting for differences in the ability of countries to make and report seizures must be accounted for when trying to describe the trends in the trade.

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Three elephants eating at Mana Pools in Zimbabawe, Credit: Fiona Underwood

In 2009, there were no off-the-shelf statistical methods for analyzing these data and so some analyses were ad-hoc without a coherent and robust framework. This is a major challenge for many monitoring programmes. It is often relatively easy to obtain resources to collect data, including training of those collecting data and building database to store the data. In comparison, it can be much harder to obtain funding to help turn this data into usable information for policy makers.

One component of Darwin Initiative Project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to Guide CITES Policy”, which ran from 2009 – 2012, was to develop a methodological framework for making sense of the ETIS data. This project was a collaboration between statisticians, then at the University of Reading, and TRAFFIC International. A further project aim was to translate these statistically complex findings into simple language and concepts that could be communicated to a non-technical decision-making audience. Two indicators were developed (Transactions Index and Weights Index).

This framework is now being used routinely to produce indicators of the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making by CITES and others, on elephants. It was first used to produce indicators of the ivory trade for the previous CoP in 2013 using data from 1996 – 2011. Since then the methodology has been used to update these trends every year and most recently for the upcoming CoP. Such analyses have provided key pieces of information for the development of National Ivory Action Plans for eight CITES Parties and will continue to be useful in monitoring their progress.

by Dr. Fiona Underwood, Project Leader


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New Darwin Projects – Round 22 – Part 2

Our last blog explored two of our fascinating new Darwin projects, one working on micro-credit schemes for guinea-pig husbandry in DRC which aims to reduce the pressures of bushmeat hunting in DRC, and another working to address Cameroon’s status as an illegal wildlife trade hub.

This time, I’m going to introduce two more projects, each with yet another approach!

Ex-situ conservation and capacity building

Ex-situ conservation is the conservation of a species outside of its natural habitat – either in a wild area outside of its normal range or in an artificial environment, such as a zoo or laboratory. It can often be viewed as a safeguard where the natural population, and/or its genetic diversity is at high risk from threats such as over-exploitation, climate change, invasive species, or disease. But what happens when this “insurance”, or ex-situ, population is also at risk? In Papua New Guinea, a new lethal plant disease called Bogia syndrome disease threatens the diversity of coconut plants. Coconut is a hugely important livelihood crop across the world, and Papua New Guinea’s International Coconut Genebank is threatened by this new disease. Darwin project 23-008Upgrading and broadening the new South-Pacific International Coconut Genebank”, led by Bioversity International, will support plans to relocate the genebank to new and secure sites in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa. The project will also focus on building the capacity of these institutions. It will work to train scientists in genetic resource conservation, and also to identify emerging threats for the different types of coconut in different areas so that their conservation can be targeted in coming years.

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Women selling coconuts in Papua New Guinea, Credit P. Mathur/Bioversity International via https://creativecommons/org/licenses/by-nc/nd/2.0/

Partnerships between government, private sector and indigenous groups to meet national goals.

Partnerships are a crucial aspect of all Darwin projects and can ensure a project’s successes outlive the length of the project. A new BirdLife International project, 23-016Yerba mate – a market-driven model for conserving Paraguay’s Atlantic Forest” aims to achieve great things, building upon strong partnerships between key stakeholders in Paraguay.

The Atlantic Forest, although perhaps less well known that the Amazonian rainforest, is a global biodiversity hotspot and yet less than 10% of its original area remains. In Paraguay, most Atlantic Forest is surrounded by buffer zones which are legally inhabited by indigenous groups and campesino, or farming, communities. Extreme poverty in these groups, combined with lack of access to markets or technical skills, leads to food insecurity and encroachment into the reserve for agricultural clearance. Through over 15 years of experience of working with key stakeholders in the area, BirdLife and partners Guyra Paraguay have identified some potential solutions to this challenge. This project aims to establish organic shade-grown yerba mate, used to make hugely popular drink maté tea, to provide alternative income sources for Atlantic Forest buffer-zone communities whilst also protecting the forest’s biodiversity.

This project shows how important a full understanding of local situation is crucial for good project design, and how appropriate solutions and market-based approaches can incentivize communities to conserve their country’s biodiversity. Ultimately, the project hopes to integrate shade-grown yerba mate into long-term conservation strategies nationwide to help Paraguay meet its National Development Strategy and National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan.

 


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New Darwin Projects – Round 22 – Part 1

The results of the 22nd round of Darwin Initiative funding has just been announced, and we are happy to introduce this year’s 34 new Darwin Main projects 1 Fellowship and 6 Scoping Awards.

Yet again, Darwin is funding a fascinating range of projects, each of which uses different but integrated approaches in order to address both poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. This is something Darwin projects excel at, as highlighted in a recent information note – “Understanding Poverty and Biodiversity Links”. Below, and over the next couple of blogs, I will explore just a small number of new projects and the different approaches they plan to use.

Alternative livelihoods and micro-finance schemes

23-015Guinea pigs as guinea pigs, reducing bushmeat hunting while improving communities wellbeing” is a new Wildlife Conservation Society project, which will work near the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although one of the most biodiversity rich protected areas in Africa, and home to iconic and highly threatened species such as Grauer’s gorilla – a species endemic to mountainous forests in eastern DRC – bushmeat hunting around KBNP is a very serious threat to park’s wildlife.

Grauer's gorilla, KBNP DRC Joe McKenna creative commons 2.0 licence

Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Regional insecurity and historical war mean that rural communities in DRC do not have sufficient access to agricultural or livestock production, leading to often severe cases of malnutrition. Bushmeat hunting often provides a much-needed source of protein. This project’s goal is to reduce the pressures of bushmeat hunting whilst simultaneously increasing the quality of the rural poor living near KBNP.

It aims to do this by working with community members to raise awareness of biodiversity values, and provide access to micro-credit schemes and training in cavy, or guinea pig, husbandry. Although not perhaps to the appetite of the British public, cavy husbandry is an ideal livelihood option for poor households in this area as it has low start-up and upkeep costs, and guinea pigs can provide much need protein in deficient diets, as well as attracting high market prices. In doing so, this project aims to directly impact 600 poor households in rural DRC.

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Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tackling illegal wildlife trade and trafficking

A previous Darwin blog touched on the important differences between legal and illegal wildlife trade, and highlighted that as well as being a criminal industry worth billions of pounds, illegal wildlife trade also damages local communities and undermines sustainable development and the security of local communities.

A new ZSL project 23-001Strengthening Cameroon’s capacity to monitor and reduce illegal wildlife trafficking” aims to address Cameroon’s status as an IWT hub. The country currently acts as both a source of illegally poached wildlife as well as a transit route for trafficked wildlife from Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon. Project interventions intend to monitor trade routes, improve site-based protection and increase enforcement capacity using an integrated approach. As a result, enforcement agencies will be better able to apply wildlife laws and increase protection of species such as the black-bellied, white-bellied and giant pangolins. In addition the project hopes to help Cameroon meet its international commitments and empower communities by strengthening ownership of their natural resources.


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Protected areas and ecotourism: who’s paying?

“Why do we have to pay so much more than the locals to get into the park – it isn’t fair!” a friend of mine once commented en route to a Kenyan National Park. The same could have been said for most national parks across the continent, or even worldwide.

In my mind, the logic is simple and transparent: international visitors, for the most part, have the money to pay for a higher-priced ticket whereas nationals and residents, in the majority of cases, may not. But why are these fees necessary? And where does this money go?

Ecotourism is one solution to the pervasive problem that, in developing countries worldwide, little government financing goes towards the operational costs of protected areas. Tighe Geoghegan, a recognized expert in participatory management and protected areas, said that from her experience of working with protected areas in the Caribbean:

“While the political will to establish protected areas may be strong, the will to budget for their management has shown itself to be very weak, in the face of urgent national priorities and continuous fiscal crisis”

Tighe Geoghegan 1998

In the 1990’s Government funding to protected areas globally equated to only about 24% of the estimated US$17 billion required for proper maintenance. The Durban Action Plan, launched in 2004, was an attempt to change this. However there is still a major gap in government finances for protected areas.

There are many potential solutions to this problem, such as private sector financing (e.g. through biodiversity offsetting) and private donations, to fund operational costs of parks where government finances fall short. But ecotourism is commonly viewed as a more sustainable means to make up this shortfall, whilst also involving the local community. But is it that simple?

Local communities are often negatively impacted by protected area creation and management. The eviction and exclusion of local residents in the name of conservation often results in negative perceptions of protected areas, reinforced by increased incidence of human wildlife conflict which further impact upon the well-being of local residents.

Where ecotourism initiatives are in place locals often experience negligible increases in tourism-related livelihoods benefits, further fueling local feelings of resentment. These negative perceptions of the benefits of protected areas are often accompanied by poor enforcement of regulations at the local level. For example, a study by Bennet and Dearden in 2014 discovered managers in Marine Protected Areas in Thailand often allowed local fisherman to fish, even in no-catch areas. Without proper protection, the scope of these protected areas for conserving the very species they were established to protect is jeopardised and, with the inevitable loss of biodiversity that results from a poorly managed protected area, the potential for ecotourism will also diminish.

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Credit: Rod Waddington via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Credit: Rod Waddington via https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

 

The problem in many of these cases is the disengagement of the local communities – something that Darwin Initiative Project 19-013 is trying to address. “Research to policy – building capacity for conservation through poverty alleviation” has been working with communities surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to ensure that communities receive direct benefit from ecotourism. A number of initiatives have been developed to this end, including increasing the proportion of money international visitors pay to visit the park’s renowned population of critically endangered mountain gorillas, and ensuring more jobs are filled by local groups. The project has made a particular effort to focus on the fairer distribution of jobs to include more marginalised groups and a more equitable gender balance.

Another project, 14-046 “Sustainable tourism supporting species conservation in the Srepok Wilderness, Cambodia”, dealt with similar issues. The project was focused on Srepok Wilderness Area (SWA) of Mondulkiri Protected Forest which, like all protected areas in Cambodia, receives little government financing. Its operational costs are therefore dependent on less predictable and often unsustainable international financing sources. Over-harvesting of wildlife and habitat loss resulted in serious declines in species populations within the park, putting at risk the survival of the park and its ability to sustain the key threatened species within its borders, as well as the human communities reliant upon it. The project worked to establish better designation of protected areas within the SWA and improve the monitoring of poaching and species populations within the park by communities and enforcement agencies, meaning that low-impact but high-profit tourism is now a feasible long-term solution.

Critically endangered vultures feeding at a ‘vulture restaurant’ set up to assess their numbers. Credit J P Delphal WWF Cambodia

Critically endangered vultures feeding at a ‘vulture restaurant’ set up to assess their numbers. Credit J P Delphal WWF Cambodia

 

Conservation worldwide is chronically underfunded and ecotourism is one approach to address this shortfall. As the Darwin projects discussed above demonstrate, ecotourism interventions that take into account local needs and engage communities in conservation limit exacerbating traditional problems faced by protected areas. If ecotourism is a viable alternative to practices which might lead to over exploitation of natural resources within national parks, then more should be done to make sure communities see this benefit (through initiatives such as Darwin project 20-010, the “Social Assessment of Protected Areas”) and, perhaps more importantly, make this process more transparent for international visitors, on whom ecotourism depends. Then perhaps, rather than asking “why are we paying so much” they’ll be asking “what more can we do?”