Rewards or punishment? CIFOR responds to articles on poaching and illegal trade

Uncontrolled poaching and illegal trade, often to supply the demands of a few, will push even more species to the brink of extinction. Although conservation practitioners recognize that long-term solutions must revolve around altering human behaviours, public education and enforcement of wildlife-related laws, there is still much discussion about the effectiveness of the carrot (rewards) and/or the stick (punishment).

A recent trio of papers (Challender and Macmillan 2014a, 2014b; Phelps et al. 2014) on poaching of high-value wildlife makes very compelling reading for anyone interested in this matter. In the main paper published in Conservation Letters this month, Challender and Macmillan argue that although intensifying enforcement effort is crucial, this will prove inadequate because the drivers of poaching and trade, financial incentives and criminal involvement overpower enforcement of trade controls. These authors, arguably proponents of the ‘carrot’ approach, suggest that interventions need to go beyond regulation and more towards incentivizing and building capacity among local communities to conserve wildlife.

A response to the Challender and Macmillan paper by Jacob Phelps from CIFOR and others (Phelps et al. 2014) presents a sobering counterpoint. Phelps et al. agree that consumer behaviour modification is important, but they believe that mainstreaming ‘soft’ strategies to conserve high-value wildlife will not work. Hence, even if incentives such as wildlife farming are successful (and there is an interesting debate about this in these papers), whether empowered communities could successfully counter organized criminal poaching of high-value species is considered by Phelps et al. (2014), as improbable.

The take-home message from these papers is that economic models can be useful heuristic tools, as Phelps et al. (2014) argue, to assist in streamlining market and incentive-based interventions.  But, solutions are fare more complicated in practice.

Challender DWS and MacMillan DC. 2014a. Poaching is more than an enforcement problem. Conservation Letters 7(5):484-494.
Challender DWS and MacMillan DC. 2014b. Transforming Wildlife Trade Interventions: Reply to Phelps et al. Conservation Letters 7(5):497–498.
Phelps J, Shepherd CR, Reeve R, Niissalo MA and Webb EL. 2014. No easy alternatives to conservation enforcement: response to Challender and Macmillan. Conservation Letters 7(5)495–496.

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