Importance of rural communities on the agenda
During a debate on the issue at CITES CoP17, community representatives from Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe spoke of their community experiences and challenges in living with wildlife, as well as the socio-economic benefits that they derive from wildlife.
IUCN, TRAFFIC and WWF added their voice to the call for greater participation on the part of affected communities to help improve CITES‘ effectiveness and address the livelihood and socio-economic impacts of CITES decisions.
“We are committed to enhancing the role and participation of the indigenous peoples and local communities that live with and/or depend on wildlife in decisions around their conservation and sustainable use,” they said citing a large and growing body of evidence around the importance of communities being engaged in responses to illegal wildlife trade.
The NGOs called for a structured process to enhance the voices and perspectives of these communities in analysis and decision-making. A working group was set up to develop a recommendation that could be taken to standing committee, based on the views expressed by the Parties.
Commenting on this shift in emphasis, Theressa Frantz, head of the environmental programme at WWF South Africa, said: “Many protected areas in the world share borders with communities which co-exist with wildlife. While we recognise that people and States are the best protectors of their own wild plants and animals, the need for communities to be supported in sustainable use and conservation of these natural resources is critical.
“Natural resource use includes, amongst others, the use of trees for firewood and shelter, plants for medicine, and wildlife for food, hunting trophies as well as ecotourism. Communities that live with and/or depend on wildlife therefore have an enormous role to play as custodians of wildlife. The loss of wildlife as a result of poaching, is therefore not just the loss of wildlife but also the loss of livelihoods and income to communities. For these reasons, we are pleased to note that CITES is considering the role that communities play in decision making for conservation and sustainable use of wildlife.”