Building Capacity For Pro-Poor Responses To Wildlife Crime In Uganda

Period: April 2014 to March 2017

Funder: International Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund

Researchers: Henry Travers, Julia Baker, E.J. Milner-Gulland

Collaborators: International Institute of Environment and Development, Wildlife Conservation Society Uganda Program, Uganda Wildlife Authority


Project overview

Illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade is a major and growing threat to global biodiversity. Ivory poaching caused a 60% decline in elephant numbers between 2009 and 2014, and China's pangolin population has declined by an estimated 94% since the 1960s, due to trade for consumption. Estimated to be worth up to $10 billion annually, wildlife trade is one of the highest value illicit trade sectors in the world. In order to control the illegal international wildlife trade, we urgently need to improve our understanding of its drivers and characteristics. There is a particular lack of understanding of the motivations of wildlife product consumers, and how to intervene to change their behaviour. The rise of the internet as a trade channel for illegal goods, including wildlife, changes the way trade is conducted, but there is little understanding of its role at the moment. There is an urgent need for novel, integrated research so that the funding and effort involved in large-scale policy action are not wasted.

International wildlife crime has moved to the top of the conservation and development agenda following the recent surge in illegal poaching and trafficking of wildlife. But calls for law enforcement to combat the involvement of criminal syndicates and militia risk alienating rural communities. How can responses be more pro-poor? This project aimed to build capacity for pro-poor responses in Uganda through learning more about the interactions between wildlife crime and poverty.

elephant tusk
The rate of elephant poaching to supply the illegal ivory trade has increased significantly in recent years (photo credit: Tiziana Zoccheddu).

Wildlife crime has been identified as a key issue worldwide, with devastating consequences for both biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. International wildlife crime can cause reduced security and a loss of critical resources for poor people and for national economic development.

In February 2014, the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, held in London, brought together NGOs and world leaders from more than 40 nations to discuss solutions to the illegal wildlife trade, and concluded with the London Declaration. Following the conference, world leaders met separately to consider the role of governments in tackling the illegal wildlife trade – the high level meeting summary and the London Declaration detail proposed action in three areas: law enforcement; demand reduction; and sustainable alternative livelihoods.

Crucially, responses to wildlife crime can have an adverse impact on the livelihoods of poor people. Wildlife crime takes many forms – from international organised crime to local level incursions into protected areas to collect resources for subsistence livelihood needs. A focus on law enforcement risks disproportionally persecuting minor actors, and alienating poor people from accessing resources critical for their livelihoods and subsistence needs.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are working closely together on these issues and acknowledge that more evidence is needed on the livelihood impacts of wildlife crime and its enforcement. For example, CITES Resolution 16.6 (2013) recognises the potential adverse impact of their CITES listings on the livelihoods of poor people and in response encourages the involvement of rural communities in developing policy for wildlife crime.

This project sought to answer key questions regarding the drivers of wildlife crime in Uganda and the most appropriate policy response to reduce wildlife crime whilst contributing to poverty alleviation. Focussing on Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks, we applied innovative indirect questioning methods to determine profiles of individuals involved and their motivations for involvement. We also used a combination of behavioural economics and more qualitative scenario approaches to predict future responses to alternative policy options, focussing specifically on poorer households to ensure their priorities and concerns were heard.

The ultimate project goal of the project was to ensure policy makers have the tools and capacity to understand the interactions between wildlife crime, biodiversity and poverty so they are more able to target interventions that are pro-poor and accrue long-term benefits for rural communities. With this in mind, we assisted in the development of community based action plans to combat wildlife crime at park level for both Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park. The project’s outputs were also developed to be important beyond Uganda, providing relevant lessons internationally for those conservation managers, development practitioners and policy makers facing similar challenges to tackle the drivers of wildlife crime while improving the livelihoods of the rural poor.


Open data policy

All data and code used in this project are available on request.



Travers, H., Mwedde, G., Archer, L., Roe, D., Plumptre, A., Baker, J., Rwetsiba, A. & Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2017) Taking action against wildlife crime in Uganda. IIED, London.

Mwedde, G., Baker, J. & Travers, H. (2017) What do wildlife scout programmemes need to succeed? A review of wildlife scout programmemes in Uganda. IIED, London.

Harrison, M., Roe, D., Baker, J., Mwedde, G., Travers, H., Plumptre, A., Rwetsiba, A. & Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2015) Wildlife Crime: a review of the evidence on drivers and impacts in Uganda. IIED, London.

Travers, H., Roe, D., Plumptre, A., Baker, J., Rwetsiba, A. & Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2016) Nature’s stewards: how local buy-in can help tackle wildlife crime in Uganda. Briefing Paper. IIED, London.

Archer, L. (2015) Conservation conversations: Understanding the potential impacts of future conservation policy interventions in Uganda. MSc Thesis.

Mwedde, G. (2015) Cutting the roots of wildlife crime: Local people’s preferences for wildlife crime reduction policies. MSc Thesis.


Presentations from Research Workshop held in Kampala, June 2016:

Project overview by Dilys Roe

National level analysis by Julia Baker

National crime database by Andrew Plumptre

Current state of wildlife crime by Henry Travers

An assessment of potential interventions to combat wildlife crime by Geoffrey Mwedde

Recommendations for conservation in Uganda by Henry Travers

Responses to wildlife crime: a comparison with wider theory by Dilys Roe