A large number of anti-poaching, conservation and management measures have been implemented to protect rhinos. None of these responses has achieved tangible results in lowering unnatural rhino deaths through illegal hunting in southern Africa. The international donor community, conservation NGOs and governments have disbursed millions of dollars to fight this illegal wildlife trade, and continue to do so.

We argue in this report that these measures are bound to fail, as they do not engage with the most important change agents in conservation: local people who live in or near protected areas and game reserves.

The report therefore aims to provide a better understanding of why African rural communities participate in wildlife economies, both legal and illegal, and how alternative, community-oriented strategies can help build a more resilient response to organized wildlife crime than has hitherto been achieved.

This report explores the challenges of illegal wildlife trafficking – in particular as it affects rhinos – and the related opportunities for wildlife protection and conservation in southern Africa today. The African rhino species are used as an example because of the high-profile nature of the illegal rhino-horn trade and the existence of transnational criminal networks engaged in it.

But the report’s findings and the design principles for community interventions to tackle the illegal wildlife economy are generalizable beyond the rhino. Many other wildlife species and plants are also illegally trafficked across the globe. The pangolin, for example, is now considered the most trafficked animal species in the world, and cycads the most threatened plant species.

So, why should we be protecting wildlife and, more specifically, the rhino? And how could alternative interventions have an impact on illegal wildlife trafficking?



Ending wildlife trafficking - Local communities as change agents

Download PDF
Share this article


Annette Hübschle-Finch

Dr Annette Hübschle is a senior researcher and postdoctoral fellow with the Global Risk Governance Programme at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and is affiliated with UCT’s Centre of Criminology. She is also a senior fellow of the Global Initiative, specializing in African transnational organized crime networks.

Annette graduated with a PhD in economic sociology and political economy from the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies. She was a senior researcher at the South African-based Institute for Security Studies. She has worked as a researcher, consultant and practitioner on organized crime, environmental security and broader African security issues.

Her current research focuses on the governance of safety and security, with a focus on illegal wildlife economies and environmental futures, as well as the interface between licit and illicit economies and criminal networks.

Read more