Poverty and the wild beasts


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International donor agencies, such as the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) are trying to figure out what to do about wild animals. People back home like them, especially the warm and fuzzy ones. But the aid agencies’ main focus is reducing poverty, and they are still not sure how fuzzy animals fit in the picture.

Some aid officials wonder whether the poor really need wild animals. Others argue that projects that combine conservation and development cost a lot for each person the project benefits and they worry that more parks might marginalize the poor.

Such concerns recently led DFID to do a "Wildlife and Poverty Study". It concluded that some 150 million people still rely heavily on wildlife for meat or cash and that wildlife tourism might become an interesting option for marginal remote areas. Given that the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility spent $7.4 billion on conservation and biodiversity projects over the last ten years, the poor could also benefit from having more of such funds going to meet their needs.

DFID says most poverty reduction strategies fail to recognize that many rural people rely on bushmeat and that declining wildlife populations makes their lives more difficult. (On the other hand, wild animals also cause problems when they eat villagers’ crops or livestock, spread disease, or attack people.) Solving the bushmeat problem in countries with weak institutions will not be easy. So far efforts to find other sources of protein to substitute for wild animals haven’t had much success. People need to think more about the bushmeat issue from the villagers’ perspectives, and not just in terms of conservation. Working with logging companies, traditional forest dwellers, small farmers, and commercial hunters will each require separate approaches. In any case it will be a hard nut to crack.

With regards to tourism, the study finds that community based wildlife management projects have yielded mixed results in eastern and southern Africa. Some households and districts got more money and jobs, but at a high cost to donors. To get beyond that stage requires quick and simple mechanisms for establishing resource rights, clearer and more equitable benefit sharing arrangements, and building up local business skills.

In 1998, tourism was one of the five leading export sectors in two thirds of the world’s 49 least developed countries. But the tourism business is risky and outsiders usually get most of the benefits. Still, serious attempts to promote "pro-poor" wildlife tourism through community enterprises, serious partnerships between companies and communities, and efforts to up-grade the skills of local workers have just begun. No one knows if they will succeed.

The study points out many times that we still know surprisingly little about these issues from a livelihoods’ perspective, much less what to do about them. And financing research is not as popular as it once was. But this is one case it where it might just make sense.

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Further reading

To send comments or queries or if you have any problems with the DFID equity point, you can write the authors, Joanna Elliott and the Livestock and Wildlife Advisory Group, at mailto:J-Elliott@dfid.gov.uk