Infrastructure and Guns May Curb Wildlife Trafficking

As I discussed in my previous blog post, the US attempts to curb wildlife tracking through foreign assistance. Specifically, FWS provides $10 million annually to enhance and support wildlife conservation throughout Africa and Asia.  The funds support essential wildlife protection activities in 25 African countries, including improving capacity to carry out investigations and prosecutions of wildlife crime, developing effective park law enforcement and management to deter illegal hunting, improving management of key wildlife species and protected areas, and developing community management schemes. Additionally, USAID invests $70 million a year in African biodiversity conservation.  These investments provide support for community-based approaches to natural resources management in Africa, including community-scouting and ranger programs.

Through my research and a March 2015 journey to Tanzania, where I met with the ecotourism industry leaders in northern Tanzania, I have concluded that the United States can more appropriately address wildlife tracking by funneling a larger percentage of the $80 million a year into two ongoing efforts. The first is infrastructure. Sufficient infrastructure is necessary for a country to sustain an ecotourism industry. Tourists require airlines, airports, roads, amenities, hotels and utilities. A developing country can lose potential revenue by not investing in ecotourism infrastructure.

Unreliable or inadequate infrastructure can deter tourists from visiting a country. For example, if airports that service ecotourism sites are undersized or expensive a country and community may lose potential revenue as tourists take their money to other more accessible and affordable ecotourism locations. Additionally, if a country lacks passable and dependable roads, tourists may be unable to consistently access ecotourism destinations, causing a loss of revenue to local communities. The United States Government (USG) in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility, Africa Legal Support Facility, or Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Committee can support developing countries in the construction and expansion of dependable and adequate infrastructure. USG support could focus on encouraging developing countries to identify, to examine, and if necessary, to improve key infrastructure most used by tourists. Specifically, the USG could fund infrastructure construction projects or provide developing countries with the equipment and expertise necessary to undertake ecotourism infrastructure construction and expansion. However, infrastructure programs can be multi million or billion dollar projects. Short of fully funding these costly projects, the USG could collaborate with international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, Multilateral Investment Fund, International Monetary Fund, or EXIM Bank to raise credit, support export credits, establish equity funds, or identify investors. Additionally, the USG could support these projects by providing construction equipment or technical expertise to support the planning and execution of infrastructure maintenance and expansion.

Supporting developing countries in the maintenance of significant ecotourism infrastructure may ensure the developing country continues to realize the revenue generated by their ecotourism industry. By supporting the construction and expansion of ecotourism infrastructure, the USG may encourage a developing country to enlarge their ecotourism industry and increase the revenue generated through ecotourism as well. Additionally, USG investment in a developing country’s infrastructure may create jobs for local communities and increase the standard of living for those served by the infrastructure.

Nonetheless, while this option may enhance the ecotourism industry, it may also adversely affect ecosystems. Expanding ecotourism infrastructure may increase the number of tourists that visit ecotourism sites. The increased traffic that accompanies more efficient infrastructure may pose a threat to the local wildlife and the ecotourism attractions themselves. The United Nations identifies increased tourism as a significant threat to ecosystems and natural resources. To combat these threats, countries may invest in sustainable ecotourism and limit the pace of their ecotourism industry’s expansion.

The second way the United States can effectively combat wildlife trafficking is by funding anti-poaching efforts. Anti-poachers require equipment and vehicles to locate, track, and apprehend wildlife traffickers and poachers. These anti-poaching units, rangers and volunteers are often underfunded, outmanned and outgunned by criminals. Wildlife trafficking and poaching is a lucrative business that attracts nefarious individuals who are willing to murder in their pursuit of wildlife body parts. The poaching of wildlife has the potential to detract from a country’s ecotourism industry by shrinking the population of charismatic mega-fauna available to tourists. Additionally, poaching may compromise the security of a region and dissuade tourists from visiting ecotourist attractions that are subject to the dangers of poaching. This policy option also directly supports President Obama’s first strategic priority (strengthen enforcement) to combat wildlife trafficking, as outlined in the 2015 “National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking”.

Privately donated anti-poaching equipment

Privately donated anti-poaching equipment

Many of these anti-poaching organizations operate as semi-militarized units which attempt to dissuade and confront wildlife traffickers. However, these anti-poaching units are often understaffed and underequipped. These anti-poaching units require basic gear that includes:

  • Permanent facilities
  • Radios to communicate with one another
  • GPS devices to locate wildlife, carcasses and poachers
  • Digital cameras to document evidence
  • Night vision goggles
  • Vehicles to pursue and locate wildlife and poachers
  • Advanced small-arms to combat poachers who employ military grade firearms
  • Adequate salaries to attract capable and trustworthy individuals

The USG can support anti-poaching efforts by providing these units with the equipment necessary to effectively dissuade and combat poaching. Additionally, the USG can support this effort by providing tracking, weapons, and technological training to anti-poaching units. USG provided anti-poaching equipment might enhance a country’s anti-poaching capacity, thereby safeguarding the future of charismatic mega fauna and a country’s ecotourism industry. USG provided equipment may also enable rangers and anti-poaching units to stabilize regions, to minimize poaching, and to promote the safety of ecotourists. This enhanced safety may encourage more ecotourists to visit the region. However, donors should be aware that weapons and training provided to non-military units in developing countries may end up in nefarious actor’s hands. USG anti-poaching equipment may be used to aid wildlife trafficking, because poachers and wildlife traffickers often infiltrate anti-poaching units. Nonetheless, this likely constitutes a small percentage of all donated anti-poaching equipment.

While the USG undertakes numerous efforts and programs to stem wildlife tracking, I believe the two most effective ways to spend US taxpayer generated foreign assistance are enhancing tourism infrastructure and directly combatting poaching. These two efforts serve to increase a countries’ potential to develop economically by upgrading infrastructure while preserving charismatic megafauna by directly combatting poaching through deterrence and armed interdiction.

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