The market for wild animals, both illegal and endangered, has changed significantly in recent years. It is essential that the responses needed to contain escalating demand evolve in answer to the new tactics of the wildlife traffickers.
In the last few decades many large conservation bodies have accepted, to some degree, the commoditisation of wildlife with the aim to reduce human-wildlife conflict. With the rapid acceleration of wealth in Asia the demand for many of these ‘products’ has spiralled out of control to the point where there is a real chance of iconic species such as rhinos, tigers, elephants and lions being driven to extinction in the wild on our watch.
The current skills and experience of the large conservation bodies are looking less relevant in addressing and containing this development. But the question is: Do they see this and, if they do, are they willing to be open to the skills development and culture change required?
About 12 months ago a long-term trustee for one major conservation organisation said to me ‘Conservationists don’t make good businessmen and businessmen don’t make good conservationists, but when you can get the two working together you can make change.’ Returning from South Africa in the last 24 hours I had to put some thoughts on to paper. Certainly the meetings with wonderful, passionate, clever people reconfirmed the observations of the last 2 years; I would estimate less than 5% of people who are working, thinking, donating and caring about wildlife are thinking strategically about problem solving some imminent and critical issues.
The conservation sector might be stereotypically described as looking like ‘analytical, process rather than results driven, arrogant, nit-picky academics’ while the wildlife traffickers could be described as looking more like ‘market savvy, intuitive, ruthless, nimble entrepreneurs’.
The traffickers have realised how comparably safe it is to get rich from dealing in wildlife. As a result they are now moving beyond simply exploiting the existing demand for animal products such as rhino horn and ivory. Given how easy and lucrative it is to fill the demand for animal products compared to their other business, such as human, arms and drug trafficking, they are likely to be designing and manufacturing new markets such as the emerging one for Giraffe bones.
What is frightening is that they won’t stop turning living beings into money and they know the populations of iconic animals are dropping rapidly. Instead, they will be thinking up new hooks for the aspirational, gullible buyers in Asia which target the more abundant spices. What ‘miracle cure’ do you think they will manage to attribute to the zebra, wildebeest, buffalo or warthog!? So I go back to the question, does the conservation sector have the skills to respond? If not, how quickly can it catch up?
As donors we have to take some blame for this. We have become neurotic about the fear of being ripped off by poorly managed NGO’s that we question how every dollar is spent. As donors we have the right to ask NGO’s to provide transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in spending the funds given. Because donations are often given with instructions that they must be spend on a specific project this appears to have resulted in the underfunding of professional development in the not-for-profit sector for quite some time. Yes employees can do research, present and go to conferences and write academic papers. This has honed their specialisation and from what I’ve seen, from over 15 years of executive coaching, is that specialists rarely make good problem solvers. Additional professional development is required so the conservation sector can respond in both a scientific and commercial way to the current wildlife poaching issues.
If we look at the stakeholders in wildlife trafficking, we find groups that are evolving rapidly and groups that are not changing behaviour as yet: