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The elephant in the room: sustainable use in the illegal wildlife trade debate

Illegal transnational wildlife trade is currently attracting considerable international attention. This is partly due to conservation concerns but also to suggestions of links with organised crime and militant groups. The attention afforded to this issue is much needed and the various international initiatives that have emerged rightly take a multi-faceted approach. But they tend to emphasise law enforcement and demand reduction, with considerably less focus on effective incentives for community-based and private sector management. In particular, the role of sustainable use as a tool for both conservation and local development has generally been overlooked. Wildlife is one of the strongest assets for many rural communities, and depleting it through illegal trade removes potential income. But tackling illegal trade in ways that further restrict sustainable use can limit communities’ options even more. Addressing wildlife crime effectively means developing approaches that protect wildlife for poor people not from poor people.

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