Scholarly article on topic 'High-value natural resources: Linking wildlife conservation to international conflict, insecurity, and development concerns'

High-value natural resources: Linking wildlife conservation to international conflict, insecurity, and development concerns Academic research paper on "Social and economic geography"

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Biological Conservation
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{"High-value natural resources" / Poaching / "Wildlife trade" / "Elephant ivory" / "Rhino horn" / "Resource curse"}

Abstract of research paper on Social and economic geography, author of scientific article — Leo R. Douglas, Kelvin Alie

Abstract The relationship between natural resources and conflict is well documented, except for wildlife. We discuss the role that wildlife can play in national and international security interests, including wildlife’s role in financing the activities of belligerent groups and catalyzing social conflict. We argue that, similar to the findings for other high-value natural resources, wildlife can have a powerful influence on violent conflicts and security interests, particularly in developing and weak states, where the earth’s biological resources are disproportionately found. We suggest that recognizing this relationship is important because it illuminates the gravity of the threat facing several charismatic species. The association also illuminates a neglected link between wildlife conservation and high-priority security and development policy concerns. We advocate that documenting and deconstructing the relationship between the wildlife trade and international crime, armed conflict, security, and development concerns within the context of our knowledge of other high-value natural resources has policy and management implications of great important in conservation practice.

Academic research paper on topic "High-value natural resources: Linking wildlife conservation to international conflict, insecurity, and development concerns"


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High-value natural resources: Linking wildlife conservation to international conflict, insecurity, and development concerns


Leo R. Douglas a'b'*, Kelvin Alie

aDepartment of Geography/Geology, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston, Jamaica

b Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-519, USA c Wildlife Trade Program, International Fund for Animal Welfare Washington, DC, USA


Article history:

Received 9 October 2013

Received in revised form 10 January 2014

Accepted 17 January 2014


High-value natural resources


Wildlife trade

Elephant ivory

Rhino horn

Resource curse


The relationship between natural resources and conflict is well documented, except for wildlife. We discuss the role that wildlife can play in national and international security interests, including wildlife's role in financing the activities of belligerent groups and catalyzing social conflict. We argue that, similar to the findings for other high-value natural resources, wildlife can have a powerful influence on violent conflicts and security interests, particularly in developing and weak states, where the earth's biological resources are disproportionately found. We suggest that recognizing this relationship is important because it illuminates the gravity of the threat facing several charismatic species. The association also illuminates a neglected link between wildlife conservation and high-priority security and development policy concerns. We advocate that documenting and deconstructing the relationship between the wildlife trade and international crime, armed conflict, security, and development concerns within the context of our knowledge of other high-value natural resources has policy and management implications of great important in conservation practice.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND

license (


1. Introduction......................................................................................................... 270

2. High-value natural resources and conflict................................................................................. 271

3. Species, use and value of the illegal wildlife trade - an overview.............................................................. 272

4. Mechanisms linking wildlife to conflict, security and development concerns..................................................... 272

4.1. Resource capture................................................................................................273

4.2. Grievance-based conflict..........................................................................................273

4.3. Undermining economic performance and environmental governance.....................................................274

4.3.1. Impact on accountability.................................................................................. 274

4.3.2. Weak development, economic diversification and exposure to economic shocks..................................... 275

4.3.3. Impact on corruption & Ill-conceived environmental policies..................................................... 275

5. Conclusions.......................................................................................................... 275

Acknowledgements................................................................................................... 276

References.......................................................................................................... 276

1. Introduction

The conservation of many of the world's large, charismatic, and legally protected species is in crisis for a variety of reasons includ-

* Corresponding author at: Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024519, USA. Tel.: +1 (876) 807 4971.

E-mail addresses: (L.R. Douglas), (K. Alie).

1 Tel.: +1 (202) 536 1905.

ing illegal taking and trafficking. The illegal trade in wildlife and its products has been the subject of an impressive array of international conferences, journal articles and conservation programs. As a result 'wildlife crime' is now a buzzword. Despite this attention, the effective management of these issues is far from clear, and some components of the phenomenon, such as the ivory trade, are reportedly escalating rapidly with alarming statistics reported over the last decade (Gabriel et al., 2012; Gettleman, 2012). While we acknowledge the ecological, conservation and ethical concerns 0006-3207/® 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

surrounding wildlife trade, we focus here on a specific component of this complex issue, namely the potentially destabilizing influence that wildlife trade (including legal wildlife-based industries) poses to national and international peace and security interests.

The relationship between wildlife, social conflict, and security is still inadequately discussed in conservation literature. We advocate for conservationists benefitting from cross-disciplinary studies about whether and how the wildlife trade contributes to, benefits from, and may become conjoined with various forms of social conflict beyond the criminality of the taking and trafficking of wildlife. We thus situate this review in the criminology, terrorism, social conflict, and sustainable development literatures, and argue that, similar to the findings from the analysis of other natural resources described as "high-value" or as "conflict resources'', wildlife can play complex roles in local and international conflicts and issues of national and international security.

Here we:

1. Argue that wildlife are high-value natural resources.

2. Discuss the mechanisms through which wildlife have become part of conflicts in relation to the roles and mechanisms described for other high-value natural resources.

3. Discuss why wildlife may be preferred as ''conflict resources'' relative to several other types of high-value natural resources.

4. Discuss the conservation implications of the non-characterization of wildlife as high-value resources.

We begin with an introduction of high-value natural resources. We briefly review the illegal wildlife trade, and argue that there are three main pathways that connect wildlife, as high-value natural resources, to social conflict, insecurity, and development concerns.

2. High-value natural resources and conflict

The development policy and conflict literatures highlight the important influence of ''high-value'' natural resources on sustainable development, conflict, and security at multiple scales (Ross, 2004; Rustad and Binningsbo, 2012). While the physical attributes of these commodities can vary greatly, high-value natural resources generally refer to those commodities that in their natural state have the potential to yield substantial revenues (Lujala and Rustad, 2011). Classic examples are diamonds, oil, natural gas, gold, uranium, coltan, and several precious gems and minerals. When well-managed, these valuable resources can be the cornerstone of economic prosperity, substantially raising living standards, facilitating socio-economic equality and the reduction of state dependence on foreign aid (Lujala and Rustad, 2012). Conflict theorists argue that despite the apparent forecast of a more prosperous, peaceful future that the presence of high-value resources suggests, the inverse result is unfortunately common (Le Billon, 2005). This relatively well documented inverse relationship is described through a collection of mechanisms, the most notable being the ''resource curse'' (or paradox of plenty), ''Dutch disease'',2 greed and grievance mechanisms, and the ability of high-value natural resources to encourage corruption and directly finance armed uprisings (Le Billon, 2005; Matthew et al., 2009). Thanks to the popularity of blockbuster films such as Blood Diamonds, the Lord of War and Black November, a diverse cross-section of the public is already aware of some general aspects of these phenomena.

2 An economic phenomenon in which the increased exploitation of one or a few high-value natural resources produces a decline in the manufacturing and/or agricultural sectors of a nation. The phenomenon was first described from the Netherlands after the exploitation of large natural gas reserves, discovered in 1959, made other exports uncompetitive, facilitating economic underperformance broadly.

Despite their ''high-value'' designation, however, conflict and peace practitioners continue to show that a larger diversity of natural resources have powerful influences on security and social unrest globally. This list includes opium (Latin America and Asia: Lujala and Rustad, 2012), palm oil, coffee, rubber, cashew nuts (Liberia: Matthew et al., 2009); fish and charcoal (Somalia: Matthew et al., 2009); rosewood (Madagascar: Jutersonke and Kartas, 2010); cotton and cocoa (Cote d'lvoire; Global Witness, 2007); and resin trees (Cambodia: Global Witness, 2002). ''High-value'' is therefore relative, and primarily determined by a region's prevailing socio-economic structure, natural resource availability, and whether there is either a strong regional or international demand for the commodity in question.

The mere presence of such high-value resources can become the focus of violent disputes, and their systematic exploitation and trade can ''contribute to or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights or violations amounting to crimes under international law'' (Matthew et al., 2009). They may also directly finance groups (tribes, ideological driven organizations, nations, etc.) using crime and violence to advance their interests and causes (Lujala and Rustad, 2011). Development and conflict practitioners emphasize that natural resources are rarely ever the sole cause of conflict. Nevertheless they frequently encourage it, especially in regions where there are histories of weak institutions and governments, and when there is strong demand (Ross, 2004). For instance, diamonds did not cause the Angolan or Sierra Leone wars (Grant, 2012). Rustad and Binningsbo (2012) report that from 1970 to 2006 approximately 40% of all interstate conflicts were associated with high-value natural resources. Most modern conflicts have occurred within regions where biodiversity is particularly high, with over 80% of all major armed conflicts during the period 1950-2000 occurring directly within areas recognized as global biodiversity hotspots (Hanson et al., 2009).

That wildlife can be the direct or indirect casualty of civil wars and social unrest is relatively well documented (Beyers et al., 2011; Dudley et al., 2002; Shambaugh et al., 2001). Rarely, however, have studies of poaching, trafficking and illegal wildlife-use discussed wildlife within the theoretical framework of ''high-value natural resources.'' A few writers have used terms such as ''conflict ivory'' (Naylor, 2005) or ''blood ivory'' (Christy, 2012). However, in a search using 'ISI Web of Science', no journal articles directly referenced wildlife within the context of high-value resources. In this online citation search we examined key words, titles and abstracts over the 20-year period, 1993-2013, for the terms 'conflict resources', 'high-value natural resources', 'resource curse' or 'lootable resources' in relation to terms for 'wildlife' and using the name of several individual animals and their products (including: lion, elephant, rhino, tiger, snow-leopard, ivory, bush meat). We also note that a recent authoritative edited volume review of high-value natural resources (Lujala and Rustad, 2012) does not discuss wildlife as an example of high-value natural resources.

Not surprisingly, then, local governments and institutions associated with trafficked fauna continue to frame the issues of poaching and trade overwhelmingly along a spectrum from local opportunistic hunting to international crimes. Describing these issues as ''conservation challenges,'', ''wildlife management issues'', and ''wildlife crimes'' (Warchol, 2004; WWF, 2012) acknowledges little or no real importance to broader social development and larger security concerns (Warchol, 2004). Additionally, conservation biologists have predominantly framed the issues as driven by the subsistence needs of individuals and loosely organized local criminal groups. Nevertheless, criminolo-gists argue that the ''days when poaching were a relatively simple matter of commoners hunting...'' are ''long past'' (Lemieux and Clarke, 2009: 451).

3. Species, use and value of the illegal wildlife trade - an overview

The international trade in wildlife is worth an estimated $332 billion, based on import declarations for wildlife, fisheries and wild-sourced timber (Engler, 2008). It is estimated that a proportion of this trade in animals, worth some $10-20 billion annually, is illegal (Bliss, 2009; Wyler and Sheikh, 2008). Precise figures have, however, been challenging to obtain in large part ''because of the clandestine nature of the trade'' (Barber-Meyer, 2010). This illegal component includes the trade in locally common live exotic, rare and endangered animals, meats, eggs, and various animal body parts and organs, including bones, horns, tusks, genitals, gallbladders, pelts, paws, and fins. Global interest and demand has risen for both live animals and their products. The ease of international travel, internet marketing and sale, and rising affluence in regions such as the Middle Eastern Gulf states, India, China and Eastern Europe has facilitated this rise (Cooper, 2013; Naylor, 2005; Sheffer, 2013).

Trade in wildlife can be particularly profitable in poor nations. For example, Gettleman (2012) indicates that the tusks of one adult elephant may be ''worth more than ten times the average annual income in many African countries.'' As a result, the populations of several affected species have declined significantly, and with their decline their demand and market value have soared. Because global demand for some species exceeds biological capacity, local or total extinctions of some species or sub-species have resulted (Glew and Hudson, 2007; Naylor, 2005).

Globally the wildlife trade is believed to be surpassed only by the illegal weapons and drugs markets as important sources of financing for organizations seeking to sustain or ignite conflict in

many of the most conflict-prone areas of the world, from Chad to Afghanistan (South and Wyatt, 2011; Warchol, 2004; Wyler and Sheikh, 2008). Indeed some argue that this now ubiquitous trade is simultaneously one of the most profitable and attractive of all the illicit trades (Warchol, 2004). The trade's attractiveness is largely due to its relative lack of social stigma, small risk of prosecution for wildlife crimes, and the light penalties given to those few brought to justice (Warchol, 2004; Wyler and Sheikh, 2008). A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Office (UNODC) for Southern Africa (2012) report notes that the street value of rhino horn can exceed the per kilogram price of gold. In general the whole or parts of several species can fetch astounding prices on the black market (Table 1). While elephants (ivory) and rhinos (horns) remain the poster animals of illegal wildlife trade, research suggests that these species are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of trafficked wildlife or wildlife products with strong connections to sophisticated criminal networks, state corruption and conflict (Warchol, 2004; Wasser et al., 2009). For example, according to Warchol (2004) in Africa and Asia the trade in lesser-known animals such as pangolins and exotic birds is far greater in scale and organization than that of large, iconic species like tigers or rhinos (see also: Challender and Hywood, 2012; Lim et al., 2012).

4. Mechanisms linking wildlife to conflict, security and development concerns

While the relationship between any natural resource and conflict is multidimensional and complex, following Matthew et al. (2009) and Lujala and Rustad (2011) we argue for three main pathways connecting wildlife as high-value natural resources to social conflict, among other well documented economic/policy-related

Table 1

Retail prices of wildlife and wildlife products.

Species or animal part

Reported retail price: range or max in US$


Mammals Lion

Lion: bones Orangutans

Rhino: horn

Tiger: skin/pelt

Snow Leopard: pelt

Elephant: raw ivory

Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus)

Cubs of Lions, Hyenas and Leopards

Pangolins Amphibians

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko) Reptiles

Madagascan Plowshare Tortoise

(Astrochelys yniphora) Angolan Python (Python anchietae) Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)

Lear's Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) Pakistani falcons


Colophon beetles


Tiger bone substitute

Exotic pet/Tourism entertainment/Disreputable zoo exhibit animals

Traditional medicine

Decorative/Clothing Decorative/Clothing Decorative/Various Trophy

Exotic pet for wealth elite of the Gulf states of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates Luxury food item/Traditional medicine

Exotic pet/Traditional medicine

Exotic pet

Exotic pet Exotic pet

Exotic pet Sports hunting

Decorative display

$10,000-$50,000 ea. $165 per kilo $1000 ea.

$30,000-$65,000 per kilo. One horn sells for up to $250,000

Up to US$20,000 ea. Up to US$20,000 ea. $6500 per kilo $20,000 ea. Up to $12,700 ea.

Up to $7000 ea.

Up to $2330 ea.

$30,000 ea.

$65,000 ea. $30,000 ea.

$90,000 ea.

$10,000 to $100,000 ea. $15,000 ea.

Warchol (2004) Hervieu (2013) Stiles et al. (2013)

UNODC (2012) Humphreys and

Smith (2011)

Wasser et al. (2009) Cooper(2013) Sheffer (2013) Warchol (2004) Challender and Hywood (2012)

Lim et al. (2012)

□ □

Yusufzai (2013)

□ = US Government Interagency Working Group, 2000. International crime threat assessment. US Government.

Some sources also indicate that Sun Bears, Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Burmese Pythons, and Cloud Leopards (Baral and Heinen, 2006; Wyler and Sheikh, 2008) are also trafficked for large sums. However recent published sale prices for these commodities were challenging to source.

aspects of the 'paradox of plenty', namely: (a) resource capture, (b) grievance-based conflict, and (c) the undermining of economic performance and environmental governance. Within the latter pathway we describe three closely related, but separate sub-category effects of high-value natural resources on: accountability; development, economic diversification, and exposure to economic shocks; corruption and environmental policies.

4.1. Resource capture

The capture of valuable resources is a means of securing wealth and power. Poverty and lack of economic opportunity certainly drives some wildlife poaching. However, a more ominous dimension involves highly organized poachers, guerilla insurgent groups, and state military personnel who use both primitive and sophisticated equipment for the large-scale killing or theft of wildlife resources; the intimidation, capture, and murder of park workers; and control of wildlife-inhabited landscapes (Revkin, 2012; UN, 2013; Wyler and Sheikh, 2008). Today's poachers are frequently equipped with state-of-the-art heat-seeking telescopes, night-vision goggles, GPS satellite receivers, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, and even helicopters and other military-grade vehicles (Gettleman, 2012). This has in turn necessitated the militarization of wildlife-protection efforts led by governments and NGOs to safeguard megafauna (Gettleman, 2012; Humphreys and Smith, 2011). Gun battles between poachers and wildlife protection officers now claim hundreds of lives annually in Africa alone (Gettleman, 2012; Humphreys and Smith, 2011). Some park agencies now follow a shoot-on-sight policy to combat the poaching of charismatic species (Humphreys and Smith, 2011). West et al. (2006), therefore, remark that ''the policing and funding'' of wildlife habitat now requires ''continued state violence.'' Some further question whether these 'wildlife wars' themselves drive state-sponsored violations of human rights or international humanitarian law (Benjaminsen et al., 2013; Brockington et al., 2006; West et al., 2006). These scholars question whether conservation's fierce urgency has provided a ''free pass'' for such potential violations (Humphreys and Smith, 2011).

Poachers often associate directly or indirectly with international criminal networks that are in turn linked to political organizations that promote violence (Glew and Hudson, 2007; UN, 2013; Warchol, 2004). For example the Taliban benefits from the lucrative illegal falconry trade in Afghanistan-Pakistan (Fox, 1999). Wyler and Sheikh (2008: 20) discuss the link between the wildlife traded by Somali warlords and Indian Islamic extremist groups loyal to Al Qaeda. In these cases Al Qaeda operatives and supporters have profited from the poaching of ivory and rhino horn. During its ''north-south'' war, Sudan's militias, including Darfur's Janja-weed, invaded Cameroon, Kenya, and Chad for illegal ivory (WWF, 2012). Gettleman (2012) and the UN (2013) note that ivory appears to be the preferred 'conflict resource' of the notorious Lord's Resistance Army rebel's ongoing guerilla insurgencies led by the warlord Joseph Kony. Similarly, the multi-billion dollar illegal rhino horn trade has been linked to Congolese, Sudanese, and Ugandan civil conflicts (Karanja, 2012). The 2013 UN report states that African militias routinely appear to trade elephant ivory for weapons, and that the links between the wildlife trade and both criminal and terrorist activities ''constitute a grave menace to sustainable peace and security in central Africa.''

Others note that in the aftermath of political conflicts globally, armed groups, including states' security forces, are often ''demobilized but not disarmed and reintegrated'' into the economy (Le Billon, 2012). Such well-armed groups may then exploit easily accessible and high-value resources—such as wildlife—for their survival. Wyler and Sheikh (2008) note that state troops have even been ''encouraged to poach ivory in lieu of receiving salaries.''

Naylor (2005) and Humphreys and Smith (2011) report that Apartheid South Africa smuggled wildlife products, ''principally ivory and rhino horns, on a massive scale during its incursions into Angola and Namibia'' as a means of topping up the state treasury and sustaining its southern Africa military campaigns (Humphreys and Smith, 2011: p. 129).

National parks may be simultaneously exploited by militia groups for natural resources ranging from gold, charcoal and gemstones to ivory and hippo teeth, while hunting for bush meat sustains forced-laborers and illegal mining camps (Nellemann et al., 2010; Warchol, 2004).

Wildlife reserves also frequently serve as ideal base camps and staging areas for insurgency campaigns in war-torn areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America (Baral and Heinen, 2006; Dunn, 2003), due not only to their remote ''protected'' locations but also because of the diversity of natural resources they contain, including wildlife. These sites often come to serve as focal points for the exchange and trade of multiple trafficked commodities such as drugs, guns and humans (Stiles et al., 2013; West et al., 2006). In these exchanges wildlife may serve a central role as a form of currency (Wyler and Sheikh, 2008). Insofar as wildlife commodities become the basis of trade, and a substitute for cash, the illegal wildlife trade facilitates money-laundering (Wyler and Sheikh, 2008). Karanja (2012) also cites examples of the use of wildlife as currency for terrorism and illegitimate militias in east Africa. South and Wyatt (2011) postulate that such exchanges might be particularly common among the larger, more established criminal networks that routinely engage in two or more profit-making illegal activities.

Resource capture fueled by greed may include not only landscapes, but also their infrastructure and institutions. For example in Central Africa gorillas (Gorilla beringei) are economic resources of national importance (Nellemann et al., 2010) due to the profits from high-value gorilla tourism programs. Seizing on the economic value of these lucrative operations, Congolese rebels murdered wildlife rangers and captured licensed ecotourism operations to fulfill their own economic ends. Similarly in Nepal Maoist rebels have not only trafficked endangered species such as tigers and one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), but also captured protected areas and appropriated the receipt of eco-tourism and trophy-hunting revenues (Baral and Heinen, 2006). Additionally, international conservation agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund have also ''had to pay 'permit' fees in rebel-controlled areas'' to continue their operations (Baral and Heinen, 2006: p. 9).

Wildlife resource capture may be particularly lucrative because it does not depend on expensive methods of extraction compared to resources such as oil, gas, and most precious metals. These latter natural resources are difficult to commandeer and transport, making them difficult to steal. High-value wildlife and their products, on the other hand, are relatively attractive as trafficked commodities due to their relative high value-to-weight ratios, relative ease of concealment and transport, the difficulty in distinguishing between legal and illegal procurement and point of origin. All these characteristics make wildlife and their products classic ''lootable resources,'' a subset of high-value natural resources particularly challenging to monitor from a crime-management perspective. Other natural resources that fall into this category include alluvial diamonds and gemstones such as rubies (Lujala and Rustad, 2011).

4.2. Grievance-based conflict

Greed and the quest for financial gain is not the only reason why wildlife resources may become focal points in conflict. High-value natural resources often become targets because of what they symbolize, and as a medium around which the ''disenfranchised'' can vent their feelings in the form of violent acts (including sabotage, vigilante attacks, and revenge killings) (Douglas and

Verissimo, 2013). Political conflict theorists argue that grievances are a crucial component of many natural resource-based conflicts when parties feel that they have been treated unfairly compared to their perceived entitlements or prior privileges (Gurr, 1970; Scott, 1985). Such grievances are particularly likely when there are deep ethnic or ideological divisions, lack of political rights/ voice, or the perception that the state (or its surrogate, such as a conservation organization) is illegitimate or biased towards a disliked elite or foreign interest(s). Rebels also commonly attempt to capture or destroy revenue-generating sources with the intention of bankrupting the state and/or demanding political/social change (Baral and Heinen, 2006). Scott (1985) suggests that such actions may favor covert or non-explicitly enunciated motivations, which may thus remain obscure, misunderstood, and unreported. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park, for example, Mai Mai rebels ''slaughtered hundreds of hippopotamuses to bring international attention to their movement'' (Wadhams, 2007). These rebels have also threatened to slaughter highly-endangered gorillas. In Nepal the commodification of wildlife for lucrative ecotourism programs emerged as a potent symbol of ''outside domination'', encouraging local sympathy for Maoist rebels (Seeland, 2000). These activities mirror the wide scale vandalism and ''environmental terrorism'' that has plagued other high-value natural resources such as oil drills and refineries in the Niger delta and Iraq (Okpo, 2012). This understanding parallels Nurse (2013), who states that ''rather than all wildlife offenders being rational-thinking profit-driven individuals, wildlife crime is a complex varied phenomenon involving a range of offenders with different motivations and offending characteristics.'' Similarly, de Koning, (2007) argues that greed should not necessarily be considered the principal motivation for ''Africa's forest wars''. This author remarks that when the narratives and histories of several of Africa's high-value natural resource-based civil wars are closely analyzed strong socio-political grievances surface as underlying drivers and motives for violent struggles. We recommend that academics and managers should recognize this characteristic because of the implications of such grievances to confuse and impede policies and programs designed to improve compliance, enforcement, and management of wildlife crimes (de Koning, 2007).

4.3. Undermining economic performance and environmental governance

Wildlife is an important part of the natural resource base of the state (Humphreys and Smith, 2011). Like other high-value natural resources it is possible that wildlife could, therefore, catalyze perverse governance incentives and even undermine economic development (Halle, 2009). While this characteristic of the resource curse may not reflect direct links to militias or civil wars, scholars argue that the risk of violent conflicts increases if and when natural resources undermine a nation's economic performance and the quality of its institutions (ISD, 2010; Lujala and Rustad, 2011; Ross, 2004). Here we discuss how the phenomenon is reflected in the conservation literature through impacts on accountability; economic development and exposure to economic shocks; corruption and the facilitation of what some describe as ill-conceived wildlife policies.

4.3.1. Impact on accountability

The potential contribution of legal wildlife industries to both economic development and conservation is very attractive as, when well-managed, the returns may not only be substantial for nations possessing charismatic fauna, but also is arguably more sustainable than the extraction of most other high-value resources (Much-apondwa and Stage, 2013). The development of most types of high-value natural resources require massive land transformation

and environmental damage, expensive environmental impact mitigation measures, most of which never restore these environments to their former state. Nature-wildlife tourism is currently the fastest growing segment of global tourism, and during times of peace, rare, endemic and/or large concentrations of charismatic megafauna can be the source of major industries. For example wildlife is the basis for Kenya's tourism industry attracting 80% of international tourists worth US$400 million annually to the nation's economy during the early 1990s (Akama and Kieti, 2003; WTO and UNEP 1992). Under Kenya's current development plan - ''Vision 2030'' - wildlife conservation and tourism expansions are key 'growth sectors' that aim to ''making Kenya a middle income country by the year 2030'' (Karanja, 2012). Similarly Botswana's national development plan ''recognizes wildlife as one of the country's main valuable natural resources'' (Muchapondwa and Stage, 2013) in a country where ''high-value'' tourism, overwhelmingly based on wildlife, is the second largest economic sector (Mbaiwa, 2005). Tanzania earned US$ 1,250 million from tourism (overwhelmingly wildlife-based) in 2010 (Benjaminsen et al., 2013).3 The Gorilla tourism market of Rwanda and Uganda is valued at US$ 44.14 million annually (Hugues, 2011). The value of elephant safari experiences in Kenya was calculated at US$ 23-27 million annually (Brown, 1993). Several African nations depend on wildlife tourism as ''substantial revenue earners'' (Humphreys and Smith, 2011).

The revenues from wildlife tourism not only include non-consumptive forms such as watchable wildlife, but also consumptive tourism, such as trophy hunting catering to high-end tourists. For example, hunting alone is worth approximately US$ 70 million annually for South Africa (Tisdell and Wilson, 2004). Hunters of exotic game (mainly from Europe and North American) pay as much as US$ 50,000 to kill individual animals of certain South African species (Warchol, 2004). In whatever form, important corollary effects of developing wildlife industries through tourism are that: (a) such ventures generally provide strong incentives for governments to conserve charismatic fauna, while simultaneously safeguarding the important ecosystem functions and (b) they encourage state presence. Lack of an effective state presence is often an important precondition for widespread illegal exploitation (Blom et al., 2012).

Development practitioners, political scientists and anthropologists have nonetheless argued that wildlife conservation in wildlife-rich countries, such as many sub-Saharan African nations, fails to deliver tangible benefits to the rural masses (Baral and Heinen, 2006; Ormsby and Kaplin, 2005; West et al., 2006). These authors argue that wildlife conservation often isolates government from the interests, needs, and accountability to such communities, and sets the stage for hostility and long term battles over rural investment priorities, patronage, how resource revenues are distributed, and traditional rights. These observations are reminiscent of concerns at the heart of the 'paradox of plenty' disputes about the effect of diamond and petroleum exploitation on government accountability in several African and Arabian Gulf states (Courson, 2011; Okpo, 2012). Here while oil revenues finance governments ''the people from whose land the crude oil is extracted and produced are forgotten'' (Okpo, 2012: 15). Similarly, some authors point out that rural communities shoulder substantial costs of living with large crop-eating or predatory animals, and may face dispossession of lands while profits go to government, local elites or foreign investors (Benjaminsen et al., 2013; Douglas and Verissimo, 2013).

3 Benjaminsen et al. (2013) contains the following statement attributed to the first Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere: ''I personally am not very interested in animals. Nevertheless, I am entirely in favor of their survival. I believe that after diamonds and sisal, wild animals will provide Tanganyika with its greatest source of income.''

4.3.2. Weak development, economic diversification and exposure to economic shocks

Strong wildlife industries can also undermine efforts or an interest in broader diversification of local economies in wildlife-rich landscapes because the pristine landscapes that tourists demand are incompatible with many forms of development (Butt, 2012). Some argue that these social effects of protected areas frequently deepen economic inequality and marginalization well beyond their boundaries. Brockington et al. (2006) and Butt (2012) argue that wildlife conservation sometimes prevents more broad-scale agriculture, water and road access, and other developments that might be more economically meaningful for rural human populations. This discussion goes beyond the scope of this paper but is reviewed by several authors (Brockington et al., 2006; Butt, 2012; Naughton-Treves et al., 2005; West et al., 2006). Illicit enterprises profiting from illegal wildlife markets may also actively deter economic development and state presence, as their trade benefits from the lack of broader economic opportunities available to rural populations. Such circumstance can make rural communities vulnerable or sympathetic to the financial support of poachers and rebels (Gettleman, 2012).

National economies overwhelmingly dependent on wildlife tourism are also vulnerable because of their dependence on this fickle industry's high vulnerability to bad press due to social unrest, or when tourists stay home because of larger economic forces such as during the global economic crisis of 2007-2010 (Humphreys and Smith, 2011; Smeral, 2010). Economic shocks that accompany abrupt fluctuations in resource revenues can be particularly destabilizing to economies overwhelmingly dependent on one or a few natural resources. Warchol (2004: 71) notes that uncontrolled poaching ''represents a serious threat to the economic stability of any nation that relies on these resources as sources of income for development.'' This author further states that ''while attention is being paid to the detrimental effects of the trade in 'conflict diamonds' in nations such as Sierra Leone and Angola, little attention is given to the illegal trade endangered species and the resulting economic impact'' on these African nations. As with other forms of high-value illicit trade, the violence (or threat of violence) surrounding poaching and the ''wildlife-wars'' also undermine other legitimate economic activities by contributing to a perception of regional insecurity (Bliss, 2009). The crime and violence associated with the illegal wildlife trade can, therefore, undermine governments, economic development and stability broadly (Humphreys and Smith, 2011).

4.3.3. Impact on corruption & Ill-conceived environmental policies

Economic under-performance and poor governance make the

resource-wealth of many developing countries vulnerable to patronage and corruption. Lemieux and Clarke (2009) showed empirically that the illegal taking of elephant ivory and state corruption are correlated. Similarly, corruption undermines environmental governance and permits a wide range of poor conservation policies and practices to develop and persist (Gettleman, 2012; Lemieux and Clarke, 2009; Naylor, 2005; Warchol, 2004). These authors note that where corruption is highest trafficking is pervasive, including networks that stretch into the military, police, border guards, judiciary, customs officials, embassy staff, and state diplomats, all of whom actively facilitate trafficking. For these reasons progressive local and international conservation policies may be blocked directly or indirectly through, for example, intimidation or the buying of votes (Kakabadse, 2011).

High-value natural resources may also encourage short term exploitation/gains of resources including ill-conceived environmental policies. For example, several southern African nations with stock piles of ivory—worth millions in revenue—pressured the member states of CITES to legalize its sale (Gabriel et al., 2012;

Vandegrift, 2013). Authors argue that legalizing sales, beginning in 1999 and expanded in 2008, precipitated an escalation in the global demand for ivory that encouraged widespread poaching and the ongoing global decline in wild elephant populations (US Government Interagency Working Group, 2000; Vandegrift, 2013). By extension, these authors suggest that the profitability of ivory for these national governments owning stockpiles has encouraged ill-conceived environmental policies that have undermined elephant conservation internationally (Lemieux and Clarke, 2009; Naylor, 2005).

While several authors suggest that such corruption is widespread and ''impedes the conduct of legitimate business and weakens national economies'' (Christy, 2012; Kakabadse, 2011), they also note that issues of governance and corruption are seldom studied in detail and reported on in the academic literature. This appears particularly true of wildlife and their conservation (Naylor, 2005; Warchol, 2004). A more thorough and integrative treatment of the subject of corruption in wildlife conservation is, therefore, challenging.

5. Conclusions

A large body of work exists within the political development and conflict literatures that discuss the multiple reasons for the relationship between a diversity of commodities designated ''high-value'' and issues of conflict. Overall, there is broad consensus that natural resource wealth can catalyze social conflict, among other related unintended consequences, and by so doing create barriers to progressive policies, security, and peace (Wennmann, 2012). There is a striking dearth of debate and empirical research within conservation science as to where wildlife resources may also play similar roles. We illustrated how wildlife can become part of conflict, security and social development dynamics through diverse mechanisms important to understand and manage both the legal and illegal wildlife trades. We encourage conservation practitioners to consider and investigate the evidence outlined here through studies that can further identify and disentangle the mechanisms through which wildlife acts as high-value natural resources.

We encourage collaboration with the sustainable development, the military, and global intelligence communities on projects seeking to find solutions to the negative relationships between wildlife and conflict. Already there has been a move in this direction, when in November of 2009 the CITES secretariat joined forces with the World Bank, the UN office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Customs Organization and INTERPOL to form the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crimes (ICCWC) (Kakabadse, 2011). We encourage ICCWC to include a focus on wildlife as high-value natural resources. As Kakabadse (2011: 126) points out, the conservation community must further engage with other disciplines involved in the struggle against corruption, patronage, crime and conflict more strategically to identify intelligence, critical knowledge, research, theoretical and technological advances that can support more effective wildlife conservation even in countries where corruption remains pervasive. Lemieux and Clark (2009: 464) further suggest that there are important knowledge gaps that criminologists may help to close, such as improving conservation's understanding about the diversity of poachers and traffickers including their motivations and methods.

By all indications the demand for live animals and their products will most likely remain high in the short term. This is particularly true for rare and endangered species, whose very rarity fuels demand. As demand increases the potential for over-exploitation and conflict dynamics intensify. With over-exploitation the likelihood of substitute commodities targeting other rare or charismatic

species becomes more likely. For example, lion bones are currently sought as a substitute for tiger bones used in traditional Asian medicines as the latter species disappears (Hervieu, 2013).

We believe that to ignore the numerous ways in which wildlife act as high-value natural resources is also to ignore important questions about still poorly understood incentives and disincentives that fuel the threats that some of the earth's most iconic species face. It also leaves unanswered difficult questions about how these threats are currently managed and how management could be improved (Nurse, 2013). By not recognizing wildlife as high-value natural resources, conservation practitioners also unintentionally marginalize wildlife conservation in the development, security and peace discourses, thereby giving credence to the false conservation versus development paradigm. We encourage conservation practitioners to highlight the high-value resource nature of wildlife, where appropriate, because it is development, security interests, and politics that dictate most high level decisions that affect conservation. These conclaves are likely to understand and prioritize this framing of wildlife more highly than the largely ecological frames that the conservation policy discourses has traditionally followed.

Policy and management interventions could benefit significantly from such framing. A case study of the Kimberly Process, the innovative certification scheme for the diamond market, shows how this could possibly work (Haufler, 2009). Various organizations effectively used awareness campaigns to link the sale of diamonds to the horrific civil conflicts of Sierra Leon and Angola giving ''conflict diamonds'' international prominence. In three years this promoted the UN Security Council to act and develop a global Certification of Origin scheme. Authors note that this interest in regulating conflict diamonds was in large part the result of the intense awareness-raising campaigns that illuminated the ''stark contrast between the symbol of love and glamor promoted by the (diamond) industry and the grim reality of amputee children in Sierra Leone.'' (Le Billon, 2005). Similar opportunities exist for wildlife conservation. For example, ivory, like diamonds, is a luxury item that derives cultural value linked to its prestige in public display. A focus on end-users could have a significant impact on either a ban its trade completely, or at least focus international attention on building critical regulatory schemes. Researchers suggest that such an approach can be highly effective if ordinary end-user's/consumer's reaction to the dark side of the ivory trade significantly threatens the market. While the trade in ivory appears to be already stigmatized in many western cultures, public surveys show that seven in ten Chinese nationals erroneously believed that the ivory available in China was derived from elephants who died of natural causes, or that the elephants shed their tusks naturally (Christy, 2012; Gabriel et al., 2012). Such misunderstandings are further compounded by the fact the CITES-approved ivory China purchases legally ''created much confusion among consumers'' (Gabriel et al., 2012), many now believing ''that the international (legal) trade in ivory has been resumed'' (Christy, 2012). In many cases for wildlife as high-value resources, however, there will be little or no opportunity for regulating legal markets. We argue that even here we should continue to follow the policy discourses of Le Billon (2005, 2012) and Lujala and Rustad (2012), who continue to investigate a diversity of both domestic and international approaches for mitigating against the negative effects of high-value natural resource presence and exploitation.


This paper was inspired by the course Environment, Conflict, and Resolution Strategies admirably taught by Marc Levy at Columbia University. Thanks to reviewers David Jensen, Thomas

W. Sherry, and Steve Redpath. Alex Fischer also provided valuable input.


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