Both wildlife law enforcement and sustainable use failing in Indonesia

The Brooking Institute published a report on the illegal trade in birds and other wildlife in Indonesia. Authored by Vanda Velbab-Brown, it concludes that neither sustainable use or law enforcement strategies are working. The key lies in reducing consumer demand. A fine report that begs the question, if and how can demand be reduced.

The story is a familiar one. Poverty drives people to collect animals. Cultural preferences drive ever great demand for bushmeat, Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredients and pets. As a result, the forests are being cleaned out of their fauna. Eco-tourism is used to offer alternative livelihoods to poachers but as in Madagascar, the initiatives are fragile. in one initiative for example, when supply of eco tourists fell, the pressure from poaching intensified again. Countries like Kenya are more suitable for safaris and eco-tourism that more remote regions.

Success is also predicated on wider institutional factors.

“Just as in the case of alternative livelihoods for illicit drugs, success is predicated on well-enforced property rights, the availability of microcredit, good infrastructure, and other structural factors. Crucially, it also depends on well-established value-added chains and assured markets, neither of which are developed easily in remote areas where forests or biodiversity-rich savannahs still exist”.

Law enforcement is not working either as enforcement agencies have “no interest or means to counter illegal wildlife trade”. Furthermore,  “…poachers and wildlife traffickers rarely face law enforcement action, frequently bribing their way out of punishment in Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt courts. If they are sent prison at all, it is usually for a few weeks at most”.

So both sustainable use and law enforcement strategies are not working in Indonesia. What prospects are there to save Indonesia’s animal biodiversity. The author argues that the key is reducing demand.

“Beefed up law enforcement action against wildlife trafficking and illegal fishing is critical. Providing effective alternative livelihoods for poor hunters is a policy that enhances human rights and human security as well as greatly facilitates law enforcement. Unfortunately, alternative livelihoods efforts are rarely effective, with auspicious circumstances mostly lacking and structural problems difficult to overcome. Ultimately, there are great limits to what even much more effective law enforcement and much more effective alternative livelihoods can accomplish unless demand for wildlife products around the world, and particularly in East Asia, is rapidly reduced. So far, demand reduction efforts in the region for bushmeat and Traditional Chinese Medicine have registered thinner, even if somewhat improving, results than demand reduction efforts to reduce the consumption of illicit drugs. But time is running out for Indonesia’s magnificent biodiversity –both on land and in the sea”.

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