The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) significantly impacts African economies by destroying and corroding natural, human and social capital stocks. This hinders the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has an impact on national budgets. Illicit financial flows from IWT deny revenue to governments where legal wildlife product trade exists and perpetuate cash externalization. IWT diverts national budgets away from social or development programmes, increases insecurity and threatens vulnerable populations.
In expanding wildlife economies and pursuing conservation-driven development models, governments can protect their citizens, derive revenue from wildlife products, and establish world class tourism offerings. The illegal exploitation of wildlife is often due to a failure to enforce rights over those resources, where rights are unclearly defined or not fully exercised. Southern African countries have defined these rights in various ways, contributing to regional differences in conservation practices and the socio-economic benefits derived from wildlife resources. Combating IWT is an important step towards allowing legitimate business and communities to develop livelihoods that incentivize stewardship and connect people to conservation.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has several framework policies for the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs). These promote local stewardship across multiple land-use areas to conserve biodiversity and increase the welfare and socioeconomic development of rural communities. Private-sector partnerships also increase skills transfer, improve access to investment finance, and expand economic opportunities, including through the promotion of local procurement. The economic benefits of TFCAs extend beyond tourism.
The economic value of African ecosystems is often under-recognized because they remain unquantified, partly due to the lack of available data on the broader economic costs of IWT. Improved monitoring and evaluation with key performance indicators would help governments and citizens to appreciate the economic value of combating IWT.