The Economic Impact of Illegal Wildlife Trade in Southern Africa

Region & Country

Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) has become a major threat to the iconic wildlife species of Southern Africa, driven by high market values on the black market. IWT is now considered to be the world’s fourth largest internationally-organized crime, generating between USD $7 and $23 billion every year. The current global crisis has led to a complete halt in wildlife tourism in the Southern African region, leaving community conservation – a key element of wildlife crime mitigation – with little or no resources. Wildlife crime undermines the economic prosperity of countries and communities in the region, deteriorating their natural capital, social stability and cohesion, and threatening sustainable economic development, including the erosion of benefits derived from legal nature-based enterprises like tourism.

A lack of reliable data means there is only limited evidence of the impacts of IWT on national and regional economies in Southern Africa. Further evidence is needed not only on the loss in wildlife financial value (provisioning services) but also on the loss of its larger economic value (including cultural and regulating services) due to IWT. These data sets are necessary to better understand the social and economic implications of IWT and raise awareness among decision-makers to help them design more effective mitigation measures. 

Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF) is working with the Namibian Nature Foundation to provide information on the current state of knowledge on the cost and benefits of IWT in Southern Africa, highlighting potential gaps and areas for further research. This project will also provide a first step in closing the knowledge gap by piloting an assessment of the costs and benefits of combating IWT in Namibia. In addition, this project will factor on the new challenges raised by the sudden drop in tourism and increasing poaching risks in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, the analysis will result in (i) a state of knowledge on the economic impact of IWT (especially ivory, rhino horn, lion bone, and pangolin scales) in national and regional economies in Southern Africa and (ii) provide a detailed assessment of the impact of poaching and IWT on the Namibian economy. Both components will be developed with the objective of learning and sharing knowledge raised through studies for broad dissemination. Through this project, CSF hopes to raise awareness on IWT for better decision-making at the policy and practice levels. 

This work is part of the VukaNow project, financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Chemonics International Inc.

Photo Credit: Lauren Richards