Grassroots Orgs: Hope for Combatting Illegal Wildlife Trade

Over the last 5 years, global wildlife NGO’s have launched multi-million dollar campaigns highlighting the plight of our world’s wildlife and the severity of the global wildlife trafficking crisis. Big players, such as WWF and IFAW have raised millions of dollars with the aim of halting the illegal wildlife trade and protecting species from extinction. Yet despite these efforts, and the vast media coverage that these issues have spurred, global wildlife populations remain under siege.


Are Grassroots Organisations our Best Hope for Combatting Illegal Wildlife Trade?


by Natalie Kyriacou

Last month, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released their first-ever World Wildlife Crime Report. The report finds, among other things, that more ivory has been seized than cocaine, and that broad corruption is facilitating illegal trade in plants and animals. Meaning, the illegal wildlife trade is not slowing down.

With hundreds of NGOs proclaiming to protect wildlife and put a stop to wildlife trafficking, how do donors choose who to support? And why aren’t we making any headway?

Wealth, Power & Status

Big NGOs dominate the global conservation space with huge budgets and high-profile marketing campaigns. But as Rebecca Tilbrook of For the Animals notes, big initiatives to save iconic species compete in a game of recognition and power, often completely missing the conservation goal. Tilbrook has been focused on stopping the illegal trade of endangered animals since 2002 from Washington DC and more recently from Perth, WA.

“Often, the focus is not on saving wildlife but on growing the wealth and status of the organisation and its leaders,” she said.

Being a big player in the wildlife conservation arena means multiple layers of command, substantial overhead costs and major marketing expenditure to ensure donations continue. For each donor dollar channelled to these NGOs, at least 15% goes to overhead costs.

According to Tilbrook, if donors want to contribute effectively, the role of different NGOs needs to be understood and examined. Donors must look for quantifiable results and facts-based, relevant evidence.

Impact of Grassroots Organisations

Generally, organisations working closest to the ground use donor funds the most sparingly. Some of the most effective, in terms of value for money, are lean, local organisations staffed by dedicated people working tirelessly on tight budgets to protect wildlife in rough or dangerous circumstances.

Such focused efforts on the ground can achieve what millions of misplaced dollars and global campaigns cannot: results.

All over the world, grassroots NGOs are working determinedly to expose and prevent corruption inherent in wildlife poaching and trafficking networks.

NGOs such as these forego fancy offices and business class travel; they work on tight budgets and often perform dangerous investigative work. Although small and unassuming, these organisations are often able to score gains that large international agencies cannot.

As Tilbrook notes, often the most effective outcomes lie in the hands of dedicated, low-key people, working exhaustive hours in the field or in shabby offices. With so much money and the future of global wildlife populations at stake, both donors and recipients need to be held firmly accountable. This is not the time for flashy marketing campaigns that aren’t rooted in a deeper willingness to actually be involved in the often messy on-ground efforts. This is the time for facts and focus; supporting on-ground, grassroots efforts to counter wildlife crimes worldwide.

It is time for the big NGO’s to get their hands dirty, or otherwise, support the smaller organisations that are on ground fighting.


Who To Support


For the Animals

For the Animals is an Australian conservation charity dedicated to protecting endangered wildlife in Southeast Asia. For the Animals works with the world’s leading field experts in anti-poaching and trafficking programs and reports quantifiable results of its work to its donors.

Freeland Foundation

Freeland Foundation is dedicated to developing and continually improving programs and tools that empower governments and civil society to overcome organised crime and corruption to restore secure, resilient communities and ecosystems.

Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit

The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit is the first of its kind, being that the majority of their teams are women. They have currently deployed 26 Black Mambas and a further 23 armed guards that operate within Balule and along its boundaries. The Black Mambas are all young women from local communities, and they patrol inside the Greater Kruger national park. These fearless women are not just challenging poachers, but the status quo.

Or, visit our list of partner charities, here.

Get Involved

You can support on-ground conservation efforts and have fun! Download our mobile game app, World of the Wild! Click here to download.

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4 thoughts on “Grassroots Orgs: Hope for Combatting Illegal Wildlife Trade”

  1. Really great article highlighting some important facts. Thanks for raising awareness and thanks for sharing those amazing charities!

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