The Organization of Conservation Law Enforcement

In my last post, I considered the range of actions that may be considered to be conservation law enforcement (CLE), noting that it often consists of coercion, education, incentivization, and legitimation among a given population of resource users to improve legal compliance. So in this post, I consider the range of organizations that may directly engage in, or indirectly enable, actions for CLE. Specifically, these organizations are state agencies, commercial enterprises, and non-governmental organizations.  

Considering Enforcement Organizations

Another important aspect of conservation law enforcement (CLE) that is important for any conservationist or criminologist to consider is how enforcement is organized.

Though most dictionary definitions of “law enforcement” emphasize enforcement actions (see examples 1, 2, 3), some definitions are heavily focused on the organizations that engage in enforcement actions (see examples 1, 2). Since I recently posted an action-based definition of CLE, I will here focus on developing an organization-based typology of CLE actors.

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is that the range of organizations and individuals that engage in law enforcement for conservation is rather wide ranging when compared to law enforcement for public safety and order management (i.e., policing).

Where the latter typically implies municipal and state policing departments, CLE may be undertaken by numerous and diverse organizations, ranging from fisheries management authorities, customs agencies and international NGOs to eco-tourism operators and even ‘good old’ police departments.

So let’s explore three key types of CLE organizations: state agencies, commercial enterprises, and non-governmental organizations. Below, I’ll do my best to explain the differences between these categories and also provide you with concrete examples and additional sub-typologies.

State Agencies

To begin, the vast majority of organized actions to enforce conservation laws are undertaken by agencies of the state, which is popularly defined as the political entity that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within any sovereign territory. An “agency” is just a real-world organization that represents the state.

A useful distinction to make between state agencies is whether they are specialized or unspecialized for the purposes of natural resource management. A state agency may directly engage in CLE actions, or alternatively, indirectly enable CLE actions by other organizations and individuals. For instance, a Game Warden might involve a local police unit to lead apprehension of an armed poacher, while a Customs officer might involve a Fisheries inspector to charge an offender for possession of illegal seafood products. Typically agencies are specialized in accordance with administrative law.

Common specialized state agencies, and examples of their enforcement work, are:  

  • Fishery Management Agencies, such as the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, which often engages in monitoring for illegal seafood trade.

  • Forestry Management Agencies, such as the Stung Treng Provincial Forestry Administration in Cambodia, which conducts raids to detect illegal timber shipments.

  • Minerals and Mining Management Agencies, such as the Mines and Geology Department in Karnataka, India, which has seized illegal shipments of sand.

  • Pollution Management Agencies, such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in the US, which issues fines to polluting companies in the state .

  • Protected Area Authorities, such as the Galapagos National Park Directorate in Galapagos, Ecuador, which actively patrols for illegal fishing vessels.

  • Wildlife Management Agencies, such as the Alaska Wildlife Troopers Division in the US, which actively monitors for illegal hunting in the state.

Beyond these specialized organizations, however, many enforcement agencies with public safety and order mandates also participate in conservation law enforcement. This includes:

  • Correctional Facilities, such as the Kenya Prison Service, which houses convicted elephant poachers.

  • Court Systems, such as the Indian Judiciary, which actively prosecutes for poaching in India.

  • Customs and Excise Agencies, such as the General Administration of Customs in China, which monitors for the trade of illegal wildlife products.

  • Financial Regulators, such as the Nepali Department of Money Laundering Investigation, which actively supports investigations into possession of illegal wildlife products.

  • Military Forces, such as the Ecuadorian Army, which works with the national police to monitor for illegal mining.

  • Policing Agencies, such as the Federal Police of Brazil, which monitors for the trade in illegally-felled timber.

Commercial Enterprises

Commercial enterprises also play an important role in conservation law enforcement. By this I mean, legal entities that operate for the primary purpose of profit creation. Three types of commercial enterprises that commonly engage in CLE are those that specialize in wildlife products, security services, and ecotourism. All types of companies may directly or indirectly engage in CLE, but security service companies, by their nature, are typically much more involved in direct actions.

With respect to wildlife product companies, there are a wide range of additional subtypes we could discuss here. Considering my colleague’s previous post on how to describe supply chains for wildlife products, I offer the following three types as most important for CLE:

  • Organized Harvesters of Natural Resources, such as fishing associations, logging companies, and mining consortiums. A great example of harvesters directly engaging in CLE may be found in the community fishing cooperatives in Baja Sur Mexico, which use radar systems, radio communications, armed night patrols to stop poachers from accessing their territorial fishing concessions.

  • Organized Vendors of Natural Resource Products, such as companies specializing in sell seafood, timber products, and mineral commodities. Vendors can directly engage in CLE by requiring detailed reporting and audits of legal compliance among their suppliers, such as is already done by IKEA, a multinational company specializing in timber-based products.

  • Third Party Service Providers, such as insurance providers, logistics companies, external auditors that help natural resource harvesters and vendors conduct their business. Good examples for this include a global consortium of insurance companies that have agreed to not provide coverage to internationally-blacklisted fishing vessels, and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which evaluates legal compliance among fishers as part of its auditing process.

As for security service providers, this type of commercial enterprise may focus on providing patrol teams, field investigations, and educational services (e.g., ranger training). Notably, this type of CLE organization is poorly studied in the conservation community even though private security forces may be better equipped and more aggressive in the exercise of their duties (Warchol & Kapla 2012). Here are a few examples that I have found interesting in my past projects:

  • Archipelago Marine Research. This company manufactures, installs, and monitors electronic monitoring systems for compliance monitoring on fishing vessels.

  • Maisha Group. This private company is run by a former Israeli commando, and has been hired by the WWF and WCS to do wildlife protection work in central Africa.

  • MPA Enforcement International. This company provides training and planning services, among others, for the enforcement of marine protected areas, with particular emphasis on the Caribbean region.

Finally, ecotourism enterprises are often important CLE organizations. Though ecotour operators create an experiential wildlife “product” for their customers (e.g., a successful photo safari), they are rather distinct from traditional wildlife product enterprises in that conservation itself is a key part of their product. Because of this, ecotour operators are often much more disposed to report wildlife crimes to the authorities, if not take direct corrective actions, such as through social reprimand or by offering poachers with better, legal paying jobs. Here are two notably examples from my own experience:

  • Scuba Diving Shops in the Bay Islands, Honduras. As a former divemaster, I can say that these companies regularly support CLE by reporting illegal fishing, mooring, and dumping to state agencies, and by themselves deterring such activities during tour hours. Notably, scuba diving shops themselves created the Roatan Marine Park which actively patrols the area.

  • Wildlife Safari Operators in Akagera National Park, Rwanda. Poaching has declined in recent years, and safaris have played important roles in deterring poachers.

Non-Governmental Organizations

Finally, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a particularly important role in CLE, especially when compared to their involvement in more traditional law enforcement for public order and safety. By NGO, I mean a legally-integrated organization primarily existing to improve social welfare.

NGOs engaging in CLE may broadly be grouped into those that provide security services, protected area management, and ecotourism. In many respects, NGOs often provide the same types of security services and ecotourism products as commercial enterprises, only NGO providers appear to be more numerous and subject to greater social accountability.  

With respect to NGOs providing security services, they appear to follow similar designs as used in the private sector by focusing on a mix of field patrols, investigation support, and education of officers. Since they are so numerous, I offer here a generous list of some of my favorite examples:

  • The Eagle Network. The Eagle Network directly supports government across sub-Saharan Africa to investigate and disrupt wildlife crimes.

  • Fauna & Flora International. FFI works with the Kerinci Seblat National Park authority in Sumatra to directly engage in CLE with Tiger Protection and Conservation Units.

  • Freeland Foundation. Dedicated to stopping human and wildlife trafficking, Freeland offers a wide variety of trainings for CLE (e.g., cell phone forensics), primarily with a focus on state agencies, and also played a key role in developing the wildlife enforcement network (WEN) model.

  • Sea Shepherd International. Sea Shepherd maintains a high seas monitoring program for illegal fishers, which led it to engage in the longest high-seas chase of an illegal fishing vessel on record in 2014-2015.

  • SMART Partnership. This partnership represents some of the biggest names in global non-profit conservation (WWF, WCS, etc.) and works to refine and promote the use of software for patrol management.

  • Southern African Wildlife College. This ranger school based in South Africa is considered a world-leader in ranger education and has provided education to over 15,000 people.

Among NGOs providing protected area management, a few examples are:

  • The Galapagos Conservancy. A long-time partner to the Ecuadorian government and other NGOs, the Conservancy provides key environmental education to citizens for the practical protection of endangered wildlife.

  • Roatan Marine Park. This non-profit engages in patrols and a variety of other CLE activities to implement the Roatan Marine Park in Honduras.

  • Seychelles Island Foundation. SIF was exclusively established to manage and maintain surveillance of two state-owned protected areas, the Aldabra Atoll and Vallée de Mai, in the archipelagic country of Seychelles.

Lastly, with respect to NGOs providing ecotours, there is perhaps the least difference between this type of NGO and its private sector counterpart. However, it is possible that ecotourism NGOs may be more willing to act as de facto surveillance patrols, and in some cases, patrolling is the ecotour. For example, consider:

  • NatureSeekers. An NGO local to Trinidad and Tobago, NatureSeekers operates beach patrols to protect sea turtles and their nests from poachers.

  • International Anti-Poaching Foundation. An NGO that offers volunteers the opportunity to train and support anti-poaching patrols in Zimbabwe with its Green Army initiative.

In Sum

Just as “conservation law enforcement” comprises a range of actions, not just coercion, it also includes a wide range of organized actors, not just state agencies. I hope that this examination proves the point, and also helps show why it is important to better consider the different types of enforcement organizations that support conservation.

Selected Literature

Linkie, M., Martyr, D. J., Harihar, A., Risdianto, D., Nugraha, R. T., Leader‐Williams, N., & Wong, W. M. (2015). EDITOR'S CHOICE: Safeguarding Sumatran tigers: evaluating effectiveness of law enforcement patrols and local informant networks. Journal of Applied Ecology, 52(4), 851-860. Open-Access Link.

Warchol, G., & Kapla, D. (2012). Policing the wilderness: a descriptive study of wildlife conservation officers in South Africa. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 36(2), 83-101. Open-Access Link.

Photo Credit: Mark Gibson, 2015, “A Community Meeting on the Management of a Green Turtle Fishery in Caribbean Nicaragua.” Demonstrating the variety in local enforcement organizations, the local Navy, the regional natural resource management agency, and an international NGO (WCS) running turtle patrols were all in attendance.