Domestic law is primarily responsible for determining the nature, scope and consequences of wildlife crimes. In turn, without comprehensive wildlife laws at the national level it is difficult to combat wildlife and forest offences at the international level. Essentially the law follows the policy.
Contents of Wildlife Laws
(a) Conservation and Management of Wildlife
Wildlife conservation and management focuses on the ecology of wild animals, their interrelationships with each other, with humans, and with the physical and biological environment that makes up their habitat. Wildlife conservation and management is geared towards maintaining species diversity, improving conditions for declining and endangered species, managing populations that are hunted or fished and coordinating other resource management activities to maintain environmental quality.
Sustainable management of wildlife resources – the domestic law should typically provide for ways to sustainably manage wildlife resource by legislating on standards of management, management planning, managing endangered or protected species and habitats and species recovery plans.
Sustainable utilisation of wildlife resources – the domestic law should provide for ways of utilising wildlife in such a way that it benefits present generation while maintaining its potential to meet the needs of future generations. The law therefore provides for sustainable exploitation of wildlife resources and wildlife user rights. It should also be clear on hunting including hunting methods, hunting seasons, species to be hunted and those which cannot be hunted.
Access to wildlife resources – the domestic law should legislate on access to wildlife resources. It should be clear on who owns wildlife, whether it is the state, individual or communities. It should also define the mechanisms of owning wildlife and/or accessing wildlife. It should also be clear on the rights and duties of those who own wildlife or who have access to it. The law often uses regulatory mechanisms such as permits and licences to regulate access.
Creation and management of protected areas – wildlife does not exist free from its habitats and so the law must legislate on creation and management of these habitats. The law may create several classes of protected areas for wildlife with varying rules on their management. Human activities in protected areas are usually limited or controlled.
Wildlife research – the law usually provides for access and off-take of wildlife for research purposes. It also may regulate research activities by means of permits and licences. The law may also provide for a specific wildlife research institution to be the custodian of wildlife research data.
(b) Administration of the Wildlife Sector
One way of protecting wildlife and reducing wildlife crime is to have proper management and administration tools in place. These act as a measure to prevent illegal killing and destruction of wildlife and their habitats. Wildlife laws should therefore regulate the management and administration of the wildlife sector.
Institutional mechanisms to conserve and manage wildlife – the law would typically create or designate a particular institution or institutions to conserve and manage wildlife. Some countries have one overarching institution to manage the entire wildlife sector while other countries have separate institutions for protected area management and for wildlife management. Other countries designate local authorities as the main institutions to manage wildlife within their jurisdictions.
Community involvement in the wildlife sector – the law should recognise and define the nature and extent of community involvement in the wildlife sector. It should outline the mechanisms of benefit sharing with communities as well as the right to reasonable access and sustainable use.
Mitigating against human wildlife conflicts – human wildlife conflict is one of the key threats to wildlife in Africa. Domestic laws should address the means of mitigating these conflicts. The law should outline ways of dealing with animals that have become a problem to humans. It should also provide for mechanisms of reporting problem animals to the relevant authorities. Some countries’ laws provide for compensation by the government or owner of the wildlife to persons injured by wildlife or persons whose property including livestock and crops has been damaged by wildlife.
Wildlife conservation education and awareness – many countries legislate on mechanisms of educating the public and creating awareness on the benefits of wildlife conservation. The law usually mandates an institution to carry out education and awareness to communities, schools, colleges and other groups.
(c) Protection of wildlife
Cooperative approaches to protect wildlife – cooperative approaches for wildlife protection are usually preventative in nature and they protect wildlife from harm or loss before it occurs. They include incentives and benefit sharing. The law usually provides for incentives to encourage individuals and communities to conserve wildlife on their land. These could be economic or other forms of incentives. The law could also provide for benefit sharing or revenues with communities living adjacent to protected areas to encourage them to conserve the wildlife and its habitats.
Coercive approaches to protect wildlife – coercive approaches to wildlife protection are through criminalization and wildlife law enforcement. In the criminalization approach, certain acts are prohibited or regulated under threat of sanction. However, criminal law is not preventative by nature and is primarily concerned with the punishment of unacceptable behaviour. It does not, therefore, prevent the occurrence of harm to wildlife apart from the extent to which the potential of punishment acts as a deterrent. Wildlife crimes are diverse in nature and differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Wildlife offences could vary from protection of a particular wildlife species, protection of habitats, prevention of trafficking in wildlife and their products or even contravening licenses and permits issued lawfully for wildlife use.
Penalties are an important tool in any piece of legislation and are important in punishing offenders and deterring potential offenders. Penalties must be punitive enough to negatively impact any gain that an offender would get from committing the offense. The severity of the penalty should reflect the severity of the harm caused by the perpetrator. Some of the penalties that can be provided for in a wildlife law include imprisonment, fines and forfeiture.
Regulatory approaches to protect wildlife – the law could provide for various regulatory mechanisms to ensure that wildlife is utilized in a manner that does not lead to its depletion. For one to utilize wildlife the law subjects them to licenses and permits and their activities are monitored. This ensures that there is no over-exploitation or illegal use of wildlife.
Enforcement institutions and mechanisms – for rules and regulations provided for in wildlife laws to succeed in their goals, the law needs to appoint an agency or agencies to enforce one or more aspects that are within its provisions. Sometimes, it is sufficient for one agency to carry out the entire enforcement mandate, but most times the responsibility of enforcing the law lies with several agencies. Further, the law may create an agency whose single focus is enforcing the wildlife law.