Subsistence poaching in Wildlife Protected Areas: the scope and limitations of transactional control


The designation of Protected Areas (PAs) for wildlife in Africa often disenfranchises local people from established hunting and fishing locations. Widespread subsistence poaching within PAs threatens biodiversity and strains relationships between residents and PA management. In response, interventions seeking to formalise agreements based on offers of alternative livelihoods, including fish farming and beekeeping, have been developed. This project reviews their scope to reduce subsistence poaching, and brings together expertise in conservation, genetics, and ethnographic analysis of development, building the basis for longer-term research.

Project description

The designation of Protected Areas (PAs) is a key global strategy for wildlife conservation. However, it often conflicts with the interests of those residents who may be disenfranchised from previously accessed resources. In poor rural areas, subsistence poaching within and around PAs threatens biodiversity, causes social conflict, and presents zoonosis risks.

Illegal poaching in African PAs is increasing and is the primary driver of large herbivore declines (IUCN 2022). At Kasanka National Park in Zambia, many mammals are declining rapidly. The Puku antelope for instance has declined by 80% in the last decade which makes it a globally threatened species with the Kasanka Trust being an internationally-significant refuge. Fishing and hunting became illegal when the Park was designated. Yet last year 1,283 fishing nets were confiscated within five months and 42 snares per month have been removed since 2020. Modelling by a Sussex Masters student showed that risks of snares were highest close to villages and the Park boundary, corresponding with arrests of local people. This project will improve monitoring of biodiversity and poaching; collate evidence on the impacts of alternative livelihood interventions on these outcomes; and form the basis for long-term research.

The project acknowledges the injustices experienced by people excluded from accessing traditional resources by state designation of the Kasanka National Park. It will build capacity to monitor the implications of stakeholders developing explicit agreements (fish-farm support for villages in return to cessation of poaching in the National Park), including long-term assessments of the overlaps and mismatches between beneficiaries of the fish farming project and those poaching or benefiting from poaching.

Zoonoses are the primary cause of new and emerging diseases, and bushmeat preparation and consumption is recognised as one of the most important pathways for human infection. The project will provide evidence on the species consumed in this under-studied region.

With this in mind, the main objectives of this project are two-fold:

  1. To review the impact of interventions designed to offer alternative livelihoods on subsistence poaching, especially those centred on formalised agreements;
  2. To build capacity for long-term research on the biodiversity and social consequences of such agreements (alternative livelihoods in exchange for poaching cessation) in fish farming initiatives at the Kasanka National Park, in Zambia.

Timeline and funding


March 2023-July 2023


SSRP funding (£17,330)


  • Review the literature, and collate unpublished reports from Zambia and neighbouring countries, on the impacts of food security/economic interventions on subsistence poaching
  • Build capacity for long-term research on the relationships between biodiversity trends, subsistence poaching and socio-economic factors, together with the Kasanka Trust
  • Organise joint training events with the Trust to improve methodologies for monitoring poaching and estimating wildlife population trends
  • Use of genetic sequencing to identify wild species in food/meat
  • Hold workshops and training for residents, delivered by fish farmers from other provinces
  • Gather baseline data on the importance of poached wildlife culturally and socially, and engage with project and residents’ expectations of possible gains

Future longitudinal monitoring will be fostered by the annual visits of the Life Sciences Zoology Field Course and Turing Scheme interns.

Expected impacts and outcomes 

There may be specific impacts on social relations of the proposed interventions and the research will seek to develop a framework for monitoring/observing these. Workshops in PA buffer zone villages, facilitated by Kasanka Trust’s Outreach Team, overseen by James Mwanza (who has initiated similar projects previously), will establish a locally-led management committee and develop an explicit agreement on poaching cessation. Residents will receive farmer-farmer training and audio-visual reference materials. Information on the species identified in food by forensic analysis will be shared at village-level to inform discussions about the nutritional role of fish and zoonotic disease risks from bushmeat.

Residents in a remote, economically-challenged area will be supported to create three fish farming enterprises. Assistance in establishing pathways to markets will be given by the Kasanka Trust, who faciliate the pooled sale of honey and market-garden goods (in the absence of local cooperatives).

Building on the existing literature on the rule-adherence and formalisation, a review will be published on the synergies and conflicts between food security/economic interventions and conservation outcomes.The team will also refine recent molecular forensic techniques for identifying wild-caught meat, and produce a report on its novel application in this bioregion. Assessing the presence/absence of wild-caught fish and meat in prepared foods and meat will provide a baseline measure, against which future changes can be assessed.

Overall, the project will build capacity for a large grant by

  1. Demonstrating the feasibility of research around Kasanka National Park
  2. Gathering baseline data against which future changes can be measured
  3. Developing techniques for monitoring poaching and wildlife trends, including training local researchers in DNA extraction and camera-trap data analysis.

The University of Sussex signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kasanka Trust in 2022, which is the destination for the Life Sciences Africa Field Course. The project will help to build capacity at the site for future research collaborations, and will also make a profound contribution to the research-led teaching of undergraduate and masters students from Life Sciences and potentially Global Studies.

The team

Where we worked

Kasanka National Park, Zambia.