Sustainable Wildlife Use as an Area-Based Conservation Measure


22 Feb 2023

Sustainable use has a central role in the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) adopted at the recent 15th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15). This includes a section of targets on “Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing.” Most interestingly, however, is the role of sustainable use in conserving areas.

There has been significant coverage of the new 30X30 target for conserving areas mostly with a focus on expanding protected areas, However, the GBF target also includes a role for sustainable use:

Ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas, and of marine and coastal areas… are effectively conserved and managed through… systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures… while ensuring that any sustainable use, where appropriate in such areas, is fully consistent with conservation outcomes

So, at the very least area-based sustainable use needs to be fully consistent with conservation outcomes. A succinct explanation of conservation outcomes can be found in the definition of in-situ conservation in Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity:

"In-situ conservation" means the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings and, in the case of domesticated or cultivated species, in the surroundings where they have developed their distinctive properties.

Conservation outcomes include protection, maintenance, and recover at ecosystems, natural habitats, and species populations. The phrase “species in their natural surroundings” used in this definition includes the wild species highlighted in GBF Targets 5 and 9, respectively:

5. Ensure that the use, harvesting and trade of wild species is sustainable, safe and legal, preventing overexploitation, minimizing impacts on non-target species and ecosystems…

9. Ensure that the management and use of wild species are sustainable, thereby providing social, economic and environmental benefits for people… including through sustainable biodiversity-based activities, products and services that enhance biodiversity…

Importantly, the GBF reaffirms the nexus between conservation outcomes and sustainable use that was clearly recognised in the definitions of conservation adopted by the international community prior to the 1992 launch of the CBD, notably the IUCN definitions from 1980 and 1991:

Conservation: The management of human use of the biosphere so that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations. Thus, conservation is positive, embracing preservation, maintenance, sustainable utilization, restoration, and enhancement of the natural environment.

World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development - 1980 - IUCN, UNEP, WWF with FAO and UNESCO

Conservation: The management of human use of organisms or ecosystems to ensure such use is sustainable. Besides sustainable use, conservation includes protection, maintenance, rehabilitation, restoration, and enhancement of populations and ecosystems

Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living - 1991 – IUCN, UNEP, WWF with ADB, FAO, IIED, ILO, UNDP, UNESCO, World Bank, WHO, WMO, and WRI

As these definitions make clear, sustainable use is integral to the meaning of conservation, and hence can play a key role in delivering conservation outcomes. This nexus is reaffirmed in a pathbreaking decision of CBD COP15 on Sustainable Wildlife Management. In this decision, the Parties:

Requests the Executive Secretary [of the CBD], in consultation with Parties, other Governments, indigenous peoples and local communities, and other members of the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management, and other relevant stakeholders and right holders… to collaborate with all relevant actors and stakeholders in order to promote the mainstreaming of the sustainable use of biodiversity, in particular that of wild species, into all relevant sectors.”

Further, this decision directly links the sustainable use of wild species to conserving areas by

Noting that demand reduction strategies and alternative livelihood approaches…  are more likely to be necessary when consumption or use are illegal and/or unsustainable, as sustainable wildlife management can significantly contribute to biodiversity conservation, as opposed to alternatives that may result in land use changes that may be harmful to the environment and ecosystems.”

In short, sustainable wildlife use can be an effective area-based conservation measure to deliver the GBF 30x30 target. Through enabling and promoting sustainable wildlife use – in private, communal, and public areas – ecosystems and natural habitats can be restored, enhanced, maintained, and protected. In the African context, we call this the wildlife economy – developing and promoting wildlife-based enterprises that enhance biodiversity, livelihoods, and community well-being.


Written by Francis Vorhies, AWEI Director, WildCRU Research Visitor, IUCN SULi Member