Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes are a way of bringing potential ‘buyers’ and ‘sellers’ of ecosystem services together for a mutually beneficial exchange. In their recently published work, Kragt and colleagues present an ecological model in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic that predicts how community-based patrolling can protect critically endangered species from poaching. Here they show how this model could benefit PES schemes.

Laos is an internationally recognised hotspot for biodiversity. It provides habitat for many wildlife species that are listed by the IUCN as critically endangered. Even though these species are protected by Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) legislation, law enforcement is largely ineffective. As a result, poaching has become the main threat to the survival of these species.

The continued existence of critically endangered species is one of the many services supplied by protected areas in the Lao PDR. But, despite the value some people place on the continued existence of these species, and the protective actions taken, wildlife diversity continues to decline.

We designed and implemented a Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme in the Phou Chomvoy Provincial Protected Area. A PES scheme establishes a pseudo market that brings together potential buyers and sellers of ecosystem services, such as threatened species protection, so that an exchange becomes mutually beneficial. By following competitive market principles, the PES scheme ensures that buyers and sellers are made better off and the costs of supply are minimised.

The ‘buyers’ in this PES scheme are both international tourists visiting Lao PDR and the population of Vientiane City. We estimated their ‘willingness to pay’ for the PES scheme to be a one-off visa fee or as a monthly electricity surcharge, respectively.

The ‘sellers’ of ecosystem services are villagers from communities surrounding the protected area. The villagers perform anti-poaching patrols, negotiated through community conservation agreements. The overall protection effort is managed and coordinated by a patrol manager. The patrol tasks, such as the removal of snare lines and poacher camps, confiscation of animals and poaching equipment, and the arrest of poachers,  are defined in detail in patrol team contracts.

The design of the PES scheme involved three key components:

  • Predicting the productivity of the anti-poaching patrols on the abundance and diversity of wildlife species. The cause-effect relationship between anti-poaching patrols and threatened species protection was established through the model described in our recent work.
  • Estimating the demand for threatened species protection (i.e. the public benefits provided by the PES scheme). This demand was estimated using an economic technique called ‘non-market valuation’ (a discrete choice experiment survey was employed).
  • Estimating the potential supply of community-led anti-poaching patrols. The community’s willingness to provide anti-poaching patrolling efforts was revealed through conservation auctions that involved intensive community consultation and bidding training prior to the actual auctions.

These three components were brought together to determine what would be the ‘optimal’ supply of patrols, and to allocate patrols to patrol teams. Our model was used to estimate how different scenarios of anti-poaching patrols would affect the abundance and diversity of wildlife protected. The ‘optimal’ supply of patrols is then the equilibrium between the public benefits provided by protecting wildlife species, and the willingness of local villagers to supply anti-poaching patrols.

Read the full article, Predicting the effectiveness of community anti‐poaching patrols for conserving threatened wildlife in the Lao PDR, in Journal of Applied Ecology.

For queries, please contact Marit E. Kragt (marit.kragt@uwa.edu.au) or Gabriela Scheufele (gabriela.scheufele@csiro.au).