Most of the world's biodiversity occurs within developing countries that require donor support to build their conservation capacity1. Unfortunately, some of these countries experience high levels of political corruption2, which may limit the success of conservation projects by reducing effective funding levels and distorting priorities3. We investigated whether changes in three well surveyed and widespread components of biodiversity were associated with national governance scores and other socio-economic measures. Here we show that governance scores were correlated with changes in total forest cover, but not with changes in natural forest cover. We found strong associations between governance scores and changes in the numbers of African elephants and black rhinoceroses, and these socio-economic factors explained observed patterns better than any others. Finally, we show that countries rich in species and identified as containing priority areas for conservation have lower governance scores than other nations. These results stress the need for conservationists to develop and implement policies that reduce the effects of political corruption and, in this regard, we question the universal applicability of an influential approach to conservation that seeks to ban international trade in endangered species.
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We thank the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology for providing funding, and K. Brandon, N. Burgess, S. Elton, R. Green, J. Groombridge, A. Huggins, S. Thornton and T. Whitten for advice.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
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