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Aug. 22, 2018

Julie Viollaz: Conservation and Collegiality

Aug. 22, 2018

Julie Viollaz is a postdoctoral research associate in Meredith Gore's lab in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Viollaz was recently appointed as an associate conservation scientist at Global Wildlife Conservation.

I work as a wildlife crime specialist. When I tell people around me what I do and qualify that I currently work on an anti-poaching project in Vietnam, I either get puzzled stares or excited comments about how cool it is to work out in the bush protecting wildlife.

I do conduct interviews and work with conservation stakeholders in the rural areas. In fact, I just came back from a field trip to interview rangers about their law enforcement efforts in remote field stations in Pu Mat National Park in Vietnam. But a large part of my work is also about improving and promoting the criminology tools with which we can try to solve conservation problems like poaching.

I am, after all, trained as a criminologist and so I spend a decent part of my time explaining criminology to conservationists and then occasionally explaining conservation crime to criminologists.

In this capacity, I just returned from Elche, Spain where I attended the 2018 International Symposium on Environmental Criminology and Crime Analysis. It was a wonderful experience of rejoining about 80 long-standing international colleagues to discuss developments in the field of environmental criminology.

In this field, all of us focus on preventing crime (from homicide to burl poaching) by studying where it occurs and what situational factors facilitate it. Most of us are annual ECCA attendees that were invited to the group by a more senior member during the early stages of our research careers. It's the perfect environment to ask for honest feedback on our current projects and get help with thorny research issues.

I presented an expansion of a set of crime prevention techniques called the Situational Crime Prevention framework. These techniques work by increasing the efforts and reducing the benefits of a specific crime to make it less attractive for offenders to commit. For example, steering column locks are a great example of “harden targets” because it makes cars harder to steal for things like joy riding, while garaging your car in a secure parking garage is an example of “removing targets.”

My colleagues Jessica Kahler, Meredith Gore and I came up with this expansion of the SCP framework after using it to brainstorm and evaluate the crime prevention potential of various wildlife crime solutions in South Africa, Cambodia and Cameroon. We decided to adapt the framework for conservation practitioners because all three of us had discovered, through independent research, that some of its 25 original techniques were not entirely adaptable for wildlife crime and therefore were not easily “picked up” and applied by conservation practitioners.

Things like "removing targets" in conservation make no sense since that would require removing wildlife from its original habitat (something that any decent conservationist would see as a last resort, and certainly not a sustainable solution).

One of these changes was to include the idea of “informal guardianship” under techniques to increase the effort for wildlife crime (informal guardians are non-law enforcement personnel that can act as guardians for a target where law enforcement is not available). This addition ties in to my current anti-poaching project in the Central Annamite Mountains of Vietnam to reduce illegal snare hunting in protected areas (in partnership with Vinh University, Global Wildlife Conservation, Fauna & Flora International and World Wildlife Fund).

We are developing concrete solutions to build informal guardianship of wildlife by local communities. The goal is to ally this SCP technique to other techniques like formal guardianship (i.e. ranger patrols) to prevent illegal snaring from multiple angles and maximize the effectiveness of conservation efforts in the area.

Overall the ECCA members were receptive to the idea of adapting the SCP framework for wildlife crimes, and pointed out that such modifications existed for terrorism and child sexual abuse. I was asked by several colleagues to share our Powerpoint to help them think more broadly about how to apply the framework to the crimes they specialized in and a few colleagues also offered to provide more feedback and guidance on next steps after the conference.

This spirit of camaraderie and working together to advance all our research agendas through mentorship and honest feedback is amazing. Every ECCA presents an opportunity, for which I'm very grateful, to rekindle my research curiosity by hearing about others' work and strengthen my own work through expert feedback and collegial exchange.