December 19, 2018
I am a conservation social scientist who has worked on studying human-environment relationships in an international context for almost 15 years. My work is participatory and focused on humans; although I do not have a geographic area in which I specialize, I have had the good fortune to collaborate with many stakeholders across Africa in particular.
The problem of illegal trade in wild flora and fauna is not new. Trade in wildlife has been going on since the time of Marco Polo, and illegal trade has gone alongside the legal. What is new is the scope and scale of illegal trade in the last decade.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated illegal wildlife trade generates upwards of $23 billion for the illicit global economy on an annual basis; the illicit market continues to grow at a faster rate than the legal global economy.
Legal trade in wildlife has also grown, from an estimated $60 billion annually in the 1990s to over $300 billion in 2009. That is a more than 400 percent increase. Illegal wildlife trade unequivocally poses risks to the environment and people, and these risks are globally distributed.
The crime undercuts sustainable development investments and the benefits humans derive from their environment such as sustainable use, culture and religious expression and intrinsic value. Beyond threatening species with extinction, illegal wildlife trade undermines the rule of law, threatens national security, fuels corruption and other forms of criminality, is associated with violence and social conflict, degrades the resilience of legal trade and spreads zoonotic disease.
Resolving risks from illegal wildlife trade is a high policy priority. Across all of these source, transit and destination geographies, there are partnerships among policy makers, scientists like myself, private corporations, donors, prosecutors and law enforcement officials.
My approach has been to use conservation criminology to generate new insights and move evidence to action. An interdisciplinary approach, conservation criminology considers human behavior, conservation and ecology and also criminology. It offers one way of thinking about and responding to conservation crimes such as wildlife trafficking.
I am sometimes asked for success stories, best practices or answers to resolving risks associated with illegal wildlife trade. I never have a satisfying answer. What I do know is that this is a complicated issue and amazingly smart people are working on it.
I see connections, partnerships, sharing, community, friends giving friends support in this space that at times can be really hard emotionally and physically. Many people say the problem of illegal wildlife trade is impossible to resolve; I say it always seems impossible until it is done.
Adapted from an orginal op-ed in the Daily Maverick