Transnational organized crime is recognised as an escalating issue, with criminal networks expanding their reach to all corners of the world and becoming increasingly difficult to eradicate. The illegal wildlife trade is a highly lucrative illegal activity with complex negative impacts including the decline of wild animal populations, habitat destruction, spread of invasive species and diseases, as well as damaging the livelihoods of people living near wildlife. The intensification and professionalization of this trade is fuelled by its high profitability, low risk of detection, and systemic corruption. Global demand for meat, seafood, animal tourism and zoos, exotic pets, traditional medicines, décor, jewellery, and fashion accessories, has meant that nearly every country is now involved in one way or another.
The illegal wildlife trade is thought to relate in some way to the trafficking of drugs, humans, counterfeit products, and arms. Similarly, the illegal wildlife trade likely converges with the same corrupt officials, document-forgers, transportation companies, and money launderers that are used in other illicit networks. Despite this, it is still given low priority by law enforcement and financial intelligence units are rarely engaged. Limited efforts to date have evaluated the role of organized criminal groups in wildlife trafficking. Many claims about wildlife trafficking convergences are based on anecdotal evidence, and there is no consensus in the literature on the degree to which wildlife trafficking aligns with other organized crime activities, or on the mitigation measures that might be most effective.
My doctoral research will address these knowledge gaps.
This knowledge gap has led to inappropriately placed blame and the criminalization of marginalised rural communities who hunt wildlife, while more powerful intermediaries continue to profit and go unpunished. Mismanaged approaches to anti-poaching can result in violence toward local people, and contribute to feelings of hostility toward wildlife conservation. My research will help inform fair approaches where communities no longer bear the brunt of harsh efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade.