The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is increasingly referred to as ‘wildlife crime’. Our research team is using a political ecology approach to unpack the meanings associated with wildlife crime, in order to develop a better understanding of how the shift towards thinking about IWT in this way is reshaping conservation in theory and in practice.
Our research examines how different stakeholders (NGOs, donors, international institutions, private companies and governments) define and use the term wildlife crime, and to what effect. Framing IWT as wildlife crime allows different stakeholders to draw attention to the issue, to press for more funding and to make the argument that IWT is part of (transnational) serious organised crime and a security threat.
This matters because such framings can fundamentally change and expand the range of possible policy responses for conservation. Using the term wildlife crime renders tackling the illegal wildlife trade as more compatible with approaches from the law enforcement, military, and private security sectors. This can produce logics in conservation practice that squeeze out and displace other approaches anchored in thinking of it as a problem produced by inequalities between wealthier consumers and poorer suppliers, or as a wider structural issue of development, lack of opportunities, and the dynamics of the global economy.
Watch our short film on Defining Wildlife Crime