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Wildlife Crime Has Been Neglected. Here’s Why It Shouldn’t Be

By LIDA TUNESI

Crime that involves disrupting or harming wildlife is often seen as “victimless,” according to Ph.D. student Monique Sosnowski (John Jay College, The Graduate Center). As a result, this type of crime has received less attention than other areas of criminology.

But wildlife crimes contribute to the ongoing sixth mass extinction, and they disrupt local economies, endanger human lives, and introduce new diseases. As threats to both environmental and national security, Sosnowski argues in a new chapter for a book on criminal justice, they deserve more research.

Sosnowski’s chapter, titled “Wildlife Crime, now appears in the third edition of Comparative and International Policing, Justice, and Transnational Crime. Sosnowski authored the chapter with William Moreto of the University of Central Florida.

The first thing to understand about this issue, the chapter explains, is that “wildlife crime” does not solely refer to poaching. Criminologists propose that wildlife crime has six stages—killing, taking, transporting, processing, selling, and possessing. This definition puts many more people under the criminal umbrella, such as those who drive trucks containing illegally killed animals, or those who polish illegal ivory before it’s sold.

With such a broad definition comes a large collection of reasons why someone might do one of these things. The need to turn a profit is a big one, while others might harvest animal parts for food and medicine. People also commit these crimes as acts of resistance, or retaliation.

There is a variety of international, regional, and national legislation against wildlife crime, but the problem of how to address it remains, Sosnowski writes. Some research suggests that law enforcement can help decrease poaching problems, though she notes that there is skepticism about a “purely deterrence-based approach,” and that militarized strategies for conservation require caution.

Instead, the answer might lie in community-based strategies. The chapter details four main categories for this approach: incentivizing wildlife stewardship, perhaps by making it legal for local communities to hunt for traditional practices; decreasing the cost of living around wildlife, such as helping farmers keep wild animals away from livestock; dis-incentivizing illegal behaviors; and supporting income streams unrelated to wildlife.