elephant duan biggsResponses to illegal wildlife trade need to be more nuanced and not only focused on high-profile species, and fighting poachers  

Across the globe, the illegal wildlife trade threatens thousands of species, including fish, fungi and plants, along with the more familiar ‘charismatic’ animals such as rhinos, tigers, and elephants.

Despite widespread recognition of the problem, science and policy has concentrated on a few high-profile species and responses.

Duan Biggs, and Early Career Researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions was funded by CEED to participate in a workshop on this pressing issue.

The resultant paper, 'Tools and terms to understand the illegal wildlife trade' is featured on the cover of the current issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The paper, authored together with Jacob Phelps from Lancaster University, and Edward Webb from the National University of Singapore argues that there is a need to recognize the diversity of products - from medicinal plants to elephant tusks – as well as the complex and diverse networks of people involved in the trade. It provides some of the terms and tools that policy makers and researchers need to better making these distinctions.

The paper reviews trade across species and regions, highlighting seven examples where more detailed analyses of illegal trade revealed diverse potential solutions. These ranged from education targeting gardeners who unintentionally buy rare orchids, to considering a legal trade in rhino horn to fund protection costs.

The paper points out that for many species, our existing approaches to illegal trade are failing and that illegal wildlife trade is discussed  as it were a single phenomenon. The proposed solutions seek to resolve it with the same types of interventions—usually new laws that forbid trade.

However,  trade in African ivory, rare Burmese turtles for pets and South American peccaries for meat have comparatively little in common. Better analyses are needed to inform more tailored strategies for responding to these varied cases

The authors of the report say one of the problems with existing policy is that the debate is very much focused on the high-profile species while the vast majority of traded species are overlooked. 

Similarly, policy debates about trade often label the people involved, placing them in to overly simplistic categories of “poachers”, “perpetrators” and “criminals”.

But, as field research on the trade of wild orchids in Southeast Asia highlights, this often fails to capture the realities on the ground.

The authors argue that “We can’t rely on caricatures of ‘bad guys’ involved in trade. Instead, we have to recognize and plan around these realities of the species, people and trade patterns we encounter on the ground.” 

The paper concludes that more nuanced approaches to specific types of illegal wildlife trade are urgently needed.

This paper was made available for early online viewing s delegates from 182 signatory nations meet (24 Sept-05 Oct, 2016) for the 17th Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties to debate possible solutions to the crisis. Duan Biggs was invited to serve on the delegation of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) at this convention. 

Cover page of the current issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: http://www.frontiersinecology.org/fron/