Chapter 3: Local sociocultural, economic and political facilitators of transnational wildlife crime
All transnational crime, regardless of scale or scope, relies on point-to-point linkages. As Felson (2011) remarks, it crosses national boundaries by definition, but also relies on localized components. These components usually outnumber the border-bridging parts of the chain. They include site-specific criminal activities, or behaviours that function simply as enablers or promoters of criminal activity elsewhere along the line. International money laundering is a case in point. It cannot occur without complicity by local agents or institutions (Levi and Reuter 2006). Transnational wildlife crime is no different. Indeed, it might be more contingent on local circumstances because the contraband involved – animals and plants – are products of particular habitats or ecological conditions. Invariably, they can be extracted only from specific sites, at specific times, or under specific conditions. For example, yarsa gambu, mentioned in Samir Sinha’s chapter in this volume, comes from alpine grass and shrublands on the Tibetan Plateau and in the Himalayas. The caterpillars and the fungal parasites they harbour live exclusively at altitudes ranging from 3000 to 5000 metres above sea level. Moreover, the interaction that produces their coveted medicinal product is a seasonal phenomenon. It occurs only during the summer, after fungal inflorescences have grown from the heads of parasitized (and long dead) caterpillars (Zhu et al. 1998). Harvesting is consequently a specialized activity (Shrestha and Bawa 2013; Childs and Choedup 2014). Less obvious is the fact that wildlife consumption is also highly specialized. As observed in Tanya Wyatt’s chapter in this volume, disaggregating illegal wildlife trade based on market types provides useful insight into the scope of the crime and the parties likely to be involved in its execution. She identifies collectors’ items, traditional medicines, food and processed commodities as main market categories. Yet there are certainly more possibilities. Illegal wildlife trade also includes religious items (Tsering 2006; Christy 2012; also see Sinha, Chapter 14 in this volume), luxury consumables (De Greef and Raemaekers 2014; Lyons and Natusch 2011; Kecse-Nagy 2011), raw and semi-processed materials for manufacturing or construction (Graham 1996; Simons 1993), draft animals (Nijman 2014) and subjects for biomedical experimentation (Maldonado et al. 2009; Maldonado and Peck 2014; Shepherd 2010). The potential variation involved in so many different types of illicit markets is staggering. Without at least a preliminary understanding of the personal, social and environmental elements that influence them, prevention and interdiction strategies are unlikely to succeed (Zain 2012). This is true not only at local levels, but also in transnational contexts. Knowing whether particular geographic areas, cultural groups, economic sectors or income classes are more likely to be parties to wildlife crime can engender better strategic engagements on treaty enforcement, capacity building, technical assistance and advocacy efforts.
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