Background & Aims

Intensified poaching and wildlife trafficking is being driven by the demand for food, pets, medicines, trophies and other consumptive products of wildlife specimens or derivatives. Illegal trade in these products, known as the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), is a major and growing threat to biodiversity. Estimated to be worth $17 billion annually, it is one of the highest valued illicit trade sectors in the world. IWT also poses threats to public health and security, making it one of the greatest pressing challenges of today.

Due to the magnitude and complexity of IWT, conservationists are often only able to fight crises on the ground. To support a more proactive approach, this study aims to identify and prioritise emerging issues that are likely to have either a high positive or negative impact on IWT in the next 5-10 years. We are calling upon all those interested in contributing their expertise and insight to help identify emerging issues for IWT. Please note, we are NOT looking for submissions which identify a need, gap, or an open question. Issues should include tangible developments and/or examples that can be put in context of a trend or projection. For example: electronic noses (olfactory sensors) to increase detection of wildlife products, improving border biosecurity and enforcement.

An emerging issue can be:

  • A potential threat to, OR an opportunity for addressing IWT
  • Globally relevant, or specific to a region/locality (if deemed locally important)
  • Applicable to one or more wildlife (plant or animal) species, illegally traded in any form (illegality can be defined on either a national and/or global scale)
  • Related to one or more elements of the trade (supply and harvest, trade chains and transport mechanisms, marketplaces, consumer demand)

Emerging issues should be ones that global society is relatively unprepared for, and which need a change in practice, policy and/or further research, if the issue becomes pressing. This study will provide an evidence base for pre-emptive policy and/or recommendations for on-the ground responses, to improve conservationists’ ability to address IWT. Findings will be used to inform global policy and decision-making particularly in the context of the 2018 London IWT Conference.

The aim is to take advantage of this timely opportunity to raise awareness of IWT, pre-emptively addressing challenges while solutions are realistic, and enabling conservationists and national governments to work more effectively. Findings will be submitted for publication in an open access journal, and a summary will be disseminated widely in a policy brief. We intend this study to be useful for informing the priorities and strategy of governments, academics, businesses and non-government organizations.

Participation & Process

Participants do not need a deep understanding of IWT or be working directly within the area. We are especially keen to hear from those in different institutions, disciplines and sectors who can help identify where and how possible challenges and opportunities are likely to develop and emerge. IWT is complex by nature, with many different actors and domains affecting it. Therefore, we are seeking the involvement of open-minded thinkers, aware of how their expertise, insight and relevant knowledge could apply to IWT – this is where the most innovative and unknown issues may come from.

Expert opinion and networking is essential. Beyond yourself, there may be others within your professional networks who might be able to contribute or prompt an idea to scan. We encourage you to discuss ideas with colleagues inside and outside your normal groups, to generate the best possible and probable issues to have a substantial impact on IWT in the future. However, in order to obtain independent opinions, we ask that you please do not disclose your final submission to others.

Submissions can be lodged until April 18, 2018 (deadline extended) and in multiple languages. Participation will be facilitated remotely, but is restricted to those aged 18 years or older.

You are under no obligation to take part in this work, and can direct any questions about the study before deciding whether or not to participate to the study’s lead researcher, Nafeesa Esmail. If you do agree to participate, you may withdraw yourself (and your data) from the study at any time, without giving a reason and without penalty, by advising the researcher of this decision. If your answers are subsequently not submitted by the submission deadline, April 18, 2018, the information collected will be removed from the study.

This study hopes to capture a wide range of potential challenges and opportunities for IWT over the next 5-10 years. Your participation will provide ideas to build a list, which will then be narrowed down, discussed and finalized through multiple steps and a consensual approach. The study is split into two main stages, submission and prioritisation of issues.

You may identify issues in a variety of ways, for example by scanning reports, articles, presentations, websites or other media with storylines based on new discoveries or events. Additionally, you may scan and canvass ideas by discussing informally and formally in your social and professional networks, utilizing your expertise and that of others. We encourage you to speak to others within your networks before submission to discuss the plausibility of proposed issues. Synergies and ideas may arise if you discuss with your colleagues who may not know of this study or do not wish to contribute themselves formally.

Examples of issues include:

  • Electronic noses (olfactory sensors) to increase detection of wildlife products, improving border biosecurity and enforcement.
  • Potential of Blockchain technology to track wildlife trade transactions.
  • Trend towards organic and luxury healthy lifestyle products in Asia, placing additional pressure on wildlife derived products.

Issues can be proposed through a multi-lingual online survey. You may submit up to 5 issues and will be asked to provide the following:

  • Basic information about yourself and your work, but with the option of not providing identifiable information. This information will help contextualise the issues, and help us to understand which issues are seen to be important by people working in different sectors or regions, and at different experience levels.
  • Details relating to your proposed issue(s), including what sub-theme your proposed issue(s) best relates to (science and technological innovation; financial instruments and mediums; institutional structures at global, national and local levels; motivations and behaviours or other).
  • A short phrase or statement (title) that states and summarizes each proposed issue.
  • Description (200 words or less) further explaining each proposed issue and indicating what implications are expected for the illegal wildlife trade. You will need to reference any relevant evidence you refer to. If applicable, relevance to any policy applications or preemptive on-the ground responses should be included.

Descriptions should clearly demonstrate how and why each proposed issue fulfills the combined criteria of novelty, plausibility and impact.

Your submission can take as little as 15 minutes to complete, the maximum time spent depends on the detail of your description(s) and how many issues you wish to propose. Please note the following:

  • Proposed issues will be welcomed from everyone, but well crafted issues will increase chances of a contributor being invited to participate in further discussions (remotely and online). Participants involved in these later stages will be offered authorship on any resultant publication(s).
  • All those who submit issues will be acknowledged in a contributor list, unless they wish to remain anonymous.
  • To achieve maximum objectivity, particularly during later investigative and discussion stages, please do not disclose your submissions to others, until the exercise is complete (by August 2018).

Please remember that even if an issue may seem irrelevant, it may be actually the most valuable. Should you like to discuss any proposed issues, you may contact Nafeesa Esmail at any time.

Further details

Benefits and Impact

The benefits of taking part in this study are:

  • Help provide early warning signs to reduce the unpredictability of impacts on IWT, which will allow further attention or resources, technological progress or policy change to occur in good time.
  • The chance to contribute to high-level IWT policy discussions surrounding the London IWT conference.
  • Acknowledgement in any resultant publication(s) either as a contributor to stage 1 or as an author if you are selected and actively participated throughout the whole horizon scanning process (unless you wish to remain anonymous).

Please note, there will be no payment for taking part in this study.

Data, Publication and Review

At Stage 1, your responses will be kept anonymous to other study participants and only the principal researcher will have access to your name, should you wish to provide it. Your information (but not your name) may be shared with core study researchers. It will not be possible for participants in later study stages to identify who submitted issues at stage 1. We will use all reasonable endeavours to keep them confidential, in accordance with the University of Oxford’s research ethics guidelines.

At Stage 2, your work will be shared with the other participants at this stage, and your identity will not be anonymous to them. You are free to withdraw, and thereby remain anonymous outside of this group, at any time.

Your data will be stored in a password-protected file and will be used in academic publications. Your IP address will not be stored. Research data will be stored for a minimum period of three years after publication or public release. The data that we collect from you may be transferred to, and stored or processed at, a destination outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”). By submitting your personal data, you agree to this transfer, storing or processing.

This research is being funded as part of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade. The principal researcher is Nafeesa Esmail and this project is being completed under the supervision of Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland.

This project has been reviewed by, and received ethics clearance through, the University of Oxford Social Sciences and Humanities Interdivisional Research Ethics Committee (Ref No: R56377/RE001).


If you have a concern about any aspect of this study, please speak to Nafeesa Esmail (, who will do their best to answer your query. The researcher should acknowledge your concern within 10 working days and give you an indication of how they intend to deal with it. If you remain unhappy or wish to make a formal complaint, please contact the relevant chair of the Research Ethics Committee at the University of Oxford who will seek to resolve the matter in a reasonably expeditious manner:

Chair, Social Sciences & Humanities Inter-Divisional Research Ethics Committee; Email:; Address: Research Services, University of Oxford, Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JD

If you would like to discuss this project before deciding whether or not to participate (or if you have questions throughout or afterwards), please contact:

Nafeesa Esmail

Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

New Radcliffe House, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6GG, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 1865 271234


Thank you for your interest in participating in this study.