Horizon scanning for illegal wildlife trade: a strategic approach to inform future CITES policy decisions
This Briefing Document presents the results and methodology of the first horizon scan undertaken in relation to global illegal wildlife trade (IWT). Results highlighted in this document specifically support and complement CoP18 agenda items 15.1 and 20 and are extracted from a complete manuscript currently available online. The methodology presented offers a recommended approach for CITES Parties and other stakeholders to consider regularly undertaking to identify issues of relevance to their strategic decision-making concerning IWT.
Esmail, N. Harrington, L. Lam, J. Malsch, K. Milner-Gulland, E.J., Bending, Z. ‘t Sas-Rolfes, M. (2019). Horizon Scanning for Illegal Wildlife Trade: A Strategic Approach to Inform Future CITES Policy Decisions. https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/publications/cites-briefing-2019/
Published: Aug 2019 | Categories: Reports Research Briefs
CITES horizon scanning policy briefing


Asking sensitive questions in conservation using the Unmatched Count Technique
The Unmatched Count Technique (UCT), or list experiment, is an indirect questioning technique which allows answers to remain confidential and respondents to be protected. Because questions are asked in an indirect way, it is used to inquire about illegal activities or behaviours people might not want to openly admit to. The method provides an estimate of how many people within a population are performing the behaviour in question. Although using UCT will not uncover why people are performing a given behaviour, its analysis can produce results to indicate which characteristics (e.g. location, gender, age, income) of the population surveyed are more likely to affect whether a person is engaging in the behaviour. This document explores what should be considered before deciding if UCT is the most appropriate research method for your study and provides guidance on the steps that should be followed when implementing it.
Olmedo CastroA., Davis E., Hinsley A.2019. Asking sensitive questions in conservation using the Unmatched Count Technique. Tools and Guidance, Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, University of Oxford.DOI:10.31235/osf.io/rcdbk
Published: Aug 2019 | Categories: Method Toolkits


Evaluating the feasibility of pangolin farming and its potential conservation impact (Open Access)
Pangolins are threatened by overexploitation for local and international use. They are subject to an international commercial trade ban, and are also the focus of other interventions, including attempts at commercial captive breeding. The impact that the latter could have on the conservation of wild populations deserves consideration. We critically evaluate the feasibility of commercial captive breeding (or farming) of pangolins to displace wild collection and assess its potential conservation impact on pangolin conservation using a recently published framework developed for this purpose. Of the 17 conditions posited that need to be met for supply-side interventions to displace wild collection, we find that pangolins meet a maximum of only six conditions. This analysis suggests that pangolin farming will not displace wild collection in the near future. Major barriers include an inability to breed pangolins on a commercial scale and available data suggest that it would be unprofitable. The immediate impact of pangolin farming on conservation of the species’ is unclear, but it is unlikely to benefit the conservation of wild populations. If commercial captive breeding were possible, it is uncertain how it would affect economic incentives for poaching, interactions between legal and illegal markets, stockpile policies, and how consumers and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners would respond. To understand better the potential overall impact of pangolin farming on wild populations there is a need for further research on these uncertainties. The framework used has utility in analysing the potential impact of wildlife farming but there remains a need for a more robust approach to evaluate potential impacts of supply-side interventions.
D.W.S. Challender, M. ‘t Sas-Rolfes, et al. (2019) Evaluating the feasibility of pangolin farming and its potential conservation impact. Global Ecology and Conservation. Vol.20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00714.
Published: Aug 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Location Privacy in Conservation (Open Access)
The growing public nature of academic journals along with current best practices of sharing primary data for scientific research are profoundly valuable for the understanding of a species and their conservation efforts. On the other hand, public spatial data on endangered species may be easily abused by wildlife criminals. In this paper, we discuss how geo-indistinguishability, a formal notion of privacy for location-based systems, can be used to add noise to published spatial data whilst allowing quantification of such tradeoff.
Imanda, H., & Wright, J. 2019. Location Privacy in Conservation. arXiv e-prints, arXiv:1907.07054
Published: Jul 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Illegal wildlife trade and the persistence of “plant blindness” (Open Access)
This review investigates the ways in which “plant blindness,” first described by Wandersee and Schussler (1999, p. 82) as “the misguided anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals,” intersects with the contemporary boom in research and policy on illegal wildlife trade (IWT). We argue that plants have been largely ignored within this emerging conservation arena, with serious and detrimental effects for biodiversity conservation. With the exception of the illegal trade in timber, we show that plants are absent from much emerging scholarship, and receive scant attention by US and UK funding agencies often driving global efforts to address illegal wildlife trade, despite the high levels of threat many plants face. Our article concludes by discussing current challenges posed by plant blindness in IWT policy and research, but also suggests reasons for cautious optimism in addressing this critical issue for plant conservation.
Margulies, JD, Bullough, L‐A, Hinsley, A, et al. Illegal wildlife trade and the persistence of “plant blindness”. Plants, People, Planet. 2019; 00: 1– 10. https://doi.org/10.1002/ppp3.10053
Published: Jul 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Evidence to action: research to address illegal wildlife trade
The Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade (illegalwildlifetrade.net) has launched a key research brief, Evidence to Action: Research to Address Illegal Wildlife Trade. This brief, addressed to policy makers and practitioners, outlines areas where research evidence can support effective illegal wildlife trade policy, highlights critical uncertainties where research is required, and emphasizes the need for better design and evaluation of interventions that can help improve the effectiveness of efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade. The Evidence to Action brief is the first of a new set of tools and guidance for researchers and practitioners.
Cugniere, L., Wright, J., & Milner-Gulland, E. (2019). Evidence to action: Research to address illegal wildlife trade. Oryx, 53(3), 411-411. doi:10.1017/S0030605319000371
Published: Jul 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Citesdb: An R package to support analysis of CITES Trade Database shipment-level data (Open Access)
International trade is a significant threat to wildlife globally (Bennett et al., 2002; Bush, Baker, & Macdonald, 2014; Lenzen et al., 2012; Tingley, Harris, Hua, Wilcove, & Yong, 2017). Consequently, high-quality, widely accessible data on the wildlife trade are ur- gently needed to generate effective conservation strategies and action (Joppa et al., 2016). The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) provides a key wildlife trade dataset for conservationists, the CITES Trade Database, which is maintained by the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Broadly, CITES is a trade oversight mechanism which aims to limit the negative effects of overharvesting, and the CITES Trade Database represents compiled data from CITES Parties regarding the trade of wildlife or wildlife products listed under the CITES Appendices. Despite data complexities that can complicate interpretation (Berec, Vršecká, & Šetlíková, 2018; Eskew, Ross, Zambrana-Torrelio, & Karesh, 2019; Harrington, 2015; Lopes, Ferreira, & Moraes-Barros, 2017; Robinson & Sinovas, 2018), the CITES Trade Database remains a critically important resource for evaluating the extent and impact of the legal, international wildlife trade (Harfoot et al., 2018). citesdb is an R package designed to support analysis of the recently released shipment- level CITES Trade Database (UNEP-WCMC, 2019). Currently, the database contains over 40 years and 20 million records of shipments of wildlife and wildlife products subject to reporting under CITES, including individual shipment permit IDs that have been anonymized by hashing, and accompanying metadata. Harfoot et al. (2018) provide a recent overview of broad temporal and spatial trends in this data. To facilitate further analysis of this large dataset, the citesdb package imports the CITES Trade Database into a local, on-disk embedded database (Raasveldt & Mühleisen, 2018). This avoids the need for users to pre-process the data or load the multi-gigabyte dataset into memory. The MonetDB back-end allows high-performance querying and is accessible via a DBI- and dp lyr-compatible interface familiar to most R users (R Special Interest Group on Databases (R-SIG-DB), Wickham, & Müller, 2018; Wickham, François, Henry, & Müller, 2019). For users of the RStudio integrated development environment (RStudio Team, 2015), the package also provides an interactive pane for exploring the database and previewing data. citesdb has undergone code review at rOpenSci.
ROSS, Noam, ESKEW, Evan, RAY, Nicolas. Citesdb: An R package to support analysis of CITES Trade Database shipment-level data. In: Journal of Open Source Software, 2019, vol. 4, n° 37, p. 1483. https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:118703
Categories: Useful Links


Born captive: A survey of the lion breeding, keeping and hunting industries in South Africa (Open Access)
Commercial captive breeding and trade in body parts of threatened wild carnivores is an issue of significant concern to conservation scientists and policy-makers. Following a 2016 decision by Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, South Africa must establish an annual export quota for lion skeletons from captive sources, such that threats to wild lions are mitigated. As input to the quota-setting process, South Africa’s Scientific Authority initiated interdisciplinary collaborative research on the captive lion industry and its potential links to wild lion conservation. A National Captive Lion Survey was conducted as one of the inputs to this research; the survey was launched in August 2017 and completed in May 2018. The structured semi-quantitative questionnaire elicited 117 usable responses, representing a substantial proportion of the industry. The survey results clearly illustrate the impact of a USA suspension on trophy imports from captive-bred South African lions, which affected 82% of respondents and economically destabilised the industry. Respondents are adapting in various ways, with many euthanizing lions and becoming increasingly reliant on income from skeleton export sales. With rising consumer demand for lion body parts, notably skulls, the export quota presents a further challenge to the industry, regulators and conservationists alike, with 52% of respondents indicating they would adapt by seeking ‘alternative markets’ for lion bones if the export quota allocation restricted their business. Recognizing that trade policy toward large carnivores represents a ‘wicked problem’, we anticipate that these results will inform future deliberations, which must nonetheless also be informed by challenging inclusive engagements with all relevant stakeholders.
Williams VL, ‘t Sas-Rolfes MJ (2019) Born captive: A survey of the lion breeding, keeping and hunting industries in South Africa. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0217409. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217409
Published: May 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Reforms needed to the establishment of CITES trade bans
The international legal wildlife trade involves thousands of species of plants, animals and fungi. Ensuring that this trade remains sustainable is the role of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and it does so through the listing of species in one of its three Appendices, with corresponding trade controls. At the next CITES Conference of Parties, CoP18, there are 17 proposals to list species in Appendix I. The overwhelming assumption from many is that prohibiting commercial international trade will surely benefit the species in question. There is little evidence that international trade bans are effective. Even where bans have been established historically, and have been considered by some to be effective (as in the case of rhinoceroses), they have proven ineffective over time.
via the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science
Published: May 2019 | Categories: Blogs & Opinions


Estimating identification uncertainties in CITES ‘look-alike’ species (Open Access)
Achieving sustainability in international wildlife trade encompasses a series of challenges, such as identification uncertainty for taxonomically complex groups. Although CITES has developed a ‘look-alike’ policy to collectively manage trade in morphologically similar species and thus facilitate enforcement, its effective application with regards to the export quota system is questionable. We used a multidisciplinary approach to provide an understating of the trade in a taxonomically complex genus of Malagasy chameleons. An online systematic survey of trade was undertaken to identify which species of Calumma have been the subject of trade. A matching task was employed to calculate identification error rates among species in the genus. Results suggest that the online market for Calumma is thriving, including species with long-standing zero quotas. Identification error rates varied widely, reaching high levels of error for some species pairs here identified as ‘look-alike’ species. Findings suggest manual identification technique has varying reliability, potentially resulting in misidentification by stakeholders within the trade. Such errors have negative consequences for both chameleon conservation and the long-term socio-economic development of Madagascar. An understanding of the patterns of identification error can help tailor future management and policy plans.
Alfino, S. and Roberts, D. L. 2019. Estimating identification uncertainties in CITES ‘look-alike’ species (In press). Global Ecology and Conservation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00648
Published: May 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Inadequacies in establishing CITES trade bans
Challender, D., Hinsley, A., Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2019) Inadequacies in establishing CITES trade bans. Front Ecol Environ 17( 4): 199– 200, doi:10.1002/fee.2034
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Characterizing efforts to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products
The unsustainable trade in wildlife is a key threat to Earth's biodiversity. Efforts to mitigate this threat have traditionally focused on regulation and enforcement, and there is a growing interest in campaigns to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products. We aimed to characterize these behavior‐change campaigns and the evidence of their impacts. We searched peer‐reviewed and grey literature repositories and over 200 institutional websites to retrieve information on demand‐reduction campaigns. We found 236 campaigns, mainly in the grey literature. Since the 1970s, the number of campaigns increased, although for over 15% a start date could not be found. Asia was the primary focus, although at the national level the United States was where most campaigns took place. Campaigns most often focused on a single species of mammal; other vertebrates groups, with the exception of sharks, received limited attention. Many campaigns focused on broad themes, such as the wildlife trade in general or seafood. Thirty‐seven percent of campaigns reported some information on their inputs, 98% on strategies, 70% on outputs, 37% on outcomes (i.e., changes in the target audience), and 9% on impacts (i.e., biological changes or threat reduction). Information on outcomes and impacts was largely anecdotal or based on research designs that are at a high risk of bias, such as pre‐ and postcampaign comparisons. It was unclear whether demand‐reduction campaigns had direct behavioral or biological impacts. The lack of robust impact evaluation made it difficult to draw insights to inform future efforts, a crucial part of effectively addressing complex issues, such as the wildlife trade. If demand‐reduction campaigns are to become a cornerstone of the efforts to mitigate the unsustainable trade in wildlife, conservationists need to adopt more rigorous impact evaluation and a more collaborative approach that fosters the sharing of data and insights.
Veríssimo, D. and Wan, A. K. 2019. Characterizing efforts to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/cobi.13227
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Emerging illegal wildlife trade issues in 2018: a global horizon scan (Pre-print)
Illegal wildlife trade is gaining prominence as a global threat to biodiversity, but remains inadequately researched and poorly understood. To help inform proactive policy responses in the face of uncertainty, we conducted a horizon scan of significant emerging issues. We built upon existing iterative horizon scanning methods, using an open and global participatory approach to evaluate issues from a diverse range of sources. Prioritised issues related to: developments in biological, information and financial technologies; changing trends in demand and information; and socio-economical and geopolitical shifts and influences (with a particular focus on East Asia, Africa and Latin America). The top three issues related to China, illustrating its vital role in tackling emerging threats. This analysis can support national governments, international bodies, researchers and non-governmental organisations as they develop strategies for addressing the illegal wildlife trade.
Esmail, N., Wintle, B., Rolfe, M. '. S., Athanas, A., Beale, C., Bending, Z., … Milner-Gulland, E. (2019). Emerging illegal wildlife trade issues in 2018: a global horizon scan. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/b5azx
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


UK government supports global action to fight illegal wildlife trade
The UK is encouraging a global shift in our approach to demand reduction interventions to ensure that they are properly evidenced, impacts are measured and evaluated, and results and best practice are shared. The UK is also keen to see an increase in interventions that have a strong basis in behaviour change science. That is why the UK established a consortium of demand reduction and behaviour change specialists to develop recommendations on approach and scope of future illegal wildlife trade demand reduction initiatives.The consortium currently consists of Oxford Martin School, TRAFFIC, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), United for Wildlife (The Royal Foundation), UN Environment Programme and USAID.
via Gov.uk News Story
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Blogs & Opinions


Network analysis of a stakeholder community combatting illegal wildlife trade
The illegal wildlife trade has emerged as a growing and urgent environmental issue. Stakeholders involved in the efforts to curb wildlife trafficking include non‐governmental organizations (NGOs), academia, and state government/enforcement bodies. The extent to which these stakeholders work and communicate amongst each other is fundamental to effectively combatting illicit trade. Using the United Kingdom as a case study, we conducted a mixed methods study using a social network analysis and stakeholder interviews to assess communication relationships in the counter wildlife trafficking community. NGOs consistently occupied 4 of the 5 most central positions in the generated networks, while academic institutions were routinely the converse, filling 4 of the 5 most peripheral positions. However, NGOs were also shown to be the least diverse in their communication practices, compared to the other stakeholder groups. Through semi‐structured interviews, personal relationships were identified as the biggest key to functioning communication. Participant insights also showed that stakeholder‐specific variables (e.g. ethical/confidentiality concerns), and competition and fundraising, can have a confounding effect on inter‐communication. Evaluating communication networks and intra‐stakeholder communication trends is essential to facilitate a more cohesive, productive, and efficient response to the challenges of combatting illegal wildlife trade.
Moshier, A., Steadman, J., Roberts, D. L. 2019. Network analysis of a stakeholder community combatting illegal wildlife trade (In press). Conservation Biology. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13336
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Criteria for CITES species protection
Unsustainable international wildlife trade is a major conservation concern, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a key tool for regulating it. In their Policy Forum “Long delays in banning trade in threatened species” (15 February, p. 686), E. G. Frank and D. S. Wilcove suggest that when the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species identifies a species as threatened, at least in part by international trade, it should be promptly added to CITES. We welcome the suggestion for closer interaction between the Red List and amendments to the CITES Appendices. However, the proposed approach of a near-automatic pathway overlooks the independent criteria and processes used for evaluating extinction risk on the Red List and for including species in CITES.
Challender, D. W. S., Hoffmann, M., Hoffmann, R., Scott, J., Robinson, J. E., Cremona, P., Hilton-Taylor, C., Jenkins, R. K. B., Malsch, K., Conde, D., De Meulenaer, T. 2019. Criteria for CITES species protection. SCIENCE Vol. 364(6437), 247-248.
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Behaviour Change for Nature: A Behavioural Science Toolkit for Practitioners
A great summary of behavioural research findings for public policy and how to apply it to biodiversity conservation interventions aimed at influencing behaviour.
Rare and The Behavioural Insights Team. (2019). Behavior Change For Nature: A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners. Arlington, VA: Rare.
Categories: Useful Links


Understanding complex drivers of wildlife crime to design effective conservation interventions
In conservation, understanding the drivers of behavior and developing robust interventions to promote behavioral change is challenging and requires a multi‐faceted approach. This is particularly true for efforts to address illegal wildlife use, where pervasive ‐ and sometimes simplistic ‐ narratives often obscure complex realities. In this paper, we apply a set of novel techniques in an integrated approach to investigate the drivers and prevalence of wildlife crime in communities surrounding two national parks in Uganda and predict the performance of potential interventions designed to tackle these crimes. Although poverty is often assumed to be a key driver of wildlife crime, we show that better off households, as well as those that suffer from human wildlife conflict and those that do not receive any benefits from the parks’ tourism revenue‐sharing, are more likely to be involved in certain types of wildlife crime, especially illegal hunting. The interventions predicted to have the greatest impact on reducing local participation in wildlife crime are those that aim to directly address the drivers including, mitigating damage caused by wildlife and generating financial benefits for park‐adjacent households. This study demonstrates the power of a triangulated approach in gaining insights into complex and hard‐to‐access behaviors, and highlights the importance of going beyond single‐driver narratives.
Travers H., Archer L. J., Mwedde, G., Roe, D., Baker J., Plumptre A., Rwetsiba A., Milner‐Gulland E.J. 2019. Understanding complex drivers of wildlife crime to design effective conservation interventions. Conservation Biology.
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


The Past, Present, and Future of Using Social Marketing to Conserve Biodiversity (Open Access)
Since the establishment of social marketing as a discipline, it was clear that environmental sustainability would be part of its scope (Kotler & Zaltman, 1971). Yet, whereas the academic scope of the field was broadly defined, the origins of social marketing practice, which were heavily linked to the promotion of family planning, meant that the development of this practice-led field has been historically focused on public health. Since the beginning of the century, there have been important developments at the intersection of social marketing and environmental sustainability, particularly considering issues such as waste management, energy efficiency, or water conservation. One area that has had very limited attention in the social marketing literature has been biodiversity conservation, defined as the management of diversity of life on Earth with the aim of protecting species, ecosystems, and their interactions from excessive rates of extinction (Hunter & Gibbs, 2007). While this has often been constructed to be a topic that relates to wildlife as opposed to people, it is clear that all key threats to biodiversity are a result of human behavior and as such successful conservation strategies have to also be able to influence human decision-making (Schultz, 2011). It is thus unsurprising that conservationists are increasingly interested in social marketing (Veríssimo, 2013), and this issue of Social Marketing Quarterly aims to bring together these two fields to cross pollinate ideas and promote social marketing research in biodiversity conservation.
Diogo Veríssimo. 2019. The Past, Present, and Future of Using Social Marketing to Conserve Biodiversity. Social Marketing Quarterly, Vol 25(1):3-8.
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


Identifying global centers of unsustainable commercial harvesting of species
Overexploitation is one of the main threats to biodiversity, but the intensity of this threat varies geographically. We identified global concentrations, on land and at sea, of 4543 species threatened by unsustainable commercial harvesting. Regions under high-intensity threat (based on accessibility on land and on fishing catch at sea) cover 4.3% of the land and 6.1% of the seas and contain 82% of all species threatened by unsustainable harvesting and >80% of the ranges of Critically Endangered species threatened by unsustainable harvesting. Currently, only 16% of these regions are covered by protected areas on land and just 6% at sea. Urgent actions are needed in these centers of unsustainable harvesting to ensure that use of species is sustainable and to prevent further species’ extinctions.
Di Minin, et. al. 2019. Identifying global centers of unsustainable commercial harvesting of species. Science Advances Vol. 5, no. 4.
Published: Apr 2019 | Categories: Research Articles


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