PhD project: Methods of, and motives for, laundering a wildlife commodity beyond captive farms
Wildlife trade regulations have failed to reduce the rate of decline for numerous high-profile species and opportunities to launder illegal wildlife exist wherever there are legal trade routes. The lack of infrastructure in the resource-rich, yet impoverished, countries provides a breeding ground for illegal activity and opportunism, which in turn leads to corruption.
Both ex-situ and in-situ opportunities exist to launder wildlife. Wildlife farms launder wild specimens of the same species misdeclared as captive-sourced. Where a legal in-situ harvest exists, misuse of quota systems can enable the masquerading of illegal species as legal. A chief concern in the current debate on whether to legalise the rhino horn trade is the difficulty distinguishing between legal and illegal horn, and therefore concern that the legal trade will increase opportunities to launder the illegal product. Legally trading rhino would provide a fascinating example of in-situ laundering from a legal population. This, however, remains theoretical and the debate lacks data and case studies for policymakers to draw upon.
However, an opportunity exists to study this type of system. The legal harvest of turtle eggs from Ostional, Costa Rica provides a rare chance to assess in-situ wildlife laundering within a legal trade. Ostional is home to the only legal harvest of sea turtle eggs in Costa Rica. Olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are characterised by mass-nesting events (arribadas) lasting 2-10 days, comprising 100,000 individuals. Olive ridley eggs can legally be harvested from Ostional. The long-term impact and wider implications of the trade have not been explored.
Helen Pheasey is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology.
ESRC Southeast Doctoral Training Centre, Research Scholarhip
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