Research shows link between wildlife decline and criminal activity

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A recent study led by UC Berkeley researchers found that wildlife decline may be perpetuating violent crime across the globe — and that collaboration between scientists and policymakers will help address concerns of increasing criminal activity.

The research, led by Justin Brashares, a campus associate professor of environmental science, policy and management, links wildlife decline to problems such as child labor and poaching. The study was published late July in the journal Science.

By synthesizing data from past research papers, the researchers discovered a connection between declining wildlife and increasing crime, exemplified through the problem of piracy in Somalia. According to Tristan Nunez, a graduate student of environmental science, policy and management and a co-author of the study, some local fishermen in Somalia became pirates when they failed to protect their waters from international fishing fleets.

According to Katherine Seto, another graduate student in the same department and a co-author of the study, the research highlights how the health of wildlife populations is linked to the health of human populations. Decline in wildlife associated with fishery harvests, the study found, leads to trafficking children and adults in order to maintain yields and minimize production costs.

Nunez emphasized the importance of engaging conversation between policymakers and academics to address wildlife decline and potentially prevent crime.

“Our article is a call to action for people to form a working group or organization to address these issues of wildlife decline in an interdisciplinary fashion,” Nunez said.

An example of a working group that the researchers hope to see emulated, he said, is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988 to educate the world on the current state of climate change and to outline potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts.

But collaboration may not always garner positive results, said Meredith Gore, an assistant professor at Michigan State University who specializes in conservation criminology and who was not involved in the research.

“You can’t just put a bunch of different perspectives or people around a room and expect magic to happen,” Gore said in an email. “Conservation crime is complex and when done effectively, interdisciplinary collaboration may improve our thinking and action about the issue.”

As policymakers and scientists who engage in natural resource management and crime studies, conservation criminologists provide an interdisciplinary perspective on human and ecological systems.

“We’re pushing the boundaries of theory and practice to help reduce conservation crimes and the species, ecosystems, and people that are negatively affected by them,” Gore said in an email.

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.