Leave Them Wild approaches wildlife crime at the nexus of conservation science and criminology. Our methodology cohesively merges the theories and methods of these disciples to gather empirical evidence, analyze data, and apply knowledge to disrupt the proliferation of wildlife crime globally. We approach and analyze these crimes as context-specific conservation issues that are inexorably embedded in the human social systems in which they occur.

Our Approach to Wildlife Crime

Wildlife crime, including the poaching and trafficking of wildlife, is characterized by its complexity and contextuality; it manifests in many forms and exhibits links to a variety of markets, each with distinct drivers, actors, supply chains, and criminal modus operandi. Although the illegal wildlife trade is increasingly being recognized as a serious form of global crime, much of the empirical research that addresses these crimes derive from the fields of conservation biology and ecology, situating wildlife crime research almost exclusively in the realm of the natural sciences. This preference fails to account for the complex interface between human-natural systems—the sociocultural and political processes alongside the ecological considerations. This highlights a common dilemma in conservation-related problems, where challenges may be biological in nature, but many influencing variables are rooted in the human, social world. Natural science problems are rooted in human social systems; as such, conservation is both about ecology and about changing human behavior.

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Leave Them Wild specializes in the novel use of ethnography to gather qualitative data to inform wildlife crime-related questions, questions which have traditionally been approached using the quantitative methods favored in the conservation sciences. We engage in fieldwork with active criminals to investigate wildlife crimes in peripheral settings by gathering empirical data from the offenders themselves. We also facilitate the knowledge transfer of these proven field methods and acquired knowledge via our consulting and training services for organizations and individuals.

Our methods, which focus on gathering first-hand information from offenders are bold, innovative, and unique. By directly interviewing those associated with the poaching and trafficking of wildlife – the poachers, middlemen, smugglers, and buyers –it is possible to gather context-specific, undiluted details about the criminal network and supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade occurring that cannot be obtained with as much detail or accuracy in any other way.

We believe crimes should be viewed as a dynamic process rather than a discreet event. This process unfolds across several distinct acts or steps that cumulatively facilitate a criminal opportunity that offenders take advantage of. The identification of these distinct acts or steps that comprise an entire crime event is known as crime script analysis. We employ crime scripting as a companion tool to inform situational crime prevention, a framework that details how an offender’s choice to commit a particular crime can be influenced by changing the environment or situational context in which that decision takes place. This includes reducing the opportunities for offenders to commit a crime, decreasing the number of victims or the accessibility of the victim to the offender, and increasing the level of monitoring, making crime more difficult to commit.

We utilize criminological theories and methods to address wildlife crime by approaching and analyzing these crimes in a way analogous to traditional forms of crime—i.e., identifying the characteristics of where, when, and why a specific target is selected and how the crime commission process unfolds. By understanding the nuances and detail of each stage within a particular illegal wildlife supply chain, we are able to pinpoint who is involved, their motivations, criminal network modus operandi, and the opportunity structures that facilitate the crime to occur. With this information, tools from criminology, like crime scripting, are used to break down the crime commission process, and highlight intervention points most likely to disrupt the flow of illegal wildlife products, with the goal of developing context-specific policy interventions and management techniques that can help reduce poaching pressure.

Fieldwork with active offenders can be dangerous and challenging to conduct, however, to gather the most complete data possible, it is necessary. As experts, we are here to facilitate this type of research.