Ideas on how to tackle corruption in the international conservation community

This is a guest post from Shannon Noelle Rivera, who won this year’s IFAW/Winchester essay competition with her essay, Playing Politics with Animals: Corruption in CITES and the International Wildlife Trade. -- PM

I am humbled and encouraged to be the author of one of this year’s winning essays, as it has allowed me the opportunity to shed light on an important facet of conservation; the international wildlife trade.

It isn’t breaking news that the illegal wildlife trade significantly threatens species, ecosystems, livelihoods, and global security while negatively impacting the welfare of billions of animals. While there are formal mechanisms in place to control the trade, there is also a large elephant in the room (pardon the wildlife reference) when it comes to the wildlife trade that needs to be addressed on an international level.

Corruption severely undermines conservation efforts and it is far too common in the international wildlife trade. Even the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the international agreement with the sole purpose of ensuring that international trade of wildlife does not threaten species’ survival, is infected with corruption. Corruption infiltrates every stage of the wildlife trade making it nearly impossible to distinguish between legal and illegal activity.

My essay introduces several ideas to help deter corrupt officials from abusing their power including; creating an international auditing and enforcement system; standardising legislation; and putting in place secure and anonymous reporting mechanisms for whistleblowers. I acknowledge that there is no simple solution for this destabilising issue, but the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have given this issue a voice.

My field of study is endangered species conservation. I was a conservationist before I knew what the word meant, but once I discovered that there are people who protect the planet and its species for a living, I never considered anything else. I’ve always felt an innate responsibility for other living beings, but I’ve come to learn that the sciences of conservation and animal welfare are not always cohesive, and their objectives often clash. I find myself shifting back and forth from conservationist to welfarist and I know I am not alone.

I enrolled in Winchester’s Master of Science program in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law to address the interconnectedness of the two fields and show that their interests overlap considerably. I believe that there is potential for widespread transformation by using a collaborative approach and recognising the intersections between disciplines. The better we can become at communicating and cooperating, the better the outcomes will be for our world.

Winchester’s partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare is particularly important to me because IFAW addresses both conservation and animal welfare issues; the 2018 essay competition focusing on ‘human impacts on wild animals’ highlighted this perfectly. I appreciate the attention that IFAW gives to wild animal welfare and I hope that as the Winchester/IFAW partnership grows, more people will become aware of the vital connections between animal welfare and conservation.

--SNR

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