Indian man looking at tiger skins

Indian man looking at tiger skins

Beyond borders: Trading in tiger skin

30 October 2017

Unlike a pangolin, Tokay gecko or similar victim of the illegal wildlife trade, poaching a tiger takes some skill.

And that, really, forms the crux of Professor Lorraine Elliott’s research into environmental black markets: How a tiger skin might pass through different specialists, across borders, as a product.

“It has to be tanned, and that’s a skill. There’s taxidermy involved, that’s a skill,” said Professor Elliott from the Department of International Relations.

“In something like the pet trade, the fur trade, it’s not that you have one set of people doing the illegal stuff and one set of people doing the legal stuff – almost always these two things are connected.”

This research, for a book project, is just one cut of Professor Elliott’s broader research agenda.

Her work ranges from research on climate change to human security. Outreach and engagement with the policy community are active pursuits. She has sat on numerous boards and chaired various bodies.

But Professor Elliott is also the project leader of the Transnational Environmental Crime project, founded in 2011 and funded by an ARC linkage grant.

Right now, her book project, looking specifically at the nature of criminal networks involved in transnational environmental crime, is about halfway there.

“I want to understand how we can conceptualise the actual trade itself,” Professor Elliott said.

“So much of the work that’s done around trying to interdict and stop the illegal wildlife trade is looking at trying to either stop demand or trying to stop supply.”

Professor Elliott’s own work seeks to understand these networks as transactional, rather than simply criminal.

“Saying this is the illicit space and this is the licit space, those boundaries, that simply doesn’t work,” she said.

A farmer, whose chief means of income is legal, might know that if they find a pangolin in the wild, somebody will pay them a small amount of money for it. An ivory carver might see themselves as an artisan rather than a participant in the criminal trafficking of elephant tusks.

“So much of what happens in the illicit space relies on what happens in the legal space,” Professor Elliott said.

“I’m hoping that this framework may provide some broader value for both scholarly work but also the policy community.”

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