Wildlife Crime


I. Introduction

II. Definition and Characteristics of Wildlife Crimes

III. History of Wildlife Crimes

IV. Typical State Wildlife Crimes

V. Typical Federal Wildlife Crimes

VI. Types of Wildlife Offenders

VII. Conservation Officers: Policing Wildlife Crime

VIII. Punishing Wildlife Offenders

IX. Conclusion

X. Bibliography

I. Introduction

The United States is one of the largest markets for wildlife and wildlife products from all over the world. Hundreds of millions of dollars are earned annually from wildlife crimes committed in the United States alone, and about $6 billion are earned every year from wildlife crimes worldwide (see Musgrave, Parker, & Wolok, 1993; Tobias, 1998; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007; Warchol, 2004). This research paper offers a general overview of wildlife crime at both the state and federal levels, identifies a variety of types of wildlife offenders, provides an overview of the techniques involved in the policing and punishment of wildlife criminals, and makes suggestions to address and prevent wildlife crime in the future.

II. Definition and Characteristics of Wildlife Crimes

Wildlife crime is a unique category of crime. It does not fit “cleanly” into the various traditional categories, or classifications, often used to describe criminal activity— categories such as crimes against persons or property crimes. Like gambling, prostitution, and drug use, wildlife crimes are sometimes considered to be “victimless crimes” because a readily identifiable injured party or victim, at least in the form of a human being, is not present or filing a complaint. However, it has been argued that in the case of wildlife crime, like other victimless crime, society-at-large is the true victim because these criminal acts lead to significant harm to, if not the complete eradication of, entire species of animals and plants, thereby affecting hunters, anglers, nature photographers, and anyone else who enjoys wildlife in some way. Indeed, some would say that wildlife crimes, taken to the extreme, have the cumulative effect of seriously damaging entire ecosystems (Clifford, 1998; see also Muth, 1998).

Wildlife crimes are generally considered to be a subset of environmental crime. A common, albeit very general, definition of wildlife crime states that it is any violation of a criminal law expressly designed to protect wildlife. One of the most common wildlife crimes is poaching, which is generally defined as taking a wild resource out of season or through an illegal means. The laws usually cover animals (including mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, and even insects), as well as certain plants (Gregorich, 1992; Muth & Bowe, 1998). Although poaching often results in the death of an animal, it also encompasses illegal live trapping of animals that are later sold or traded for profit. Consequently, poaching is not simply hunting out of season or with the wrong type of weapon; it can also be the killing or trapping of endangered, rare, or protected species. Wildlife crimes also include activities that affect wildlife more indirectly, such as pollution of waterways that results in damage to fish or other wildlife, or the destruction of protected wildlife habitats.

Animals are illegally harvested within the United States, or illegally imported into the country, for a variety of motives. They may be used or sold as food, displayed as trophies, or sold simply for economic gain. Frequently, illegally obtained animals are sold for use as exotic pets or for entertainment in circuses, road shows, and so forth. Further, sometimes it is the animal parts, rather than the entire animal, that are more valued. For example, rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory are often used to make ornamental household items. Other animal parts, such as tiger genitals, bear paws and gallbladders, and some fish fins have medicinal uses in Asia and Africa (Warchol, Zupan, & Clack, 2003). In addition, illegally obtained animal skins and furs are sold or traded for use in apparel, wall hangings, and rugs.Within the United States, species such as the paddlefish have had to be protected because poachers will illegally harvest the fish for their eggs and market the eggs as “fake” caviar (Graham, 1997). These are just some examples showing how wildlife offenders can bring in significant revenue by supplying animals or animal parts to meet the demand for these types of items.

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