Legacy Site

This is a legacy site from a policy research project on wildlife conservation, but I wanted to draw attention to four theses that I supervised on related topics:

Brittany HortonAn Analysis of the Impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative on African Pangolin Conservation

Leo CarterReducing demand for ivory in China : a qualitative & quantitative study

Ana E. Ramirez CortePromoting pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors to reduce the consumption of illegal wildlife products in China

Legacy Global Wildlife Conservation Site

This is a website with blog posts carried out by graduate students at the University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs, for a year long course on Global Wildlife Conservation from 2014-2015. The sponsor was the Congressional Research Service (CRS). We wrote six papers for CRS on a range of topics. You can explore the students’ blog posts as well as videos of our findings here.

Reducing Consumer Demand for Ivory in China

This piece with Leo Carter was published in September 2016 in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

On Sept. 24, South Africa will open the 2016 CITES meeting — a gathering that could help determine the survival of the world’s remaining elephants, as well as other endangered species.

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora, banned the international trade in ivory in 1989, but later allowed two one-off sales of ivory to serve demand in Japan and China. CITES hoped these sales would flood the market, decrease prices and make illegal ivory less attractive.

However, the way the Chinese government handled ivory from the 2008 one-off sale had the opposite effect. Ivory prices increased, leading to speculative hoarding, laundering of illegal ivory through the legal market, and greater pressures on elephants.

Elephants are in danger

The Great Elephant Census project recently found that the number of African savanna elephants fell 30 percent in just seven years, with fewer than 400,000 remaining. Central Africa’s forest elephants are in worse shape, with perhaps fewer than 100,000 remaining in the wild.

Demand for ivory is driving the poaching of African elephants. Conservation experts believe as much as 70 percent of global ivory demand comes from China.

Competing proposals at the upcoming CITES meeting would tackle the ivory issue in different ways. Some African countries suggest closing all domestic ivory markets. However, Namibia and Zimbabwe claim their elephant populations are doing well and want to legally trade their ivory.

Whatever the outcome at the CITES conference, a chief problem will be convincing consumers in Asia — especially China — to stop buying ivory.

In recent years, the Chinese government has tried to rein in ivory consumption. In February and October 2015, China issued temporary import bans on carved ivory (for which limited personal imports had remained legal) and on ivory hunting trophies, respectively (imports of private trophies remained legal under CITES). These bans are set to expire by 2020. In September 2015, China also promised to close its domestic ivory market (which has been working through its 2008 stockpile), but the government has not announced further details on the timetable.

How can you convince people not to buy ivory?

Scientist Terry Garcia posed this essential question in a 2015 article. Two years ago, we began a research project to answer this question. In August 2015, we fielded a survey experiment in China with roughly 1,600 respondents.

Our research found that wealthier men were the most likely consumers of ivory. So we carried out a second survey with more than 1,300 men who said they had incomes of over 50,000 renminbi (about $7,500) a year. We surveyed respondents from all over China online with the help of a Chinese survey market research firm. Read more ›

CITES CoP17: Will China Take the Lead in the Fight Against Illegal Ivory?

Behind the scenes at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama agreed to enact the Paris climate agreement and a number of smaller policies aimed at reducing emissions from air travel and of hydro-fluorocarbons. Progress on efforts to combat catastrophic climate change prove that, despite their differences on a wide array of economic and security issues, the United States and China have continued to cooperate on global environmental issues.

In the run up to CITES CoP17 in South Africa this month, all eyes will again be on China and the U.S. to take the lead in the fight against international ivory trafficking. This is no small task. Loopholes in domestic ivory markets have provided cover for the illicit trade worldwide. Even on the African continent, the question of whether or not to end legal trade is an unsettled one. Although 80% of range states are in favor of closing domestic markets, key players Namibia, Zimbabwe are in favor of continuing the trade in ivory. A proposal to further the closure of domestic markets with the support of international NGOs and demand countries has been submitted by a number of African states. Conference host South Africa and Japan have already announced their opposition to the proposal. Whether it will gain traction likely depends on pressure from the U.S. and China and their commitment to moving forward with efforts to close their own domestic markets completely. Read more ›

Washington Report

In April 2015, we concluded this year-long research project with presentations in Washington DC. We wrote six papers as part of this project which are proprietary to the client, the Congressional Research Service. Six students — Leo Carter, Caitlin Goodrich, LinhPhung Huynh, Cliff Kaplan, Delfina Rossi, and Wade Tanner — joined me in DC for the final presentation and pictured above.

In addition, we had the good fortune to meet with many of the major wildlife non-governmental organizations in a two-hour briefing held at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Finally, with the assistance of colleagues at the World Wildlife Fund, we held nine information meetings with staff from offices of the Texas Congressional delegation. A highlight of the trip was a meeting with Congressman Ted Poe of Houston who recently hosted an important hearing on poaching and terrorism. Read more ›

Multiplier Effect

While ecotourism provides clear, direct economic benefits to countries, those benefits are often underestimated, since the numerous inputs required to support the ecotourism industry are difficult to quantify. For example, items such as food, supplies, transportation, public works, infrastructure, and manpower are required to support ecotourism. Additionally, local citizens employed by the ecotourism industry often spend their wages within their community, further stimulating the local economy. In fact, the International Labor Organization estimates that one job in the core tourism industry indirectly generates 1.5 additional jobs in the rest of the economy and the workforce is mainly formed by women and young people, half of the tourism workforce is under 25 years old.

Read more ›

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Wildlife Trafficking

As President Obama has been pitching the Trans-Pacific Partnership to voters and elected officials, he has meet fierce resistance from some of his fellow Democrats. The trade deal, still in the process of being negotiated, involves at present 12 Asian countries and is meant to facilitate freer trade among them. Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have been leading the charge against the TPP in the Senate, expressing the concern that it is unfair to make American workers compete with cheap foreign labor. The White House, in response, has billed the TPP as “the most progressive trade deal in history”, and one of the reasons why may surprise you: the agreement includes environmental standards that target the illegal wildlife trade.

Because the TPP involves 8 of the top 20 fishing nations and 5 of the world’s 17 “mega-diverse” countries, which boast 70% of the world’s biodiversity, the trade deal affords the U.S. near unprecedented leverage with which to make demands for new wildlife protection. By way of example, one of the U.S.’s demands is for new and unprecedented provisions ending subsidies to the most unsustainable fisheries. Indeed, the environmental commitments are so core to the TPP that the Obama Administration insists that they will be “on equal footing” with the economic obligations of our trading partners.

Read more ›

The Small Risks, Big Rewards, and Bigger Consequences of Poaching

As I mentioned in my first blog post, countries with weak rule of law (more specifically, weak enforcement of wildlife crime-related laws) can be particularly attractive sites for the capture, transit, and sale of illegal wildlife products.  A key problem regarding illegal wildlife products vis-à-vis the acquisition and trade of other illegal commodities is that often the punitive measures against wildlife crime are not strong enough to match the severity of the crime – even as it continues to become extremely financially lucrative.  This becomes especially problematic when wildlife crime is used to fund activities that undermine national and international security.

Read more ›

We need a single international accreditation system for ecotourism operators


In the world of sustainability, the concept of accreditation or certification for “green,” “just,” or otherwise “sustainable” products is often applied in markets for which it is believed that some consumers would pay a premium for the “more responsible” product. Examples are easy to find. Here are a few.

Ecotourism is an area that desperately needs this sort of accreditation system. Apparently, the tourism market is one with discerning consumers; they seek out tourism providers offering “ecotourism” experiences. This despite the fact that there is no uniform standard as to what ecotourism means and there is not an international organization checking to see if companies claiming to offer “ecotourism” experiences are actually doing something more “sustainable” than those that are not, or that their actual practices match their claims.

Read more ›

Debt-for-Nature and the Illicit Wildlife Trade

Debt-for-nature (DFN) swaps “involve the purchase of a developing country’s debt at a discounted value in the secondary debt market and canceling the debt in return for environment-related action on the part of the debtor nation.” The debt that is purchased is then returned to the debtor nation as equity in the form of a debt bond or an infusion of cash to be invested by NGOs or other institutions into environmental projects. This arrangement has the potential to benefit both the debtor nation by providing it with financial relief and the creditor nation that has a vested interested in the preservation and protection of wildlife resources around the world. DFN arrangements can greatly increase available funding to conservation organizations. Read more ›