Wildlife Crime and CITES Trade Bans – Applying the Principles of Gladwell (2013)

9 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2018

Date Written: January 13, 2018


In the relationship between crime and punishment, Malcolm Gladwell hypothesises that, past a certain point, intensification of law enforcement stops having any effect on criminals and may even make crime worse. This is very relevant to a topical issue that has commanded global media attention in recent years – that of wildlife crime (illegal killing and trafficking in wildlife products). Many see the solution to the problem as intensification of law enforcement. Under the CITES Treaty this approach manifests itself in global trade bans, e.g. on ivory and rhino horn.

This paper explores some mathematical expressions that allow an inverted-U curve to produce the effects described by Gladwell. The existing CITES trade bans on ivory and rhino horn have followed a very similar trajectory since their inception and appear to have made things worse. The larger question that has to be asked is “what incentives are there for African countries to invest in protection of their elephants and rhinos?” The focus on regulation without incentives is a central issue that needs to be addressed. Scale mismatches occur when global treaties such as CITES become ‘rogue’ institutions that ignore national sovereign rights and attempt to originate and impose new rules born at the global level that are essentially imperialistic.

The Animal Rights groups have decided that consumptive use of wildlife is unacceptable behaviour and the enemy of conservation. This ignores the relationships between humans and wildlife that have existed on planet earth since before the Pleistocene. It has done no favour to the cause of conservation that the use of wild animals and their environments has been placed in a ‘special category’ that departs from the conventional manner in which people handle their day-to-day decisions about the land from which they derive their livelihoods. It has created the situation where officials and governments right across the continent are engaged in illegal ivory and rhino horn trade and it has made smuggling easy.

Keywords: Wildlife trade bans, law enforcement, CITES

JEL Classification: C02, K14, K33, K42, P48, Q01, Q02, Q20, Q27, Q56

Suggested Citation

Martin, Rowan, Wildlife Crime and CITES Trade Bans – Applying the Principles of Gladwell (2013) (January 13, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3101284 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3101284

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