Students Combat Wildlife Trafficking through Research and Action at The LBJ School

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Students Combat Wildlife Trafficking through Research and Action at The LBJ School

Dr. Joshua Busby’s interest in wildlife conservation deepened on a South African safari in 2010. He came across a rhinoceros, regal and content, unaware of its status as an endangered species. The animal’s impact on Dr. Busby led to his Policy Research Project (PRP) on Global Wildlife Conservation, a student-led course sponsored by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to analyze and identify policy options to stem the recent poaching crisis that is contributing to the loss of iconic species such as rhinos, elephants, and other animals.Rhino

Busby’s PRP is structured around six, 20-page reports covering security, sport hunting, multilateral schemes, public-private partnerships, socioeconomic effects, and demand reduction. The project is due for completion in May 2015.

“We have completed our first three papers for the Congressional Research Service,” says student Jamie Olsen. “The first discusses multilateral efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade, the second sport hunting, and a third on public-private partnerships to increase global wildlife conservation. We received very positive feedback from the CRS and are starting our next round of papers.”

“Through Professor Busby’s PRP on wildlife conservation, I’ve focused on two topics: sport hunting and the security implications of poaching,” says student Caitlin Goodrich. “The sport hunting paper examines the practice as a conservation mechanism and addresses the regulatory challenges that sport hunting poses to the United States and other countries.”

The project also affords students the opportunity for real-world engagement with prominent policymakers. Representatives from the CRS and partner organizations have visited the LBJ School, encouraging professional relationships and demonstrating the policy relevance of the research reports. In the fall, Dr. Susan Lieberman, Vice President for International Policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society, met with the PRP group, and Dr. David Reed, Senior Policy Advisor for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is scheduled to speak at the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service on March 10.

“Our work will be heavily informed by in-person interviews with agency and congressional staff in Washington, D.C.,” says Goodrich. “The report hopes to use available data to cross-map poaching incidents and conflict areas.”

Travel is an important element in Busby’s course, and over the spring semester, select students will be visiting Washington, D.C. to meet with the CRS. A spring break trip to D.C. will provide details and feedback for the report on the relationship between wildlife trafficking and national security, especially in Africa. Three students will also have the opportunity to travel to Tanzania to experience firsthand an example of the wildlife they are working to protect. The trip will contribute to the report on the ecotourism industry and the socioeconomic effects of wildlife trafficking and conservation.

“In addition to providing primary sources for my report, the excursion to Tanzania is a personal milestone for me,” says Olsen. “It fulfills a lifelong dream of mine to go on safari in Africa.”

Busby is optimistic that his course will help students develop working knowledge of policy writing, geographical information system mapping, survey design, market research, and economic analysis. Students are also required to create monthly blog content evaluating wildlife conservation issues and possible policy options. At the end of the semester, several students will travel to D.C. to present the class’s collective findings to the CRS director, and the research will feed into CRS reports for Congress. Busby also hopes the PRP affects his students in the same way the safari affected him, inspiring them to continue policy work on wildlife conservation in Africa and beyond.