The geopolitical ecology of conservation: The emergence of illegal wildlife trade as national security interest and the re-shaping of US foreign conservation assistance

Massé, Francis and Margulies, Jared D. (2020) The geopolitical ecology of conservation: The emergence of illegal wildlife trade as national security interest and the re-shaping of US foreign conservation assistance. World Development, 132. p. 104958. ISSN 0305-750X

1-s2.0-S0305750X2030084X-main.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

Download (1MB) | Preview
Official URL:


In this article we develop a geopolitical ecology of foreign conservation assistance. While the literature on the political nature of foreign assistance writ large highlights how geopolitical agendas are pursued through foreign assistance, we focus on how this geopolitics of foreign assistance articulates with biodiversity conservation concerns. We draw attention to how conservation donor agencies negotiate shifting geopolitical contexts in which the protection of biodiversity from the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is increasingly framed in the language of national security concerns. We ask: Does framing IWT as a national security concern shape the allocation of foreign conservation assistance? What can answering this question tell us, both empirically and conceptually, about the geopolitical ecology of foreign conservation assistance specifically, and about the meaning of biodiversity conservation efforts to the state more broadly? We approach these questions by combining in-depth qualitative and quantitative analyses of the foreign conservation assistance provided by the US’ lead wildlife conservation agency, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Between 2002 to the end of fiscal year 2018, the USFWS Division of International Affairs provided assistance to 4142 projects across 106 countries worth over USD $301 million. Our results show that an increasing portion of foreign assistance for biodiversity conservation is allocated to projects that have the specific objective of combating wildlife trafficking (CWT) at the expense of other conservation priorities. This transformation of what it means to fund conservation work overseas, we argue, lies at the heart of an emerging and intensifying geopolitical ecology of conservation, marked by increasing efforts to link the illicit harvesting and trafficking of wildlife with concerns about threats to national security. We conclude by discussing what a geopolitical ecology lens offers for understanding international assistance, biodiversity conservation, more traditional geopolitical concerns, and the intersections between them.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding information: We would like to thank all research participants and specifically those of the USFWS who participated in our research and gave feedback. A special thank you Angelica Ochoa for her assistance in coding and to the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience scheme who provided funding to make her assistance possible. Thank you to Rosaleen Duffy for feedback on a draft version of the manuscript. Previous versions of this manuscript were presented at the Northumbria University’s Environmental and Global Justice Research Group and the WildCRU Conservation Geopolitics Forum. This work was supported by the European Research Council Grant # 694995 (BIOSEC).
Uncontrolled Keywords: Foreign assistance, Geopolitics, Conservation, Illegal wildlife trade, Geopolitical ecology, Wildlife crime
Subjects: C300 Zoology
D300 Animal Science
F800 Physical and Terrestrial Geographical and Environmental Sciences
L700 Human and Social Geography
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Geography and Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Elena Carlaw
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2020 12:00
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 10:54

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics