New book on Conservation and Security

11 April 2022

Rosaleen Duffy has published a new book with Yale University Press on Conservation and Security: the Politics of the Illegal Wildlife Trade. The book is based on 8 years of research, much of it as part of the BIOSEC Project, funded by an ERC Advanced Investigator Award. The book is out in the US 14 April and rest of the world 14 June, you can pre-order it here.

Conservation is changing. We are accustomed to the notion that it is directed by scientists wielding notebooks, running computer models, watching wildlife behaviors, or collecting plant samples. The rapid growth in poaching and trafficking of some of the world’s most iconic species, however, has generated a sense of urgency, and conservation, and conservationists, now look very different. In some places the notebooks, computers, and sample jars have been replaced with weapons, hi-tech surveillance systems, and intelligence networks. It has become harder and harder to distinguish between conservationists and the people and practices normally found in the security sector. Scientists are being replaced by security operatives trained in intelligence gathering, use of weapons, and surveillance techniques. The object of their gaze is not the plants and animals, but the humans that might threaten them. This change signals a key shift. The attention of conservationists is moving away from a focus on ecological monitoring and data gathering, toward a fuller focus on people (as individuals or networks) who are defined as a threat to wildlife. This is most prominent in responses to the illegal wildlife trade, but it is also reshaping conservation more broadly.

The illegal wildlife trade has gained international attention since poaching of elephants and rhinos began to increase in the late 2000s. By 2019 there was some good news about slowing rates of poaching, but then the eruption of COVID-19 brought new concerns and a focus on the risks posed by the illegal wildlife trade. Conservation and animal welfare NGOs, among others, seized on the pandemic as evidence for the need for tougher regulations of all wildlife markets, whether legal and regulated or illegal and unregulated, in the interests of public health. This has forged the current sense of urgency that lies behind the rise of security in conservation. Previously we had been taking these steps to prevent extinctions; now we must act because of significant threats to human health and well-being. profile shot of Rosaleen Duffy

The new sense of urgency has produced a series of important conceptual and practical shifts in conservation. It has opened an important space for security thinking, practices, and practitioners to move into conservation. These changes have encouraged and facilitated the entry of militaries, private sector security companies as well as intelligence and risk companies into conservation, and they demand further investigation. Further, the urgency has al- lowed these groups to generate new rationales for their activities and to justify greater allocation of resources to security as a means of saving species. Scrutiny of how funds are used, where they are used, and with what consequences is limited by the very same security precautions that necessitate the move toward partnering with militaries and security companies in first place.

There is an element of opportunism at work for both conservation and the security sectors. Each is entrepreneurial. For the security sector, conservation provides new markets and testing grounds. For conservation, security brings important new streams of funding, a great deal of public attention, and policy commitments from some of the world’s most powerful actors. The two forces are combining to create more security-oriented responses to the illegal wildlife trade, which are also reshaping approaches in conservation as a whole. The shift toward security does not mean that other ways of doing conservation have been completely abandoned. Security approaches coexist alongside others that are anchored in community-based and neoliberal strategies, but the integration of security with conservation is more prominent in policies to tackle

This shift raises some key questions. Where do the aims of conservation and security diverge, and why it is so interesting and concerning that they are being blended together? In what ways have the specific framings of the illegal wildlife trade as a serious organized crime, or source of finance for armed groups, facilitated and deepened the integration of security and conservation? And how do these lead to a new set of practices on the ground, changing conservation such that policy has become folded into security strategies? What is the emerging debate on political ecologies of conflict and conservation, which can act as an initial foundation for developing a political ecology approach to understanding the integration of conservation and security? And, what is the role of funding in developing and supporting a more security-oriented approach to conservation? This book addresses these fundamental questions, and ends with a more hopeful pathway forward for tackling IWT.

You can read a sample chapter here.


Rosaleen Duffy provides a timely critical reflection on how the illegal wildlife trade facilitates the convergence of conservation and security strategies, resulting in a new and worrying set of conservation practices.—Maano Ramutsindela, Lead Editor of The Violence of Conservation in Africa

Rosaleen Duffy robustly and eloquently evidences the complex interplay of protecting wildlife. This book is a must‑read to understand the securitization and militarization of conservation and its unintended consequences. —Tanya Wyatt, author of Wildlife Trafficking: A Deconstruction of the Crime, Victims, and Offenders

A groundbreaking critique of the recent ‘securitization’ of the illegal wildlife trade – one that pushes us beyond black‑and‑white narratives toward more just, ethical, and decolonial conservation futures.—Liana Chua, University of Cambridge /The Global Lives of the Orangutan project

This is a necessary read for critical times: a brilliant analysis of the securitization of wildlife conservation, and an urgent reminder of the structural conditions that brought us here.—Diana Ojeda, Universidad de los Andes

Rosaleen Duffy is a preeminent chronicler of political‑economic trends shaping biodiversity conservation. This much‑needed book brilliantly unpacks the security turn in conservation and ultimately what is at stake with this approach.—Elizabeth (Libby) Lunstrum, Boise State University

There are few keener observers of international biodiversity conservation than Rosaleen Duffy. With a ferocity of purpose, she investigates the tenuous connection and nuances between illegal wildlife trade, terrorism threats, and national security.—Steven R. Brechin, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

An incisive and sobering account of the security turn in conservation, Rosaleen Duffy masterfully captures how intelligence, technology, and militarization are reshaping conservation practice and governance. A must read!—Catherine Corson, author of Corridors of Power