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CJCCJ/Volume 63.2 (2021)

Wildlife Criminology, New Horizons in Criminology Series, Bristol University Press, 1st Edition

By Angus Nurse and Tanya Wyatt
Bristol, UK: Bristol University Press. 2020. pp. 122 [e-book Kindle]

Drs Nurse and Wyatt have both individually and collaboratively published on wildlife crime, wildlife criminality, and wildlife enforcement. Their expertise in green criminology laid the foundation for their new book Wildlife Criminology, within the New Horizons in Criminology series. The book establishes its focus on wildlife as victims in the opening page, claiming, “The harm and crime committed by humans do not only affect humans.” (p. 1). The authors introduce a concept of inclusive victimology (for humans and lack of a better term non-human animals) through a holistic lens instead of the anthropocentric legal system. The authors identify the social construction of the human, non-human animal hierarchy through a critical lens, provoking an expansion on critical and green criminological thought that extends to all living beings. The book’s overall message is to challenge the way humans view and study non-human animals and confront long-held beliefs about human violence and apparent human moral exclusivity.

The book is framed within four key themes: commodification and exploitation, violence, rights, and speciesism. The eight chapters flow through these themes to create a strong narrative of advocacy and awareness of humans and non-human animals’ relationships. The authors frame non-human animal suffering as worthy of inquiry, particularly related to human-caused impacts. There is a critical analysis of how wildlife is used as a human commodity through exploitation, including legal killing in certain circumstances such as sport, the legal trade in wildlife parts, wildlife consumption as food, and the legal ownership of wildlife by humans or the state. The early chapters (1-4) address each of these aspects and highlight society’s speciesist tendencies.

In arguably the most thought-provoking section of the book on violence (Chapters 5-6), the connection between human violence and non-human animals is explored. Included in this section of the book is an overall discussion of violence indicators, and in particular: the discourse on the abuse of animals as possible indicators for future violence, interpersonal spousal and child abuse likely to be occurring when animal abuse is present in the home (p. 82), sexual violence between and within species groups, wildlife impacted by human violence, and the association of some of the discussed violent human tendencies with masculinity. One example provided in Chapter 5 is elephant herds’ human culling, leaving young elephants as survivors and witnesses to the violence. The young elephants suffer severe trauma that may impact their behaviour, and as they grow, documentation has been made of some young male elephants being aggressive towards other wildlife. The authors suggest that “Wildlife are more reflectors of human violence than vice versa” (p. 74). One story the authors’ reference does solicit disturbing images and justifies their use of the word rape. The authors describe a researcher-observed interaction between a fur seal and a king penguin in the Antarctic, where inter-species sexual violence left a penguin visibly bleeding (p. 73).

The authors describe how violence is not a uniquely non-human characteristic, nor are cooperation, culture, or morals uniquely human attributes (Chapter 5 ‘Wildlife as Reflectors of Violence’). The authors cite scientific research and individual’s accounts of witnessing violent and cooperative behaviours between and within non-human animal groups. Nurse and Wyatt discuss how these notions challenge the very fabric of what most people believe is their inherent humanness; when we are violent it is because we were once animals, and when we cooperate, have compassion, or mourn our dead (p. 77) it is because we are human (Chapter 5). The authors challenge the human framing of the ‘others’. This ‘othering’ is discussed within the context of (illegal) hunting and trapping and how individuals rationalize their criminal actions in these circumstances by applying neutralization techniques (Sykes and Matza, 1957: Chapter 6). This ‘othering’ is explored throughout the book and is present on the discussion of animal and wildlife welfare rights and the legal personhood debate (Chapter 7). Nurse and Wyatt posit that humans place non-human animals on a sliding scale of value, dependent upon how they are viewed or used by humans. Therefore, the level of importance placed on them is as ‘property’. One challenge is acknowledged by the authors in the rights debate when they ask, among other green criminologists referenced in the text, “who has the right to rights” (p. 108), and who speaks for the wildlife (p. 101)? The authors conclude their book with a compelling argument for legal personhood for non-human animals by highlighting that rights have been extended to corporations and rivers in legal matters represented by humans and should also be extended to non-human animals (p. 108). In writing this book the authors hoped that their discussions would bring a more holistic approach to how criminologists study wildlife crime. Nurse and Wyatt also wanted to clarify and emphasize the importance of wildlife criminology because “Without wildlife, ecosystems would collapse and so would human civilisation” (p. 102).

The authors state that subsistence hunting is not a particular area of concern for their book’s purposes (p. 90) but did acknowledge traditional and cultural uses of wildlife in their chapter on food (Chapter 3). This section may have benefited from a further in-depth discussion on different Indigenous Peoples’ beliefs regarding the taking of wildlife for subsistence and varying traditions across the world, and how these views might intersect with the current legal personhood debate for nonhuman animals. The authors highlighted questionable wildlife practices and demand markets in the West, as opposed to focusing only on the Asian market and more specifically Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses of wildlife. This was refreshing for the Asian, and more specifically Chinese demand market discussion to be minimized. Instead, more Western bushmeat markets and practices, such as the historical songbird tradition in Europe (p. 42), brought the debate to the forefront. In the wildlife crime research, there is often a strong focus on the Asian demand market, and although important, it may at times minimize focus on other demand markets and traditions.

The chapters on violence might have benefitted from an analysis of bestiality and violence. However, this may have been excluded given the focus of the work was mostly on wildlife and not exclusively on companion or farm animals. Given the authors’ call for a change in anthropocentric language in their concluding chapter (8), it is curious why they chose Wildlife Criminology for their book title instead of Non-Human Animal Criminology. Perhaps the title choice was to reach a wider audience, entice a diverse readership to engage with the book’s key concepts, and ultimately present their progressive views on holistic species justice. Overall, the book is a great advocacy tool for an inclusive victimology and supports the legal rights debate for non-human animals. The ideal target audience for ‘Wildlife Criminology’ is students of criminology (particularly those interested in a critical victimology perspective) and any student interested in an accessible summary of the human-wildlife dynamic and non-human animal rights debate from a holistic viewpoint.


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