In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conservation Criminology

  • Introduction
  • Introductions and Overviews
  • Green Criminology
  • Future Directions

Criminology Conservation Criminology
Renee Zahnow
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0297


Environmental crimes represent a significant global problem and range from the illegal dumping of e-waste and industrial-scale negligence to wildlife crime, such as the illegal taking of flora and fauna (poaching) and the illegal trade of wildlife products (e.g., ivory). Environmental crimes can have severe and long-lasting consequences by threatening sustainability and food supplies, contaminating ecosystems, and risking the health and well-being of natural environments, wildlife, and human communities. Given the profitability of environmental crimes, this form of offending has become attractive to organized crime syndicates, leading to corruption and the removal of valuable socioeconomic resources from vulnerable communities. Until the introduction of green criminology in recent decades, environmental crimes were considered to fall under the remit of the hard sciences. Conservation criminology is a branch of green criminology. Conservation criminology is a multidisciplinary framework that draws together theories, tools, and methodological approaches from criminology, natural-resource management, and decision sciences, to (1) understand the processes that lead to environmental risk and (2) devise plans to reduce and prevent risks by effectively targeting antecedent factors. A key aim of conservation criminology is to inform evidence-based conservation policy and practice through the use of robust quantitative and qualitative data analyses. Conservation criminology addresses limitations of the broader field of green criminology, specifically its focus of economic power as the main cause of environmental crime. Conservation criminology has a more defined focus than green criminology. Further, the interdisciplinary framework of conservation criminology supports a holistic understanding of the environmental crimes that considers natural and human risk factors alongside contextual, cultural, and economic influences. From a criminological perspective, conservation criminology draws heavily on crime opportunity theories, crime prevention techniques, and analytic and methodological tools developed in crime science. While crime science perspectives play a large role in the field, conservation criminology does not advocate a particular theoretical perspective. Other criminological perspectives, including enforcement legitimacy, procedural justice, and deterrence, have also been applied to understand environmental crime and inform policy and practice. Influences from natural-resource management include the use of prevention strategies based on the precautionary principle, such as protected areas and community-based conservation, as well as an understanding of the environment as a social-ecological system comprising interactions between human and natural systems. Finally, conservation criminology draws on risk assessment, management, and communication principles from the risk and decision sciences. While the field is still in its infancy, studies in conservation criminology have grown exponentially in the early 21st century. Environmental issues of interest include wildlife poaching, illegal fishing, illicit trade in wildlife products, waste and water management, logging, and industrial noncompliance. Studies in conservation criminology assess the extent of environmental crime problems, explore situational factors that facilitate and impede opportunities for environmental crime, and investigate strategies to prevent and respond to these problems.

Introductions and Overviews

Conservation criminology is a multidisciplinary framework that integrates criminology, natural-resource management, and decision sciences. The multidisciplinary perspective draws together the strengths of each approach to progress a framework for research that informs on environmental risk, harms, and the regulation of environmental crimes. The entries listed in this section articulate the defining features of conservation criminology and the aspects it draws from each of the disciplinary influences. For many years, environmental crimes were considered the purview of biologists and conservation scientists. Since the late 20th century, a strand of green criminology has emerged that specifically focused on crimes affecting the natural environment. But green criminology has been criticized as lacking clear definition and for its focus on economic power as the main cause of environmental crime. Conservation criminology addresses some of the critiques of green criminology by adopting a multidisciplinary perspective that incorporates natural-resource management and decision sciences to (1) provide a more holistic understanding of the complexities of environmental crimes, (2) facilitate empirical research to inform evidence-based policy, and (3) encourage stakeholder coproduction of long-term sustainable management responses. Gibbs, et al. 2010 introduces the conservation criminology framework and provides an explanation of how the three founding disciplines came together to provide theoretical and methodological tools for better understanding and responding to environmental crime. Gore 2017 expands on this introduction and demonstrates the application of the conservation criminology framework by using a number of case studies addressing poaching, corruption, timber exploitation, and waste management, among other topics. For individuals wanting a brief overview of conservation criminology, Gore 2011 is particularly useful. Kurland, et al. 2017 provides a review of the conservation literature through a criminological lens and introduces concepts including situational crime prevention. This piece may resonate with scholars from science and conservation backgrounds, since the authors provide very clear examples from the conservation literature to demonstrate the application of conservation criminology and criminology concepts. Boratto and Gibbs 2019 also demonstrates the application of the conservation criminology framework. In this study the authors apply the framework to illegal wildlife trade by stepping out criminology and conservation perspectives separately rather than as an integrated approach. For those interested in the broader reading, Bennett, et al. 2017 is an important review piece that assesses the role of the social sciences in conservation. The authors outline ten key theoretical and methodological contributions that the social sciences offer to conservation. A significant proportion of research in conservation criminology engages with methods influenced by environmental criminology and crime science, which Moreto and Pires 2018 explores in depth. Gibbs, et al. 2011 articulates the framework, using the example of e-waste. Wilson and Boratto 2020 explores responses to environmental crimes. It highlights the practical implications of adopting tough-on-crime policies in response to individual poachers and wildlife traffickers and provides evidence-based alternative strategies drawn from problem-oriented policing and situational crime prevention. This article is one of the few in conservation criminology to focus on justice responses to environmental-crime offenders.

  • Bennett, N. J., R. Roth, S. C. Klain, et al. 2017. Conservation social science: Understanding and integrating human dimensions to improve conservation. Biological Conservation 205 (January): 93–108.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.10.006

    This is an important review piece that identifies ways in which the social sciences can play a bigger role in improving conservation efforts. This paper does not directly review conservation criminology, but it outlines ways in which theories, tools, and methodologies from the social sciences can contribute to conservation studies. The authors outline ten key contributions of the social sciences to conservation, all of which apply to conservation criminology.

  • Boratto, R., and C. Gibbs. 2019. Advancing interdisciplinary research on illegal wildlife trade using a conservation criminology framework. European Journal of Criminology, advance online publication.

    DOI: 10.1177/1477370819887512

    In this article, Boratto and Gibbs demonstrate the utility of conservation criminology for building a comprehensive understanding of illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and facilitating evidence-based IWT policy and practice. The authors delineate criminological and conservation explanations for IWT before illustrating how the integration of both disciplinary perspectives can build a more robust theoretical model to be tested.

  • Gibbs, C., M. Gore, E. McGarrell, and L. Rivers. 2010. Introducing conservation criminology: Towards interdisciplinary scholarship on environmental crimes and risks. British Journal of Criminology 50.1: 124–144.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azp045

    This is a seminal piece in the field, in which Gibbs and colleagues introduce conservation criminology. They propose conservation criminology as an interdisciplinary conceptual framework that integrates criminology with natural-resource management and risk and decision sciences to address limitations and common criticisms of green criminology. Electronic waste is used as a brief case study, demonstrating the utility of conservation criminology for addressing a breadth of issues involving multiple stakeholders, including crime prevention, regulation, environmental impacts, and decision-making.

  • Gibbs, C., E. F. McGarrell, M. Axelrod, and L. Rivers. 2011. Conservation criminology and the global trade in electronic waste: Applying a multi-disciplinary research framework. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 35.4: 269–291.

    DOI: 10.1080/01924036.2011.625229

    Examines the problem of e-waste through the application of the conservation criminology framework. Provides an example of conservation criminology and related concepts in practice, and insights into the issue of global trade in e-waste.

  • Gore, M. L. 2011. The science of conservation crime. Conservation Biology 25.4: 659–661.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2011.01701.x

    This is a short overview of conservation criminology, explaining its utility in examining the interplay between humans and the environment in order to address environmental crime. It uses illegal wildlife/species product trade, “conflict” timber (illegal logging), and unsustainable fishing in conservation zones as examples to illustrate how conservation criminology can provide scientific understanding and inform policy.

  • Gore, M. L. 2017. Conservation criminology. Chichester, UK: Wiley & Sons.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781119376866

    This book provides an expanded overview of conservation criminology. It introduces the readers to the three conceptual foundations and devotes attention to case studies outlining the practical application of conservation criminology in addressing corruption, waste management, governance, poaching, IWT, illegal timber exploitation, and water insecurity. Outlines technological innovations and future directions.

  • Kurland, J., S. F. Pires, S. C. McFann, and W. D. Moreto. 2017. Wildlife crime: A conceptual integration, literature review, and methodological critique. Crime Science 6: 4.

    DOI: 10.1186/s40163-017-0066-0

    In this paper the authors conduct a robust review of the conservation literature through a criminological lens. Introduces key concepts, including situational crime prevention, and provides clear examples in the conservation literature of the concepts in practice. This paper offers an excellent introduction to the conservation criminology perspective for those from hard sciences or traditional conservation management backgrounds.

  • Moreto, W. D., and S. F. Pires. 2018. Wildlife crime: An environmental criminology and crime science perspective. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic.

    As evident from the title, this book presents wildlife crime from an environmental-criminology and crime science perspective. While the authors argue that this approach can be used in tandem with conservation criminology, Gore 2017 considers crime science as an integral component of the conservation criminology framework. The chapters provide an overview of current approaches to monitoring, enforcement, and prevention of wildlife crime and an introduction to environmental-criminology theories and crime science methodologies and finally demonstrate the utility of the approaches with case studies.

  • Wilson, L., and R. Boratto. 2020. Conservation, wildlife crime, and tough-on-crime policies: Lessons from the criminological literature. Biological Conservation 251 (November): 108810.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108810

    Critically examines the application of deterrence and tough sentencing models in conservation settings. Highlights the issues associated with the application of punishment for wildlife crimes in practice, and provides evidence-based alternative approaches for responding to and preventing wildlife crime, drawing on the concepts of problem-oriented policing and situational crime prevention.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.