Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Mekong: The Interplay of Actors, Legal Governance, and Political Economy

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<jats:title>Abstract</jats:title> <jats:p>This chapter examines the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) in the Mekong, with particular attention to how political economic factors and legal structures shape actors’ interests and incentives. The current literature on wildlife trafficking mainly attributes wildlife protection failures to weak enforcement. However, this literature has paid little attention to the underlying factors that contribute to the weak enforcement of wildlife laws. This chapter applies a political economy analysis to better understand the role of each actor from the point of wildlife sourcing to end consumption. It also explains why effectively enforcing wildlife laws is difficult and is often not in the interest of wildlife officials. This chapter thus examines why actors along IWT supply chains engage in illegal activities and do not abide by conservation laws. With rising demand for wildlife products, particularly because of increasing economic prosperity, the survival of many endangered species is under threat. Despite growing calls for total bans of wildlife trade or trade regulations to prevent overharvesting, these frequently fail to achieve conservation goals if they do not consider the local political economy context. This chapter focuses on the global IWT hotspots of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, analyzing how legal frameworks shape local political economies and showing why IWT is a pervasive problem in the region.</jats:p>






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Nillasithanukroh, Songkhun, Ekta Patel, Edmund Malesky and Erika Weinthal (n.d.). Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Mekong: The Interplay of Actors, Legal Governance, and Political Economy. Oxford Handbook of Comparative Environmental Politics. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780197515037.013.48 Retrieved from

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Edmund Malesky

Professor of Political Science

Malesky is a specialist on Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam. Currently, Malesky's research agenda is very much at the intersection of Comparative and International Political Economy, falling into three major categories: 1) Authoritarian political institutions and their consequences; 2) The political influence of foreign direct investment and multinational corporations; and 3) Political institutions, private business development, and formalization.


Erika S. Weinthal

Professor of Environmental Policy and Public Policy

Dr. Weinthal specializes in global environmental politics and environmental security with a particular emphasis on water and energy. Current areas of research include (1) global environmental politics and governance, (2) environmental conflict and peacebuilding, (3) the political economy of the resource curse, and (4) climate change adaptation. Dr. Weinthal’s research spans multiple geographic regions, including the Soviet successor states, the Middle East, South Asia, East Africa, and North America. Dr. Weinthal is author of State Making and Environmental Cooperation: Linking Domestic Politics and International Politics in Central Asia (MIT Press 2002), which received the 2003 Chadwick Alger Prize and the 2003 Lynton Keith Caldwell Prize. She has co-authored Oil is not a Curse (Cambridge University Press 2010) and co-edited Water and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding (Earthscan Press, 2014) and The Oxford Handbook on Water Politics and Policy (Oxford University Press 2018). She is a member of the UNEP Expert Group on Conflict and Peacebuilding and a co-editor of Global Environmental Politics. In 2017 she was a recipient of the Women Peacebuilders for Water Award under the auspices of “Fondazione Milano per Expo 2015”. 

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