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One of the charms of working out how black markets in wildlife function, is that it provides opportunities for travel. There comes a time when lecturing students seems to be dragging on just a little bit longer and the marking hasn’t been tackled by the grading pixies (sigh). As the umpteenth memo and meeting reminder hits the email inbox, uncharitable thoughts about colleagues and administrators spring to mind. There sort of comes a point in time when, heck, you’d go to Outer Mongolia to count camel poo just to get a break.

One of the attractions of researching wildlife black markets, is that it does give you some chances to visit other parts of the world. A bit of travel, some new experiences, meeting new people- it doesn’t sound all bad. But this also means you’re going waay off the tourist tracks. And some of the people you meet, don’t really want to lay out the welcome mat.

In fact, the real downer to wildlife black markets is that sometimes, you bump into people who are really not interested in swapping business cards. These are the kinds of people that tend to wave guns at you, or leave bombs lying around. Scary people in other words. And ha, ha, when you’re in places where nobody-else knows where you are, it’s even scarier…

Although on balance, the local micro-organisms are probably the biggest long term threat.

The reason this all becomes a bit necessary, is that wildlife black markets are actually very hard to get data on. See, smugglers are very uncooperative. They don’t submit tax returns or compulsory statistical returns. So there’s really no official data. There’s lot of unofficial data- usually from the internet- which consists of stuff that people make up and circulate.

So sometimes the only way to really find out what is going on, is to go off and have a closer look. You’re not going to be able to download any of this stuff from a nice database. And there’s no way it can be done from the nice security of a lab. So, the important skills here are a) staying calm when people do wave guns at you and b) anticipating and avoiding situations where people wave guns at you. I have a strong preference for option b) ;)