A criminology of extinction: Biodiversity, extreme consumption and the vanity of species resurrection

AuthorAvi Brisman,Nigel South
Published date01 November 2020
Date01 November 2020
Subject MatterArticles
European Journal of Criminology
2020, Vol. 17(6) 918 –935
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1477370819828307
A criminology of extinction:
Biodiversity, extreme
consumption and the vanity
of species resurrection
Avi Brisman
Eastern Kentucky University, USA
Nigel South
University of Essex, UK
This article explores an issue pertaining to the commodification of nature and related market processes
– reviving extinct species. It begins by offering an overview of the aesthetic, economic, scientific and
ethical reasons to preserve biological diversity. The article then considers how and why biological
diversity is actually being reduced at an unprecedented rate – the ways in which, and the explanations
for why, human acts and omissions are directly and indirectly, separately and synergistically, causing
extinctions, quite possibly of species that we do not even know exist. From here, the article draws
on the growing body of research on resurrecting species – a process known as de-extinction – to
contemplate the questions raised about the permanency of extinction, as well as whether we should
revive extinct species and the meaning and criminological implications of doing so.
Biodiversity/biological diversity, consumption, de-extinction, extinction, hunting/poaching,
wildlife (crime, trade, trafficking)
Significant international work in recent years has drawn attention to ‘animal abuse,’
‘wildlife crime’ and, more broadly, harms and crimes affecting non-human species
(Bayrachnaya et al., 2018; Beirne, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2009, 2014; Gibbs et al., 2010;
Corresponding author:
Avi Brisman, School of Justice Studies, College of Justice and Safety, Eastern Kentucky University, 521
Lancaster Avenue, Stratton 467, Richmond, KY 44075-3102, USA.
Email: avi.brisman@eku.edu
828307EUC0010.1177/1477370819828307European Journal of CriminologyBrisman and South
Brisman and South 919
Maher and Sollund, 2016; Maher et al., 2017; Moreto, 2018; Nurse, 2013, 2015; Pires
and Clarke, 2011; Sollund 2011, 2013a, 2013b, 2015; Wyatt, 2013). In some respects,
this work has been pioneering. In other ways, it builds on the past work of others and
serves as a reminder of the historical complexity of human–non-human relations. Bryant
(1979: 412) made an early call for the study of ‘zoological crime’ – a term coined to refer
to the violation of ‘animal related social norms . . . [that] may well be among the most
ubiquitous of any social deviancy.’ Beirne’s (1995) essay, some 16 years later, was, in
part, a frustrated reaction to the failure to respond to Bryant’s proposal. Although Beirne
(1995: 5) acknowledged that ‘the field of crimes against animals does not yet constitute
a recognized, let alone a coherent, object of study,’ he maintained that it would be inac-
curate to state that ‘animals are never present in criminological discourse,’ and he noted
the wide range of materials involving animals as central figures in relation to ‘inter alia,
the configuration of rural class relations in 18th-century England, the alleged links
between crime and human nature, and the behavioral manifestations of children who are
likely to be violent as adults.’ For example, the American scholar and linguist, E.P. Evans
(1987 [1906]), had documented the role non-human animals play in human society in
The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, and historians, such as
E.P. Thompson, Peter Linebaugh and others, outlined the importance of wildlife in terms
of class oppression, moral economies, property law, and social and environmental trans-
formation (Hay, 1975; Linebaugh, 1976; Thompson, 1975). Game laws and poaching/
anti-poaching activities and initiatives reflect centuries of human relationships with
nature, as have measures aimed at balancing conservation, culling, hunting for sport, and
killing for food. Many sociological studies of deviance and leisure have produced
descriptive accounts of the recreational pursuit of wildlife, abuse of animals and break-
ing of wildlife protection laws (Eliason, 2003; Nurse, 2013).1 Hence, although Moreto
and colleagues (2015: 360) may, in general, be correct that law enforcement and criminal
justice systems have accorded wildlife offences a ‘low priority when compared to other
crimes (Cook et al., 2002),’ this is not to suggest they have been ignored completely or
have not been regarded as important.
Criminological attention to poaching, trafficking and related animal abuse is now
substantial, and encompasses contributions aimed at market reduction and enhancing
conservation efforts (for example, Lee et al., 2014; Schneider, 2008; Shepherd et al.,
2017). Although all of this represents a welcome shift, attention to the dynamics of the
illegal market for a particular species or the investigation of the scope, extent and geo-
graphical range of the international trade in specific wildlife as live bodies or as har-
vested ‘parts and products’ has overshadowed – and has perhaps come at the expense of
– broader criminological considerations of ‘biological diversity’ (or ‘biodiversity’) loss,
decline and extinction, of which wildlife crime is but one cause.2
In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Report (WWF, 2016: 4)
noted that, for some decades, ‘scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing
life toward a sixth mass extinction’ (see also Kolbert, 2014; Mirzoeff, 2014: 227, citing
Novacek, 2007). The data from the Living Planet Index – which offers an indication of the
state of global biological diversity, based on trends in the populations of vertebrate species
from around the world – show that, between 1970 and 2012, the planet experienced a ‘58
per cent overall decline in vertebrate population abundance’ with populations of vertebrate

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