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Researchers of NTU: Laxmi Aggarwal

Meet the people behind our research, discover their areas of expertise and find out about life in NTU's research community

Laxmi Aggerwal
Laxmi on location

What’s your name and research area?

My Name is Laxmi Aggarwal, a Postgraduate Researcher in the School of Social Sciences, and my thesis is entitled ‘A Market Reduction Approach to Illegal Ivory Markets of Tanzania’.

How did you get into your area of research?

I got into my research area from two sides: my academic journey and my personal background. My academic journey started with environmental science at undergraduate level. Having developed an understanding of the scientific evidence for environmental dilapidation I was encouraged to pursue a masters in environmental law, with the hope of preventing further harm to the environment through legal frameworks. However, I remained unsatisfied with the legal loopholes and the time taken to put into place legal tools to deter people from harming the environment. My thesis at masters level was focused on Environmental Impact Assessments and their implementation in East Africa.

Through my experiences and my academic understanding of both the developed and developing world debates, I found that the legal frameworks used in the western context often did not deliver when implemented in rural developing environments. This pushed me to pursue a PhD in criminology asking the question: Can previously tested urban crime strategies be used for environmental protection? This led to the contemplation of highlighting the similarities of household burglaries and the movement of illicit goods with that of the theft of ivory from elephants and national parks, and the movement of ivory from the poacher to the initial buyer or fence. This created a deep-rooted aspiration in me to address wildlife conservation from a more data orientated and ground-level approach with those directly involved in environmental degradation.

On the personal side, I live in Tanzania just a few hours drive from the Serengeti National Park, and as far back as I can remember elephants have always been close to my heart. Recent trips to various national parks have often resulted in a few to almost no elephant sightings. Comparing this to trips when I was younger, the decline in elephant populations became very clear. Moreover, my family business background in both the cotton and tourism sectors of Tanzania have often taken me to rural locations of Tanzania. Interacting with the populations surrounding the national parks, I couldn’t make sense of why people would risk their lives to hunt for ivory. Was the money from ivory really enough to better their situations? How were they finding the elephants and the guns to make it happen? Who was buying ivory from them? Was there something else that could be provided to them to stop them from risking both their own and the elephants’ lives?

I decided to combine my concerns for the current decline in elephant populations with my curiosity for whether crime strategies could provide a mitigating solution to poaching. I also aspire to create knowledge from the ground up that could help us better understand the poachers’ experiences of participating in Tanzania’s illegal ivory markets, allowing criminologists to provide more socially and spatially tailored policy recommendations to poaching.

How have you been supported as a member of the research community at NTU?

The research community at NTU has been very good at organising multiple internal events for doctoral students. These have been a great platform to learn from peers about the views, ideas and understanding of one another’s research. Moreover, these events provided a way in which students have been able to share and disseminate their research to a wider audience in different formats such a presentations, posters and pictures.

Laxmi and Nigel
Laxmi receiving her runner-up prize from Professor Nigel Wright at the 2019 Images of Research competition

How do you think your research could be beneficial to society?

There are a number of benefits that this research presents. First and foremost is its decolonisation of polices; instead of implementing polices based on their success in other locations and different social contexts, this research allows for a ground-up approach. Those directly involved in the ivory trade in Tanzania are able to relate their experiences of how the trade in illegal ivory talks to policy makers and crime strategists. Proposals can be made for specifically tailored criminology solutions and policy recommendations to mitigate poaching in the social context of rural Tanzania. Proposals can then be tried and tested in the protection of global heritage wildlife species, and to develop the social and economic environments for surrounding populations.

This research also allows the poacher participants a chance to disclose what they believe could be done to provide them with an alternative option to poaching. Based on the feedback from poachers, social impact projects can be piloted and implemented using funding from impact investments to better the options available to potential poachers, providing alternative options to illegal ivory for income and employment in the hope of improving overall development for the surrounding populations of the national parks.

In addition to providing an alternative option to poaching, maintaining contact with poacher participants who no longer practice in the illegal trade of ivory will result in the realisation of awareness projects. Some participants are willing to hold conversations with the youth in their own and surrounding villages to share their experiences of poaching and their withdrawal from the illicit trade. This will help to change the perception of poachers and offenders in general, allowing a previously ignored group of the population to reintegrate into society.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I have been fortunate to have studied, researched and worked in many countries, integrating into different cultures while achieving my own personal development. The highlight of my career would be the skills I have developed through all the experiences combined. But my main highlight was when I found what it was exactly that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my career to: this PhD, which provides the perfect stepping stone for my future endeavours into local data oriented policy development for wildlife conservation.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I have ambitions to pave the way for future operations focusing on the illegal trades of a diverse range of flora and fauna, using local data for innovative impact projects in East Africa. I have resultantly proposed a business plan as the backbone of this PhD under the name Temboiworry, using the data collected at PhD level and the recommendations made after the data analysis to realise this business. Temboiworry aspires to provide locally collected data sets, insight reports and innovative impact investment opportunities focused on the illegal wildlife trade. This researcher-practitioner collaboration will allow for a well-rounded understanding of illegal wildlife trades to tailor specific solutions for the protection of wildlife populations in Tanzania, as well as proposing social impact strategies for human populations living in close proximity to wildlife.

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Published on 9 January 2020
  • Subject area: Law, criminology and justice
  • Category: Research; School of Social Sciences