More about Laxmi
Tell us a bit about yourself?
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?
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.
Did your personal background influence your decision to choose this research topic?
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 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.
What has been the highlight of your experience 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.