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Conservation and Society
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Conservation and Society
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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 195-196

Captive Markets

University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Correspondence Address:
Sophie Haines
University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_59_21

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Date of Web Publication09-Jun-2021

How to cite this article:
Haines S. Captive Markets. Conservat Soc 2021;19:195-6

How to cite this URL:
Haines S. Captive Markets. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Jun 9];19:195-6. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2021/19/3/195/318043

Collard, R-C. Animal Traffic: lively capital in the global exotic pet trade. Durham: Duke University Press. 2020 (pp. 200) Paperback (ISBN 978-1-4780-1092-0) £19.99.

In Animal Traffic, economic geographer and political ecologist Rosemary-Claire Collard follows animals through pivotal sites of the global exotic pet trade to show how their value to humans is produced, maintained, and prioritised; and how — even when removed from circulation as commodities — efforts to undo these processes reveal the tenacity of human control. Grounded in vivid and reflexive ethnography of multispecies encounters, Collard at once sets out an empirical study of wildlife trade across the Americas, a theoretical contribution to understandings of capitalism's anthropocentric underpinnings, and a political project that moves against enclosure, towards a 'wild life politics' that recognises animals as beings on their own terms.

Collard takes the reader from forested biosphere reserves in Mexico and Central America, where monkeys, macaws and other species are captured (chapter 1), into the drama of sawdust-strewn US auction rings where they are bought and sold (chapter 2). In each location, Collard identifies spatial, bodily and narrative practices through which people render animals tradeable and valuable: physical separation from kin and ecosystems; caging and leashing; wing-clipping; bottle-feeding; claims of uniqueness, affection, and obedience. Chapter 3 returns to Central America — specifically a rehabilitation centre in Guatemala where workers and volunteers attempt to loosen rescued animals' human dependencies, so that they might be released. These chapters are preceded by an introduction that establishes the tension whereby pets are both property and sentient beings, and outlines the book's objectives and conceptual framework. They are followed by a concluding chapter that channels the book's arguments into calls for action. These encompass both a comprehensive reconfiguration of human-animal relations, and a more modest intermediate proposition for demand reduction in the pet trade. This two-pronged approach is an understandable response to the multiple spatial and temporal scales of concern highlighted in the book.

Departing from studies and regulatory approaches that focus on the aggregate impacts of wildlife trade on species and ecosystems, Collard directs attention toward its effects on the animals who are captured and traded, while also convincingly arguing that these effects are rooted in and constitutive of broader 'capitalist socio-ecological relations'. Informed by feminist political economy, postcolonial scholarship and animal studies, Collard argues that animals are produced as lively capital through being enclosed, individualised and made encounterable (cf Haraway 2008) — a profoundly ambivalent process whereby they are valued for being lively (charismatic, affectionate, interesting) but also controllable. For Collard, 'exotic' pets embody this tension in a particularly potent way: they are “out of place” (9) — removed from their country and/or ecosystem of origin — and thus usually unable to flourish outside captivity in new surroundings, unless at the expense of other species. The focus on exotic pets also introduces a discussion of the imperialist foundations of the trade. This is visible in the continuation of extractive flows and displays of power associated with wild animal keeping, from early empires, through colonial collections, to the present day. These logics of violence and enclosure can be seen to persist in the trade's practices (10-12, 36), legitimised through auctions that congeal animals' value only in terms of their usefulness to humans (88-89). Collard argues that these not only turn animals into commodities: they precede commodification and endure even when animals are no longer being traded.

Particularly compelling here is Collard's concept of animal fetishism. Working with Sara Ahmed's (2000) extension of Marx's commodity fetishism (whereby commodities are deemed to have inherent value, obscuring the labour of making them), Collard shows how animals are made tradeable as pets by detaching them from 'lives of their own' — a risky process that walks the line of making animals “thinglike enough to control but not to kill” (23). The moment of capture cuts them off physically from their kin, communities, and ecosystems; animals' own histories are disavowed. This fetishism explains how animals are treated at auction (separated from siblings, promoted as tame companions for humans). It also accounts for the deep ambivalences of rehabilitation, when animals' circulation as commodities has been intercepted, yet return to a 'wild' existence is taxing and elusive (monkeys must be frightened out of learned affection for humans; parrots who talk cannot be released), and for Collard's less than optimistic take on the possibilities of life for fugitive exotic pets (compared with, say, Eben Kirksey's (2015) outlook on 'emergent ecologies'). The identification of animal fetishism also underpins the book's political project: to go beyond calls for decommodification; to avow the relations animal fetishism denies.

In service to its objectives, the book's multi-sited approach throws light on situations which are —often by design— quite obscure. In each location, embodied multispecies encounters are effectively conveyed through Collard's attention to sights, sounds, smells and textures, making for an evocative read. As the author acknowledges, some of these processes do remain out of view: we do not meet the trappers who first enclose the animals; we hear little of those who trade pets beyond the auction ring, or of owners' day-to-day navigations of love and control. Nonetheless, Collard's thoughtful reflections on what she was and was not able to access during her research are themselves illuminating and generative, for example prompting discussion of auctions as sites where political commitments as well as economic transactions are articulated. The juxtaposition of 'spectator observation' at auctions with 'participant observation' in the rehabilitation facility is also addressed in terms of Collard's positionality — and the contours of discomfort, trust, hope and concern which underline the ethical dimensions of the project.

These methodological matters, alongside the empirical content, contribute to understandings of each of the sites as politically embedded. From the militarised territoriality of the 'Maya Forest' (from which, poignantly, many Maya people are forcibly excluded), to the proliferation of libertarian slogans at the auctions, to the imperialist echoes of eco- and volun-tourism, the book gestures to multiple interconnected political economies and ecologies—of land, experience, freedom, life and death—among as well as between humans and non-humans. In light of these pervasive themes, I felt that some further critical discussion of the meanings and implications of classifications of native/non-native/alternative/exotic species could develop the analysis further. Such categories are rarely stable; they can absorb and carry political weight depending on the context of their mobilisation (Helmreich 2005; Subramaniam 2001). It would be illuminating to hear more about how these terms are being deployed and interpreted on socio-ecological and/or legal-political grounds in the various sites of this research.

As part of a body of emerging work on 'capitalist natures' (Collard and Dempsey 2016) and feminist/postcolonial theorising of supply chain capitalism as thriving on ostensibly 'illicit' transactions and noncapitalist relations (e.g. Appel 2019; Tsing 2009), this book makes a strong argument for holding to account capitalist socio-ecological relations and the inequalities that propel them (125). It also reads well alongside Juno Salazar Parreñas' Decolonizing Extinction (2018) and Jamie Lorimer's Wildlife in the Anthropocene (2015): while Parreñas focuses on the rehabilitation phase to highlight relations of colonialism and care in conservation, and Lorimer surveys a range of conservation approaches to develop a manifesto for new ways of living together, Collard's stepwise narration of the pet trade effectively tracks lively capital, underscoring how animal fetishism facilitates this peculiar supply chain, while engaging broader debates in social theory and in conservation. Among the latter, Collard calls attention to not only the proximate causes of biodiversity loss, but the anthropocentrism that drives them. In chapter 3, in conversation with Parreñas, she highlights the power relations of human exceptionalism inherent in the wildlife trade and also in efforts to remove animals from circulation — indeed from all human contact — and preserve “life at all costs” (119). This book thus respectfully raises a political-ethical challenge to approaches to conservation that focus on aggregates, and those that advocate for territorial separation of humans and non-humans. It also provokes further questions: how can 'success' be determined in conservation (and for whom)? How to account for values that may differ not only between humans and animals, but also among humans, and among animals (from macaws to servals to the botflies, ticks and ants that also make an appearance)? How might animal choices be articulated?

With wildlife crime remaining high on international agendas, alongside debates over mass extinction and increased attention to 'multispecies contact zones' (94) — not least in terms of their relation to zoonoses — this is a timely book that poses provocative questions for conservation practice and regulation, while also proposing intermediate strategies and contributing empirical and conceptual resources. It will be of interest to researchers, practitioners and students in social sciences and conservation, seeking to understand and interrogate the assumptions and values embedded in wildlife trade and responses to it.

   References Top

Ahmed, S. 2000. Strange encounters: embodied others in post-coloniality. London: Routledge.  Back to cited text no. 1
Appel, H. 2020. The licit life of capitalism: US oil in Equatorial Guinea. Durham: Duke University Press.  Back to cited text no. 2
Collard, R. and J. Dempsey. 2016. Capitalist natures in five orientations. Capitalism Nature Socialism 28(1): 78–97.  Back to cited text no. 3
Haraway, D. 2008. When species meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  Back to cited text no. 4
Helmreich, S. 2005. How scientists think; about 'natives', for example. a problem of taxonomy among biologists of alien species in Hawaii. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11(1):107–128.  Back to cited text no. 5
Kirksey, E. 2015. Emergent ecologies. Durham: Duke University Press.  Back to cited text no. 6
Lorimer, J. 2015. Wildlife in the Anthropocene: conservation after nature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  Back to cited text no. 7
Parreñas, J.S. 2019. Decolonizing extinction: the work of care in orangutan rehabilitation. Durham: Duke University Press.  Back to cited text no. 8
Subramaniam, B. 2001. The aliens have landed! reflections on the rhetoric of biological invasions. Meridians 2(1): 26–40.  Back to cited text no. 9
Tsing, A. 2009. Supply chains and the human condition. Rethinking Marxism 21: 148–176.  Back to cited text no. 10


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