Tackling wildlife trafficking with the world’s oldest zoo

A group of UQ Law students are joining forces to tackle wildlife trafficking with a new international university course. The University of Queensland Law School has partnered with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to develop university modules on wildlife, forest, and fisheries crime. UQ Law students joined their counterparts from the universities of Vienna and Zurich to trade knowledge and ideas and meet some of the endangered animals they’d be working to save. Four students shared their experiences so far with us.

Jack Fuller

There was a moment in Vienna when I had to pause, take a second, and appreciate my situation. I was standing in the Australian ambassador’s residence speaking to Jorge Rios, Chief of the Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. We were talking demand reduction, my chosen research topic for this project. He told me about recent work done by the UN Environment Programme, and offered to put me in touch with the the agency’s head of wildlife communication. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The trip was full of those moments. Some related to university, some related to work opportunities, many related to the sheer beauty of the city we were in. Due to work commitments, I left for Vienna earlier than my fellow students. It was a blessing in disguise; by the time the comrades arrived, I was over the jet-lag and ready to show them around the city I’d already fallen in love with.

Immediately after getting the email from Professor Schloenhardt introducing this subject, I knew I had to apply. Studying wildlife trafficking (an area of great passion) and presenting that research on the other side of the world? No chance I was letting this pass. But for all my expectations, the week-long workshop at the University of Vienna surpassed anything I could have imagined. Of course all attendees, including the staff, will say that the trip to Schönbrunn Zoo was the week’s highlight. I would call it the pinnacle of my trip, if I was forced to pick one.

Jack at the zoo, meeting a small furry creature.

Other notable contenders included schnitzel, introducing the Viennese and Swiss students to traditional Australian drinking rituals (don’t ask), and the Albertina Museum. We had a personal interpreter to help bridge the German-English divide (thanks Rory), but truth be told the language barrier was never an issue. There was no getting lost, and despite advice to the contrary, I found the Viennese people nothing but friendly and as hospitable as the city they call home.

Writing this now on the plane home is bittersweet. On the one hand, I’ve just finished one of, perhaps the, most enjoyable and rewarding university experiences of my degree. On the other, I know I’ll be counting down the days until I’m back in one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever explored. I’m sure glad I didn’t ignore that email from Professor Schloenhardt.

Larissa Zeil-Rofle

I am going into my fourth year of a law and economics degree at the University of Queensland. Although I have had the chance to conduct research during University, I have not had the opportunity to complete an in-depth research project… until 2019. In February this year, along with 18 students from the University of Vienna, the University of Zurich and the University of Queensland, I participated in the law subject Trafficking in Fauna and Flora.

After studying Criminal Law A with Professor Andreas Schloenhardt, I received email describing an opportunity to conduct a research project in the area of fauna and flora trafficking and the most attractive element was that it involved a trip to Vienna, Austria. Being half German and having a passion for wildlife, I immediately knew this was an opportunity I could not miss out on, and luckily enough I was given the chance to go.

Four months were spent in training workshops, researching and preparing a presentation. January came and weighing twice the amount in all of my thermals, gloves, beanie and very, very, very, thick jacket, I arrived in -3°C in Vienna. Stepping into the “most livable” capital of Austria was like stepping into a history textbook – it is the city of music, renowned for famous musicians such as Mozart, the home town of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the stomping ground of artists such as Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Hundertwasser.

The one-week course was hosted at the University of Vienna and involved each student presenting his or her research in a 20-minute presentation. Additionally, two guest presenters delivered a speech, including Jorge Rios from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and Gerhard Marosi from the Austrian Customs Office. Midway in the week, the class had an excursion to the Vienna Zoo, which is the oldest zoo in the world, and I had the chance to meet some of the animals the class had been researching.

The highlight of the course for me was the opportunity learn about the illicit international trafficking of wildlife which is a problem I feel passionately about. I learned the most about wildlife trafficking from listening to the other student’s polished research presentations and the presentations by the guest speakers. I also enjoyed meeting the students from Zurich and Austria, and the Zurich professors.

The challenge of the course was conducting the research, because it was more intense than any other university experience I have yet encountered. Researching the project also required a new level of discipline and self-motivation. Whilst this was at times difficult, I am grateful for the learning experience, and the chance to get a feel for a research pathway.

Studying law and economics has one disadvantage, which is these are subjects with very limited class excursion possibilities…. Which brings me to the real reason I did the course: a trip to the zoo! The zoo excursion was an absolute delight and I adored the penguins and monkeys!

I would encourage any student who is interested in research to undergo this opportunity, as it is a chance to make international connections, and to learn and develop further as a law student.

Jack Purtill

Over the 2018/19 summer break I was given the opportunity to travel with staff and other students of the law school to Vienna to participate in a combined course alongside students from the Universities of Vienna and Zurich, on the topic of trafficking in wildlife and animal products. The experience was nothing short of amazing and I’m really glad to have been able to participate.

The whole process began back in September 2018 when Professor Andreas Schloenhardt prompted students to apply to the course. What drew me in immediately was of course the opportunity to travel internationally while doing something that would help my degree and my employability, but what I didn’t realise at the time was that it would also result in the opportunity to meet global leaders in the field of combatting wildlife trafficking, as well as students from around the world who by that point were just as engaged with the topic as I was.

At first, the prospect of devoting much of my summer holiday to researching a topic that, at that time, I knew nothing about was daunting. However, despite the bulk of the research taking place over the summer break, it didn’t really feel like that much of a difficult task most of the time, partially because the seven Australian students were all meeting up regularly to discuss our projects and keep each other informed of useful information about each of our respective topics. Because many of our topics overlapped with one another in many ways, it was also a really good opportunity to be collaborative during the research process. During this time, many of us had also got in touch with our Austrian and Swiss counterparts, so by the time we all met up in Vienna, it felt like we knew them well already.

Jack Purtil presenting.

The time we all spent in Vienna during the teaching week was incredibly enriching. During the week, we spent the bulk of our days hearing presentations from other students, as well as staff members from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Austrian Customs and more. After hearing a lot about everyone’s topics during the research phase, being able to see how far we’d all come was really impressive. The week wasn’t solely classroom-based  though; activities such as visiting Schönbrunn Zoo (the world’s oldest zoo) and of course a couple of social gatherings through the week meant that we’d all become good friends by the time the course was over.

For me, as well as many others (both staff and students), the zoo was an absolute highlight. We were lucky enough to be given a presentation and guided tour by Dr Martina Heiderer, a staff member who is involved with the numerous conservation efforts made by the zoo on a daily basis. Seeing these animals up close gave all of us a new and more personal perspective on the topics we’d been reading about for months, and allowed us to better grasp the gravity of the situations we were researching.

A penguin.

As this all took place in the closing weeks of our summer break, the trip also allowed most of us to attach some extra travelling on to either side of the teaching week. For me, this mean four days travelling through Germany, and then four more throughout Belgium before flying home to Brisbane. The entire trip was incredible and I am so grateful to have been able to participate.

Omar Harduwar

International law is certainly an area of our degree that interests many budding lawyers, but often something we very rarely can interact with in our studies and careers in general. So, when the opportunity arose to research, present and prepare a paper on transnational organised crime in Vienna, it seemed like a no-brainer to me.

After a few introductory sessions, trawling through endless sources and getting tips on presentation techniques, the seven of us jetted off to Vienna to present our findings in front of colleagues from the other side of the world. Not knowing what to expect, a lot of us were quite nervous.

The nerves quickly melted away when we met the other students from the University of Vienna and University of Zurich at a local bar for a meet and greet. There was definitely a feeling from that first beer that the week was going to be one we would not forget – both academically and for the friendships we would forge in such a short period of time.

The week combined the perfect mix of student presentations, informal outings and listening to guest lecturers from the likes of the UN Organisation on Drugs and Crime and Austrian Customs. We were immensely fortunate to have access to some of the leading professionals in the field and being able to ask them questions that related to our individual topics was definitely a highlight.

I think the overwhelming consensus was that the highlight was a visit to the Schönbrunn Zoo – the oldest in the world. We were given a tour of the big ticket animals and gained invaluable insight into how Schönbrunn also has a big role in conservation and rehabilitation of wildlife.

Our trip to Austria was undoubtedly an adventure I will never forget. We managed to achieve so much in a single teaching week; we met new people from across the world, learnt from leaders in the field and enjoyed the wonderful sights and scenes of beautiful Vienna.

An enormous thank you to everyone who made the trip possible and made it such a great experience.