Dr. Susan Tsang
is a graduate of the EEB subprogram of the CUNY Biology PhD Program and is currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. In the Branch of Counter Wildlife Trafficking Strategy and Partnerships of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, DC, Susan serves as the Program Manager for a new joint initiative with the International Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the Department of State. Oversees wildlife trafficking is a challenge that is not limited to other countries, but can often affect issues that impact American interests. The projects that Susan oversees and implements for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service focus on building or expanding legal, law enforcement and scientific capacity in order to combat wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. Southeast Asia is widely known for its unique, charismatic flora and fauna that includes such iconic animals as tigers, rhinoceroses, lorises and pygmy elephants. Yet this wildlife is threatened by diverse forces both within the region, and across a broad international scale. As such Susan works from offices in the United States and also routinely travels to Southeast Asia to implement projects on the ground in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos. She recently recorded a podcast for the Graduate Center Alumni Aloud program: https://careerplan.commons.gc.cuny.edu/blog/episode10.
As a AAAS Fellow, Susan engages with relevant international agreements and policy relevant to wildlife trade. One such agreement is CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), a multi-lateral agreement that regulates the international trade of plants and animals. As part of her work, Susan assists countries in Southeast Asia with policy and implementation necessary for compliance with CITES regulations. For example, she is currently working with other members of her Branch and the CITES Secretariat on a legislative compliance project in Laos aimed at providing the country with the legal tools to fulfill its agreement as a signatory party of CITES.
Although compliance with international laws is an essential component of protecting wildlife at the global scale, such regulations are only effective when wildlife trafficking laws are enforced and litigated at the local and national levels. Thus, Susan also oversees a range of projects that provide training to local law enforcement officers, land managers, and government scientists. This training includes workshops for law enforcement officers in how to carry out due diligence, particularly with regards to maintaining chain of custody for evidence collected in connection with environmental and wildlife trafficking crimes. Maintaining a clear chain of custody following standardized international protocols is critical to assuring that evidence can be used in court cases both within the country where the crime occurs, as well as potentially in cases that play out in international venues. For example, in a recent Marine Crime Scene Investigation workshop, law enforcement officers received instruction in the specialized first-responders skills required in a marine environment and familiarization with what to look for in crime scenes that occur in marine environments. Marine crime scenes are very different from those on land because they are highly dynamic and can change rapidly in the time that elapses after a crime occurs, and immediate and precise documentation is required should that evidence be submitted as part of a case.
Another component of capacity building involves collaborative efforts to bolster forensics skills and resources in Indonesia. Indonesia is well positioned in this regard because, much like the United States, the country already has government facilities dedicated to wildlife and environmental crime forensics. Susan’s work on this project draws heavily from her scientific training at CUNY as the goal is to bring together the three major Indonesian government entities that process evidence from wildlife crimes, provide training in current scientific methods and standards such that the facilities can be accredited, familiarizing the government scientists with procedural standards for prosecution, and then establish a coordinated workflow wherein the agencies work in unison. This work has been carried out in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.
Originally from Hong Kong, Susan grew up in New York City where she recalls first learning about science and the natural world by reading signs on the dioramas and other exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History. Susan graduated from the CUNY Biology PhD program in 2015 where she studied the biogeography, niche specialization, and speciation of large Southeast Asian flying foxes (bats belonging to the genus Pteropus). In addition to her strong belief in the importance of public educational institutions such as CUNY, Susan credits the unique nature of the Biology PhD program for facilitating her ability to establish a program of independent original research that involved extensive on-the-ground fieldwork in Southeast Asia. This work provided invaluable first-hand experience, for instance often speaking with local hunters or villagers to locate the animals she studies and then teaching them about the importance of these animals to their own lives, and allowed her to establish a collaborative network in the region where she now works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In addition to her work in realm of policy, Susan maintains an active research program through associations with the American Museum of Natural History, Division of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Museum of the Philippines. As part of this research program, she also mentors two PhD students in mammalogy from George Mason University and collaborates with Southeast Asian students she previously trained. Her work post-graduation highlights that modern careers in Biology often transcend the traditional model of strict research in academia, and instead comprise diverse components spanning outreach, education, applied policy and advisory roles, as well as independent original research and grantsmanship.
Text by By: James C. Lendemer
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