Monique Sosnowski Wants Poached Furs and Skins to Go Out of Fashion

Monique Sosnowski

By Beth Harpaz
Editor of SUM

Not only has Ph.D. student Monique Sosnowski (Criminal Justice) seen her research on wildlife crime published in academic journals, but she’s also been quoted and cited in Vogue, National Geographic, and other media outlets. Her latest work was co-authoring a chapter on wildlife crime for a textbook on international criminal justice. Sosnowski spoke with The Graduate Center about her research, her path to CUNY, and why she chose an academic route for her interests rather than activism — at least for now. 

GC: You’ve studied topics ranging from the live coral trade to elephant ivory markets, but let’s focus on your research on luxury fashion and wildlife crime. What were the takeaways? What do consumers need to know?

Sosnowski: The purpose of this project was to understand what role, if any, the luxury fashion industry played in wildlife crime when it came to U.S. trade dynamics. We see so many exotic skins and furs on the shelves of stores, but are these always legally acquired? Answering this question entailed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to access and search through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) wildlife seizure records (i.e., records of wildlife goods that were seized by U.S. authorities). The goal was to identify events involving what would be considered ‘luxury fashion’ brands. 

In analyzing these records, we discovered how many seizures actually do take place of goods intended for commercial markets. These types of seizures represent only an estimated 10% of products imported, meaning that many other similar illicit goods are in fact likely making it past inspections to commercial markets. To be responsible consumers, it is critical that we think about the products we are buying — how they were sourced and ended up on shelves. 
Monique Sosnowski stands in front of a vehicle

The Graduate Center: How did you get interested in wildlife issues? 

Sosnowski: Visiting wildlife reserves and local communities in South Africa at the beginning of high school stimulated my infatuation with African wildlife and human-wildlife conflict-related issues. These experiences led me to focus my studies on wildlife, taking two opportunities during my college years to work in Africa — once as an intern in Namibia, and a year later as a research intern in Botswana. Observing human-wildlife conflict issues firsthand, responding to poaching incidents, and discussing these issues with communities presented an area of study from which I couldn’t turn away. 

GC: Getting a Ph.D. seems like it’s a world away from the fieldwork you’ve done. How do your studies mesh with your background and further your goals? Why go the academic route rather than the activist route?

Sosnowski: In order to tackle any problem — whether fixing a car or taking down criminal networks — we must first understand it to our fullest capabilities. Wildlife crime is a field that is in many ways still being defined and divided into sub-areas of focus; it is very much a developing area of research and practice. Pursuing a Ph.D. in wildlife crime, essentially stepping further into academia to learn as much as possible about the problem, felt like the most impactful way to create change in the world.  

GC: You have degrees in environmental studies and psychology from Loyola University, and a master’s degree in global wildlife health and conservation from the University of Bristol in England. What brought you to CUNY for your doctoral work? 

Sosnowski: I was in a cafĂ© in Bristol grabbing a coffee during my master’s program when I came across Dr. Gohar Petrossian online while googling wildlife crime research. Soon after discovering her work, I traveled to New York City to visit John Jay College and found myself feeling at home within a criminal justice-focused community filled with strong diverse voices studying and advocating for an array of incredible causes. With Dr. Petrossian’s mentorship, John Jay College seemed like the ideal place for me to pursue this rather peculiar area of study. 

GC: What’s your thesis on?

Sosnowski: My dissertation is on security measures as they pertain to protected areas in southern Africa. I will specifically be working with a small park to better understand how different patrol tactics detect and prevent acts of wildlife crime and how understanding ever-changing local community dynamics can provide insights into these activities. 

GC: Any advice for grad students looking to publish? 

Sosnowski: I’d say the best way to get started in publishing is to identify knowledgeable mentors in your area of interest and see if you can help out on ongoing projects. This helped me develop an understanding of the research and publication process so that I felt comfortable contributing to projects as well as with initiating my own projects down the line.

GC: What do you see yourself doing once you’ve completed your Ph.D.? 

Sosnowski: I hope to either be teaching courses on wildlife crime while developing a research center filled with undergraduate and graduate students interested in this field of research, or working at an NGO or government-based wildlife crime prevention and research initiative.

Beth Harpaz is the editor of SUM. Follow her on Twitter at @literarydj.

Submitted on: JAN 8, 2021

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