Intern goes to bat for illegally traded animals

Business intern Abby Jones says it was a real eye-opener to find out about the extent of illegal wildlife trading and its connections to organised crime during her summer internship with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Hong Kong. Abby was one of 15 tertiary students and recent graduates the Foundation supported to undertake online internships over the New Zealand summer.
World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong intern Abby Jones

Abby: "Gaining a better understanding of the devastating impact that the illegal wildlife trade can have on animals and the environment was eye-opening."

After spending a summer backpacking through Southeast Asia from 2019-2020, I was itching to travel and work when I finished university. However, given the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, I was not sure that this was all going to go to plan.

I wanted to look for opportunities that would provide the experience of being overseas while not being able to travel. I was looking for internships with a connection to Asia – somewhere I am most excited to live and work – and stumbled across the Asia New Zealand Foundation internships. I thought the internship with WWF Hong Kong was the perfect fit for me, combining my previous work experience in financial crime, passion for environmentalism and legal studies. I applied, and was lucky enough to be chosen for this internship.

My primary role as an intern was to develop a report for WWF outlining the illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong. This was used to create a data and intelligence-driven monitoring strategy to track emerging financial crime trends.

My work included doing comprehensive wider research on the scope of illegal wildlife trade (IWT) in Hong Kong, including looking at the history of the legal wildlife trade, which animal goods are most trafficked, and the effectiveness of the anti-IWT law.

By linking financial flows to wildlife trafficking, this report highlighted red flags to allow organizations to better identify and prevent the movement of illegal wildlife. This was designed to assist a host of organisations that all work in the anti-IWT space. 

Hearing the stories of wildlife trafficking was harrowing and upsetting. Seeing photos of the thousands of pieces of animal goods that had been seized after a trafficking bust were almost unbelievable.

It was eye-opening to gain a better understanding of the devastating impact that the illegal wildlife trade can have on animals and the environment.

One of the most interesting parts of my research was gaining an understanding of how the illegal wildlife trade links in with other global organised crime, which can have huge repercussions for communities across the globe.

Knowing that I was a small part of the large machine trying to prevent this hugely harmful practice was an amazing feeling. To think that my report could be used to assist to prevent the illegal wildlife trade was extremely rewarding.

Abby sitting in a room full of colourful lanterns

Spending time backpacking around Asia after completing high school stoked an interest in Abby to undertake an Asia-focussed internship

Before this internship, the thought of writing a 6,000-word formal report for wide dissemination to other professional groups would have been incredibly intimidating. However, this research-focused internship has allowed me to develop valuable research and writing skills. This has fostered a new love for research, and has even made me interested in continuing my study through a more extensive research degrees like a Master’s programme.

While I was initially intimidated about working from home for a whole summer, this opportunity provided a valuable opportunity for me to learn important skills, set up good routines and cultivate a good workspace and allowed me to develop strong skills that I will be able to take into our new flexible work environment.

Additionally, the Foundation provided great help with our adjustment to online internships and working from home, even though we were not able to meet in person within New Zealand. We had an online induction day, which allowed us to connect with other interns from around the country and hear their experiences. We also got to hear about the work the Foundation does and meet other internship providers to get a better idea of the exciting new network we have joined.

We also got the exciting opportunity to complete a Global Competency Certificate – providing us valuable communication, listening and teamwork skills that will be useful for our future careers.

Overall, this internship has both expanded my horizons and made the world feel much smaller. Now, it seems strange that I didn’t know about illegal wildlife trade in Hong Kong given its hugely devastating impacts and the serious impact it has on the environment and people, even impacting New Zealand.

I hope one day that I will be able to go visit Hong Kong in person and get to see some of the city that I researched so in-depthly. I am sure this internship will provide me a valuable step in my goals to go work overseas.