Earlier this week, more than 20 participants from diverse areas – including advertising, public health, and wildlife trade – met at a workshop in Hong Kong to discuss strategies for reducing the demand for products made from endangered species.
The seemingly inescapable appetite for endangered species is driven by the economic boom in countries such as China and Vietnam, where demand has fueled an alarming increase in the illegal wildlife trade, causing a drastic decline in the populations of tigers, rhinos, elephants, pangolins, sharks, marine turtles, and others.
Steven Broad, Executive Director of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, explained that the meeting addressed how to approach various consumer audiences, i.e., businessmen, high-level government officials, youth and local village communities.
Efforts now really need to focus in on the underlying social motivations that drive people to buy these products—whether it is as a symbol to show off their success or social status, or as a gift to impress their peers or business partners.
Clearly, a multi-layered strategy and diverse set of actions is needed to influence some very different motivations and groups of people. Reducing demand for endangered species cannot have a one-size-fits-all solution.
The workshop was made possible with funding from the WWF Tigers Alive Initiative, and the results will be compiled into a strategic document to support national and international efforts to curb demand for wildlife products.
Participants included representatives from the World Bank, Bloom Association, Ogilvy and Mather, Tribal DDB, the Global Tiger Forum, Wilkes University, The Guardian, Social Science Research Council Vietnam (SSRC) and the Biodiversity Conservation Agency of the Ministry of Environment, Vietnam, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), TRAFFIC and WWF.
Unfortunately, the illegal wildlife trade is big business, and efforts to reduce demand for endangered species could be met with opposition from suppliers.
In China, illegal “tiger farms” have proliferated under the guise of conservation, when in fact, they are catering to the continued demand for “tiger bone wine” and superstition-based medicinal products derived from tiger penises and other body parts.
And in South Africa, a group of rhino ranchers and their henchmen are attempting to gather support for a “legalized” rhino horn trade, which they believe would allow them to cash in on the medicinal myths of rhino horn.
However, it was recently suggested that a main supporter of “legalized” rhino horn trade has ties to a South African media organization, which may help explain why the notion has received recent attention.
(Major international conservation groups including Humane Society International and Care for the Wild International are not supportive of a “legal” trade in rhino horn; more information can be found here. See also Concern Grows Around Role of Rhino Horn ‘Suppliers’ in South Africa.)