Demand Mitigation as a means to control Illegal Wildlife Trade

17th June 2016

In the wake of World Environment Day 2016,  Divyani Diddi, Researcher, IPE Global Centre for Knowledge and Development [IPE CKD], looks at Demand Mitigation as a means to control Illegal Wildlife Trade.

Illuminating readers of the evils of illegal wildlife trade (IWT) becomes a futile exercise when a majority of the readers don’t consider themselves, and for the most part are not, consumers of products that support IWT. The two major uses of IWT products; luxury possessions and traditional medicine cater to audiences that tend to fall outside of the conventional readership of content relating to environmental issues. However, as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity, second only to habitat destruction, informing and equipping readers of the means by which they could make a tangible difference to curb IWT becomes imperative.

IWT is spurred by immense profit, which despite accounting for one fifteenth of the profits of legal wildlife trade, provides economic security and incentive to the contributors of its supply chain. Besides the threat of extinction of several species imperative for the protection of Earth’s biodiversity, an essential condition for the survival of future generations, IWT also poses a challenge to the safety and security of the current generation by threatening political governance and domestic stability. There has been a study by Lawson and Vines (2014) to establish a relationship between the function of IWT funding the activities of armed non state actors in various African nations leading to civil unrest.

The supply chain for IWT is extensive, well established and impervious to correction to a great degree owing to the levels of corruption that penetrate its value chain. In such a circumstance, the focus must shift from supply driven to demand driven approaches to eliminate these trade activities. Methods to mitigate demand for these products in order to land a blow to its profits, the foremost incentive for the persistence of this industry, need to be discussed and facilitated in order to make a tangible difference to this $19 billion industry.

Photo: flickr/didbygraham

Conventional methods to curb IWT have been implemented at three levels:

  • Regulatory Mechanisms are enforced by state level agencies and organisations, such as transport and logistic firms, who sometimes become unwitting players in the IWT supply chain. It is in light of the vulnerability of trade network supply chains that these agencies and organisations have come out in support of making state, national and international borders impervious to traffickers
  • At the level of individual and community members, Behaviour Change Efforts have attempted to make consumers aware of the ecological impact of utilising IWT products. However, these efforts must be made more evocative through the provision of data and facts of rapidly diminishing wildlife populations in an engaging manner, ‘flooding’ audiences with visual information about the way in which the products used by consumers is procured and produced; from armed conflict to cruelty against these species etc.

Effective attitudinal and behaviour change would be the only way to substantially affect demand and, therefore, must now become the onus of efforts to achieve the goal of eliminating IWT. Behaviour change efforts made to make individuals and communities aware of the various facets of IWT and ancillary activities have not yet had as impactful a presence as is desirable. These efforts must be targeted to the particular commodities and consumers that make up the demand collective. Eliminating demand requires addressing the entire spectrum of IWT. Generalising broadly, from the demand of the wealthy who use these products as prized possessions or as ingredients in traditional medicine (practiced largely in the IWT hotspot of South Asia) to the demand for wealth and social security by the impoverished, in source regions, whose indigenous knowledge and expertise lead to them to become integral members of the IWT supply chain.

Behaviour change efforts in this direction must, naturally then, be layered and complemented by alternative solutions to comprehensively address the issue. Some of these would include:

  • Skill training and capacity building of rural populations dependent upon wildlife for their livelihood. This would be successful in providing them with regular, engaging and alternative employment to poaching and trafficking and re-inculcate the traditional practice of protecting and conserving their natural surroundings
  • Establishing centralised enforcement agencies and protective forces in green areas. These forces would not only help to protect wildlife species but also the populations of surrounding areas. Giving up poaching and trafficking can prove dangerous for people who are looking to change their livelihood. Providing them with protection against the backlash of criminal actors and organisations would prove to be a great incentive for them
  • Informing and distributing alternative medicines to the traditional medicines that require products sourced from IWT
  • Establishing the credibility and promoting the purchase of commodities known to maintain a fair and sustainable supply chain. As a complement to making the use of IWT products socially unacceptable, making it socially desirable to support fair trade and sustainable production and distribution practices.

Demand mitigation of something as grand as illegal wildlife trade can seem a daunting task. But concerted efforts at the individual and community levels can go a long way in doing away with this practice for good.


Divyani Diddi

Divyani Diddi is a Research Assistant at IPE Global.