A Possible Way To Curb Exotic Animal Demand: Information
The global trade in wildlife, a field often touted as a growing threat to biodiversity, is worth an estimated $31–43 billion annually, fisheries excluded. Up to half of this revenue is estimated to be illegal. Demand for companion animals, naturally, is one of the main drivers of the trade, while others include luxury goods, food, and traditional medicine.
In this study, a group of researchers from the U.K. ran an online survey, analyzing people’s expressed will to purchase exotic animals. The goal of their study was to determine if consumers’ purchasing desire might be reduced by providing negative information concerning the consequences of said purchases.
The scientists highlight that with respect to effective advocacy, it is vital to understand the factors that influence customers’ behavior. The ‘correct’ message must hence be delivered through the ‘right’ communications medium. As many animal advocates will attest to, while a lack of information can be a barrier, information by itself does not necessarily motivate individuals to change their behaviors. The study included presenting statements outlining: the inherent risk of zoonotic disease the exotic companion might represent; the legal implications of having such an animal; the animal welfare implications of buying the exotic animal; and the conservation implications of buying the animal.
The results were motivating – disease and legality information led to significantly reduced probabilities of purchase likelihood. This could potentially lower consumer demand by up to 40%. However, the effects of welfare and conservation statements were non-significant. Finally, the data acquired is only applicable for mammals, birds and reptiles, as not enough respondents chose fish, amphibians, and invertebrates in the survey.
The researchers suggest that the respondents were most motivated to avoid direct costs. Here, contracting a zoonotic disease and participating in illegal activities represent personal risks that are too high for most people. Meanwhile, the principal ethical arguments against exotic pet ownership – that their purchase may advance species’ declines and have a negative impact on the animals’ welfare, appear unlikely to significantly influence consumers. This can be further explained by the fact that some exotic animal keepers believe it to be a valid species conservation approach, while the rarity of an animal can increase species’ attractiveness to collectors.
All in all, the hope is that more and more wildlife protection solutions will include strategies for influencing people’s behavior. The scientists claim that social marketing is an underused tool which could aid the cause. Animal advocates will be pleased to learn that, combined with calls to positive action, the two effective arguments, namely risks for zoonotic disease and illegalities related to exotic animal trade, could be successfully used in various demand reduction campaigns. After all, it’s not often do we learn about information-based strategies that actually have a tangible effect on human behavior!