Illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade is a major and growing threat to global biodiversity. Ivory poaching caused a 60% decline in elephant numbers between 2009 and 2014, and China’s pangolin population has declined by an estimated 94% since the 1960s, due to trade for consumption. Estimated to be worth up to $10 billion annually, wildlife trade is one of the highest value illicit trade sectors in the world.
In order to control the illegal international wildlife trade, we urgently need to improve our understanding of its drivers and characteristics. There is a particular lack of understanding of the motivations of wildlife product consumers, and how to intervene to change their behaviour. The rise of the internet as a trade channel for illegal goods, including wildlife, changes the way trade is conducted, but there is little understanding of its role at the moment. There is an urgent need for novel, integrated research so that the funding and effort involved in large-scale policy action are not wasted.
Our overarching research question is: ‘How can consumer behaviour be changed, in order to reduce trade in illegal wildlife products?’. To answer this question we will develop new frameworks for understanding consumer profiles, preferences and motivations and determining the dynamics of online and physical markets for selected illegal wildlife products. We will trial new approaches for monitoring online sales of prohibited goods, promoting behavioural change, and evaluating the impact of conservation interventions. We will also test innovative interventions to change consumer behaviour.
Our work addresses specific and acute real-world issues, focussed on wildlife product sales in Asia with an emphasis on luxury and medicinal uses. It is informed by, and in collaboration with, practitioners who are carrying out conservation actions and changing policy. In order to support their needs, we will develop tools for surveillance and tracking of online wildlife sales, manuals for collection of information on wildlife consumption, and develop guidance for evaluating wildlife trade interventions.
Our team will take an interdisciplinary research approach, drawing on theory and methods from public health, computer science, economics, psychology, ecology and sociology to address this pressing 21st century issue, creating a new research focus within conservation science.
This programme will fill a global need for a research hub on the illegal wildlife trade, that will create a step change in knowledge on how to understand and change consumer behaviour, and how to design effective interventions and evaluate their effects. Our inclusive approach and our outreach activities will bring people together across sectors working on this issue, facilitating real-world conservation impact.