Chang­ing the be­hav­iour of in­flu­encers can help end wildlife traf­fick­ing


THE newly-wed cou­ple is about to cut their wed­ding cake and share it with their guests, when it sud­denly trans­forms into a live shark. The cou­ple then slices off its fins, which spill into the guests’ soup bowls.

Pop­u­lar ac­tor Nawat “Pong” Kul­rat­ta­narak, sit­ting at a cor­ner ta­ble, speaks up: “Let’s not make aus­pi­cious events un­for­tu­nate by serv­ing shark fin”. This strong message was de­liv­ered with the aim of try­ing to change the be­hav­iour of the tar­get au­di­ence – the wed­ding in­dus­try.

This re­cent cam­paign was launched in re­sponse to a find­ing by WildAid, a lead cam­paigner against wildlife con­sump­tion in Thai­land, that shark fin soup is most of­ten served in wed­ding re­cep­tions.

This is one of the cam­paigns fol­low­ing the trend of so­cial be­hav­iour change com­mu­ni­ca­tion (SBCC) in an ef­fort to re­duce the de­mand for vul­ner­a­ble species. Thais can ex­pect to see more and more SBCC in the near fu­ture.

Gayle Burgess, be­havioural change co­or­di­na­tor for TRAF­FIC, noted that the tra­di­tional ap­proach to stop­ping wildlife traf­fick­ing and trade has been by sup­press­ing sup­ply through en­force­ment mea­sures.

Yet, trade in wildlife still re­mains the fourth-largest sec­tor of or­gan­ised crime, fol­low­ing drugs, coun­ter­feit prod­ucts and hu­man traf­fick­ing.

In TRAF­FIC’s re­cent In­ter­na­tional So­cial Be­hav­iour Change Con­fer­ence in Bangkok, Burgess and other anti-wildlife traf­fick­ing and trade ex­perts pointed out that though the tra­di­tional ap­proach has made a dif­fer­ence, it needs to be matched by mea­sures to cut down de­mand. De­mand, af­ter all, fu­els the trade. Burgess said var­i­ous stud­ies, in­clud­ing TRAF­FIC’s lat­est re­search anal­y­sis, have iden­ti­fied that most of the “de­mand-re­duc­tion ini­tia­tives” be­tween 2005 and 2015, were aware­ness cam­paigns aimed at the pub­lic that com­mu­ni­cated con­ser­va­tion val­ues or the threats faced by wildlife.

While these types of com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­main im­por­tant, the anal­y­sis high­lighted a need for cam­paigns that also tar­get the mo­ti­va­tions and val­ues that drive buy­ers. By draw­ing on dis­cov­er­ies in be­havioural sci­ence, SBCC cam­paigns can aim to rapidly change con­sumer choices and ensure a last­ing im­pact.

“SBCC is a well-es­tab­lished and proven ap­proach in­ter­na­tion­ally, es­pe­cially in fields such as pub­lic health and in­ter­na­tional devel­op­ment,” Burgess said. “Thanks to this ex­ten­sive track record, there is al­ready a very rich body of lit­er­a­ture, ev­i­dence, re­search in­sight and case stud­ies avail­able to sup­port the con­ser­va­tion com­mu­nity, am­plify suc­cess fac­tors, and achieve rapid and last­ing im­pact.”

Eleanora De Guz­man, SBCC spe­cial­ist for USAid Wildlife Asia, ex­plained the three main char­ac­ter­is­tics of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion ap­proach at the con­fer­ence. The ap­proach is grounded in well­rounded re­search on the tar­get au­di­ence, strate­gic plan­ning, and mon­i­tor­ing, said De Guz­man, whose group is plan­ning to launch a SBCC cam­paign chal­leng­ing tra­di­tional be­liefs that view tiger parts as spir­i­tual items.

There are three prime strate­gies in­volved in SBCC, she said: com­mu­ni­ca­tion on be­hav­iour change, so­cial mo­bil­i­sa­tion (in­clud­ing so­cial sanc­tion and pres­sure) and ad­vo­cacy, along with re­lated le­gal and pol­icy changes.

The tar­get’s mo­ti­va­tions are dis­cov­ered through well-rounded re­search and plan­ning, along with an as­sess­ment of so­cio-eco­log­i­cal fac­tors such as friends and fam­ily members, as well as their own be­liefs. Once the mo­ti­va­tions are un­der­stood, a mix of strate­gies is cre­ated with the aim of in­flu­enc­ing and chang­ing those mo­ti­va­tions.

“Aware­ness-rais­ing cam­paigns used in the past to op­pose wildlife traf­fick­ing were good, but they were not enough,” said De Guz­man.

“Al­though the pro­por­tion of wildlife con­sumers ap­pears small, they are sig­nif­i­cant as they are in­flu­en­tial and af­flu­ent ac­cord­ing to our find­ings. It’s some­thing that I call a ‘niche mar­ket’, which is truly the driv­ing force of wildlife traf­fick­ing.”

Al­though the new SBCC ap­proach is widely ac­cepted as be­ing more in­flu­en­tial than aware­ness­rais­ing cam­paigns, prac­ti­tion­ers agree that the ap­proach needs to take the dif­fer­ent and spe­cific con­text of the so­ci­ety into ac­count.

Some Asian coun­tries that re­port­edly ac­count for the ma­jor­ity of wildlife con­sump­tion, such as China, tra­di­tional be­liefs are deep­rooted and strong.

This presents a crit­i­cal chal­lenge for SBCC prac­ti­tion­ers who wish to change peo­ple’s mo­ti­va­tions.

De Guz­man said spir­i­tual be­liefs are a very strong chal­lenge and very dif­fi­cult to deal with.

In Viet­nam, she said, some busi­ness peo­ple still con­sume rhino horns, while some Thais buy tiger parts, in­clud­ing amulets, due to their spir­i­tual be­liefs.

Her or­gan­i­sa­tion is ex­plor­ing ways to ad­dress this, sep­a­rat­ing the be­hav­iour from the holder’s be­liefs, through a cam­paign to be launched next year. “We have to be cau­tious be­cause it’s very tricky and in­grained. To take a cau­tious step, [the sub­ject] must first be well­re­searched,” De Guz­man said.

De­spite the chal­lenge, Burgess sees op­por­tu­ni­ties for this ap­proach in South­east Asia, es­pe­cially Thai­land. There is al­ready a very vi­brant, in­ter­ested com­mu­nity ac­tive here that can help craft­ing im­pact­ful mes­sages and come up with the best way of de­liv­er­ing them through in­no­va­tive ap­proaches and cross-sec­toral col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The suc­cess­ful fac­tors, she said, are likely to in­clude en­sur­ing a suf­fi­ciently tar­geted ap­proach that ap­peals to the val­ues and in­ter­ests that al­ready mat­ter to key con­sumer groups, along with us­ing in­spir­ing mes­sages de­liv­ered by in­flu­en­tial peo­ple – of­ten fam­ily members, col­leagues, peers and friends.

Nuthatai Chotechuang, Thai­land rep­re­sen­ta­tive for WildAid, said past ef­forts to re­duce de­mand for wildlife con­sump­tion here fo­cused mainly on rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness, as it was con­sid­ered an im­por­tant first step for reach­ing a pub­lic that did not know much about the sub­ject.

In con­trast, she said, SBCC is very tar­get ori­ented and re­quires a great deal of re­search to ad­dress the tar­get’s mo­ti­va­tions to in­duce change.

Re­al­is­ing that change is crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of anti-wildlife traf­fick­ing and trade here, past cam­paigns have adopted SBCC to a greater or lesser ex­tent, draw­ing on so­cial mo­bil­i­sa­tion strate­gies to put pres­sure on the tar­get in or­der to change their be­hav­iours, she said.

“It’s more like we com­mu­ni­cate with the so­ci­ety as a whole and hope that they will then ‘re­quire’ the tar­get to change for us.

“As so­ci­ety be­comes aware of what’s go­ing on with wildlife, for in­stance, like in the case of the cam­paign against ivory, we then move to the next step, which is chang­ing their neg­a­tive be­hav­iour against wildlife,” Nuthatai said.

Anti-wildlife traf­fick­ing cam­paigns are mov­ing to­wards chang­ing be­hav­iours.

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