The power of supportive collaborative efforts, capacity building and local involvement


By: Elizabeth Davis, David O’Connor and Jenny Anne Glikman, Research Associates, San Diego Zoo Global


In 2014, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) began collaborating with Free The Bears, a number of universities and governments in SE Asia to address wildlife trade. The aim was to develop a framework that could be effectively and easily used by diverse organisations, regionally to gather data on the public knowledge, attitudes, behaviours, preferences, influences and consumption patterns of wildlife products. With a core set of questions, and the use of complementary methods (in-person surveys and semi-structured interviews), data collected from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos can be analysed together to begin to provide a better regional picture of the dynamics and drivers of wildlife trade consumption. Not only will this inform the development of demand change interventions, but this will also allow researchers to track outcomes of such efforts to gauge efficacy over time. There are numerous researchers and organizations gathering data across the region, but unfortunately the data is not necessarily sharable.

We began with preliminary surveys about bears and use of bear parts in northern Laos from Lao nationals, Western tourists, and Chinese tourists. The goal of these surveys was to understand perceptions of bears in northern Laos, as well as to understand what aspects of the questionnaire worked, and did not work, in a Southeast Asian context. Results thus far indicate that knowledge about the link between bear part usage and decline in bear populations is low among Lao people, but high among Chinese tourists visiting Laos. It is possible that this greater knowledge of use and impact on bear populations is what has caused Chinese tourists to cite their preferred bear bile type as synthetic, rather than from wild bears, though further investigation is needed.

Lessons learnt informed an improved and refined questionnaire which is currently being used in surveys in Cambodia, again on bears and bear parts. At the same time, semi-structured interviews also took place in Phnom Penh, resulting in qualitative data that will complement the results found in the quantitative survey. Preliminary results identify bear part use to be among middle to upper-middle status Cambodian individuals, particularly when an individual has a connection or affinity towards Chinese individuals. Bearskin was heavily cited as a product in use, but the lack of wildlife trafficking data for bearskin highlights the need to explore this further.

SDZG and Animals Asia is also surveying Traditional Medicine Practitioners in Vietnam to understand traditional medicine practice involving bear products, through mail-in surveys. Although a different methodology, these surveys complement the work performed in Cambodia and Laos.

In collaboration with Free The Bears, Animals Asia, TRAFFIC Vietnam and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade (OMP-IWT), we will build on the work from Laos and Cambodia with public attitude surveys across Vietnam on bears and bear part usage, as well as on tiger part and saiga horn (ling yang, 羚羊) usage.

The OMP-IWT case study on bear bile in China aims to include core elements of the SDZG SE Asia bear surveys, working towards gaining a regional understanding. Greater refined mixed-methods research will be imperative for truly understanding the trends and patterns we isolate in IWT. The OMP-IWT is sure to be a dynamic research-to-action body, utilising complementary mixed-methods applications and catalysing collaborations.


Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail

Taking Stock of Stockpiles

By: Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes, Doctoral Researcher, Oxford Martin Programme on Illegal Wildlife Trade

The rapidly growing awareness of the serious extent to which illegal and unsustainable wildlife exploitation threatens the conservation of many endangered species is certainly timely. Yet amidst the current fervour for combatting illegal wildlife trade, the use of certain policy measures may be confounded by the continued existence of residual legal activities that potentially complicate both enforcement and efforts to change consumer behaviour. For this reason, many activists prefer an uncompromising approach: total prohibition of all forms of legal supply, consumptive use and trade of endangered species products, supported by simple demand reduction messaging to consumers of the ‘just say no’ variety. However, this extreme approach may be neither realistically achievable nor even desirable.

At present, legal supply – and even some legal trade – of certain endangered species products persists. For example, significant numbers of tigers, lions, bears and even rhinos are maintained in commercial captive breeding operations in countries such as China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and South Africa, yielding considerable volumes of marketable products. Residual legal trade in antique elephant ivory and rhino horn artefacts also persists in many countries and some elephant and rhino range states continue to accumulate official stockpiles of raw ivory and rhino horn. Attempts to curtail these activities through international pressure have met with obvious resistance from certain countries and powerful interest groups within them, including numerous persistent consumers. It seems likely that captive live specimens and product stockpiles will continue to challenge policy-makers for the foreseeable future.

Before investing substantial resources in trying to eliminate such residual supply sources, policy-makers should carefully consider the extent to which these in fact threaten wild populations of endangered species. One hypothesis holds that the existence of any commercial captive breeding operations and saleable stocks of endangered species products both stimulates demand for illegal, wild-harvested products of those species and provides cover for illegal activity. However, as an alternative hypothesis captive populations and product stockpiles may provide a critical ‘buffer’ role, shielding wild populations from certain forms of illegal exploitation by meeting persistent residual demand or acting as a deterrent to coordinated overexploitation aimed at ‘banking on extinction’.

The answer as to which hypothesis is correct may vary with species, geography and circumstance: there are numerous factors that must be considered, including whether consumers might co-operate in discerning between supply sources that are legal, ethical and sustainable and those that are not. Careful examination of multiple cases may result in a deeper understanding of some of the typical critical factors and risks. Using contemporary techniques such as participatory modelling and scenario analysis, the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade will seek to assess conditions under which policy decisions are robust to uncertainty. We intend to draw on existing accessible data to engage with difficult decisions relating to rhino poaching and lion bone trade policy and hope to learn broader lessons that might apply to issues such as residual elephant ivory trade and the management of accumulating stockpiles of endangered species products subject to persistent consumer demand.


Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail

Probing the Elephant in the Room

By: Vian Sharif , Doctoral Researcher, Oxford Martin Programme on Illegal Wildlife Trade and Alexander Rhodes, Managing Associate, Mishcon de Reya LLP


At first glance, the imminent extinction of the world’s most iconic species – for example, the black rhino – primarily looks like a challenge for conservation science. Yet, with rhino horn prices anecdotally exceeding $60,000 per kilogram on global black markets in recent years, at the heart of this issue is the behaviour of the buyer willing to pay prices higher than the street price of cocaine or gold to acquire it. Crucially, the need to understand the motivations and psychological drivers of consumers’ desire to acquire and own illegal wildlife products and influences upon them, like the media and tools commonly employed in commercial marketing campaigns, has now come to the fore as a potential means of reducing consumption.

Our report, Analysis of conservation initiatives aimed at reducing demand for traded wildlife in China and Vietnam, commissioned by Stop Ivory for the Elephant Protection Initiative & The Royal Foundation aimed to set out for the first time in one central resource a summary and analysis of the major ‘demandside’ initiatives carried out between 2004-2014 in two key consumer markets, China and Vietnam, for elephant, rhino, tiger and pangolin products. The report provides an overview and analysis of their findings and outputs, and also includes the compilation of a searchable database of these initiatives by mapping existing campaigns, educational initiatives and market interventions used to initiate changes in key audiences, for example consumers or policy

By comprehensively scoping the activities taking place to address demand in consumer countries for illegal wildlife, we aimed to present the cumulative knowledge gathered by these initiatives in one open source resource made available to any organisation wishing to access it. We wanted to build an understanding of the most effective interventions to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products, and for this knowledge to contribute to the production of tools and guidance to support governments, nongovernment organisations (NGOs) and others in developing their campaigns. Through making this data available to all, we aim to provide a resource for those planning interventions, and the potential for discussion around future collaborations and interventions to achieve conservation impact in as efficient and effective manner as possible.

You may access the full report here


Article edited by: Nafeesa Esmail