Throughout the fall semester, I researched the effectiveness of public awareness campaigns in reducing demand for illegal wildlife products. I have examined campaigns from China, England and the USA. The purpose of this research was to develop an action plan for the USA; a way for the government to get involved in reducing consumption of wildlife products worldwide. This consumption is defined as the killing, selling and purchasing of wildlife products. Through my research into these campaigns, I have determined that the campaigns can be effective in reducing demand in the highest demand countries, like China. However, I am still a bit at a loss for how the US can be involved in these campaigns.
For an awareness campaign to be truly effective, the campaign must operate in the language of the target country, appeal to the culture of that country and use culturally relevant methods to reach the public. WildAid in China conducted the shining example for in-country campaigns. WildAid, an anti-wildlife trafficking organization, administered the “Say No to Shark Fin” campaign in China to address the consumption of shark fin in Chinese delicacies. This campaign featured prominent celebrity figures, such as Yao Ming, and attacked the issue through print and online media advertisements. The results of the campaign were astounding. Consumption of shark fin reduced by 50-70% across the country and the government banned the use of shark fin in state banquet dinners. The key to the effectiveness of this campaign was the use of in-country figures to attack an issue that affects citizens of China and animals found in the Chinese oceans.
A question that has been nagging at me over the last few months is how the USA can actually be involved in public awareness campaigns to reduce consumption of illegal wildlife products. In my limited experience with how the US government makes decisions, and from my own biased point of view, I have difficulty imagining that the US will have any effective contribution to wildlife campaigns. A few years ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to create public awareness videos for the US Embassy’s worldwide urging ex-pats to not purchase souvenirs and goods that contain illegally traded wildlife products. See an example of one of the videos, starring Harrison Ford, below:
Have you ever seen one of these videos? Or do you remember hearing about them in the news? Neither do I. These were a good attempt to reach an audience that is relevant to the United States in demand countries. This brings up my main concern with US involvement with awareness campaigns. In order for the US to get involved with a campaign, or conduct a campaign, the issue needs to directly affect US interests or be a major concern of the US public. I think it will be very difficult for the US government to want to spend money or resources on a campaign that may address supply in African countries and demand in Asian countries. There is not real connection to the American people. It is easy to turn away and ignore the issue. Perhaps this is a pessimistic view, but with all the other concerns of the US government right now, I do not see wildlife being address until it has a direct effect on the United States or its citizens. If you disagree, or see a way for the US to be involved, please comment below and change my mind!