The Oxford Martin Programme on

Wildlife Trade

The Challenge

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 manage the 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 also 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 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 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.

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Position statement: Managing wildlife trade in the context of COVID-19 and future zoonotic pandemics

There is strong evidence that zoonotic disease emergence is linked to human activities which bring wildlife, domestic animals and humans into increasingly intense contact. To minimise the risks of future zoonotic outbreaks, whilst also protecting wildlife, ecosystems and human well-being, we need to rebalance our relationship with nature, using an evidence-based approach to manage the risks associated with global food systems.

We recognise that trade in some wild species represents a risk to public health. However, we express concern at the dominant discourse which focusses solely on the links between zoonosis emergence and wildlife trade and caution against a blanket approach to wildlife trade regulation. Instead, we advocate for a more nuanced and evidence-based approach which could better serve both people and wildlife.

Read our recommendations

Addressing the global Wildlife Trade

E.J Milner-Gulland introduces the programme and its aims, bringing together academics from conservation science, social intervention and cybersecurity to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.

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