On Wednesday, May 24th 2016, the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) met in Nairobi, Kenya. The key theme was the fight to reduce wildlife trade, and the key channel through which UNEA is hoping to achieve this is by reducing the demand for wildlife goods. Broadly speaking, like in many market activities, there are three main strategies one can use when attempting to regulate, and in this case stop, trade in the market: either go after the supply – those who poach species from the wild, or focus on the logistical networks that drive the trade – the criminal organizations who are the middlemen between poachers and collectors, but UNEA is focusing on ending the trade through bringing demand to such so low levels that operating in this market will not be profitable to anyone. And they are planning on doing this using an awareness campaign that enlists well known public figures that affiliate themselves with specific species. The #WildForLife website is up and it is trying to get people informed about the scale of wildlife trade and how catastrophic it is. UNEA is hoping that as word spreads people will no longer be interested in collecting ivory, rhino horns, etc.
This is important and other demand reductions campaigns have been successful in the past but given the recent explosion in the volume of wildlife trade is seems unlikely that this campaign will solve the problem all by itself. Efforts will need to be allocated across all three nodes, supply, transport, and demand in order to really put a dent in wildlife trade numbers. I hope I will be able to contribute to the multiple efforts taking place, which this campaign is an addition to. I am working on trying to better understand the dynamics of the black markets involved with the trade and where are some big levers in the system that policy can manipulate. Wildlife trade markets are a hard subject to study empirically as there is very little data on them, yet one thing is certain – we will not be able to regulate markets which we do not understand.