As a kid in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s, I was addicted to nature TV, Animal Magic, Survival, Wildlife on One, Life on Earth, Johnny Morris, David Bellamy and David Attenborough. The emerging Take it personally 2debates at the time about how people needed to protect the natural world and how you could and should take action resonated with me. In parallel with this came Anita Roddick, an activist, environmental campaigner and Founder of The Body Shop. Though I never quite forgave her for selling The Body Shop to L’Oréal, I continued to follow her work; her book Take It Personally: How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World is another reason I started Breaking The brand.

So when it comes to demand reduction for wild animals how can we take it personally and why do we need to?

International Governments

Governments around the world are ramping up their activities to save wildlife, but how much of it is a PR exercise with minimal substance? As individuals, what can we do to “keep the bastards honest” to use a phrase from Australian political history? This is not about being cynical, it is about being healthily sceptical and I back up this statement with 3 examples.

Let’s take the South African Government first. When it comes to the rhino crisis, the South African Government’s desire for a legalised international trade is well known, even though they act as if every option is still on the table. With their pro-trade/no-trade committee, there has been the pretence of a thorough assessment process, that can be used to rationalize any decision the South African Government chooses to make. How could this process have been thorough when there was no representative from the demand side countries who could offer clarity on the nature of the demand and the users, from a behavioural economics/consumption perspective? It is a shame that large conservation and respected conservationists enabled themselves to be used as pawns in this game.

Draft Chinese wildlife law imageWhile there has been much talk about the Chinese Government strengthening its commitment to solving wildlife crime, a recent article: discussing a draft of China’s new wildlife laws questions the government’s dedication to this. From the article: While the previous [laws] purpose is to protect and save threatened wildlife, the new draft version adds the competing goal of “regulating the utilization of wildlife”; which means that it is business as usual—any Chinese citizen can continue to exploit wildlife…The draft law continues to allow the existence of captive breeding programmes of wild animals for commercial purposes, as well as the capture of wild animals for these programmes. The language legitimises the use of wildlife for commercial purposes and encourages more consumption of wildlife products…The Chinese draft law views wildlife as a resource to be developed and used. In fact, the word “utilization” is used 24 times in the new draft, which includes no language on humane treatment. China also does not have a single national animal welfare law.

btb3-1My final example is close to home and specific to Breaking The Brand. In Vietnam advertising goes through a censorship process via the Central Committee for Propaganda and Education, before ads can be published. Breaking the Brand published full page adverts from our first two campaigns in Vietnam Airlines’ in-flight magazine (Heritage). However, after nearly 3 months of negotiation we weren’t able to publish our 3rd RhiNo Campaign: What Does A Wildlife Criminal Look Like? in Heritage Magazine. The feedback was it was too sensitive.

Vietnam Airlines is a state owned enterprise. Given there has been a number of seizures of rhino horn at the airports, it is known to be a supply channel and so it would seem a legitimate idea to promote this type of advert in Vietnam Airlines Magazine. The Vietnamese Government appear to be accepting that Vietnam is a big part of the rhino poaching problem and that they want to be a part of the solution. They have even offered to host the third International Wildlife Trade Conference (IWTC) in Hanoi this November.

So given that the copy on our ‘What Does A Wildlife Criminal Look Like?’ was correct and the government says it is committed to solving the problem, why was the advert deemed too sensitive to print? Now I know that publishing this fact may have repercussions for BTB in being able to publish in Vietnam in the future, but we will deal with this if it arises.

The examples I mentioned (and there are many others) clearly show that we can’t trust our own or governments in range and demand countries to have the best interests of wildlife at heart, no matter what they might say. Governments today primarily focus on economic growth, enabling trade and protecting private property. If any of those conflict with wildlife conservation, the animals will almost always, currently lose out.

Demand Reduction – How can we, as individuals, take it personally?

How do we as individuals let all governments, institutions, large conservation NGOs know that we expect them to ‘pull their finger out and stop walking on egg shells around each other’, it is time for them to take the gloves off.

051Personal Crush and Burn: A few months ago I was back in Europe visiting family. It isn’t unusual for older relatives to get in to the mindset of ‘You live in Australia, the other side of the world, this might be the last time we see each other’. As a result of this, one of my extended family members asked me “Is there anything of mine that you would like to have when I am gone”. As always, I say when I get this question “You are going to be here for another 30 years and several more visits”. After they pushed a number of times, I said “OK, actually there is something I would like, your Mah-jong Set”. “Why don’t you take it back to Australia with you” they replied. Had to clarify a few things for them “Firstly, I couldn’t take it back to Australia even if I wanted to, as I would have to have it carbon dated to prove its antique provenance to import it in to the country. But, the key thing they needed to know was, I didn’t want it to keep it, I want it to destroy it”. My relative was shocked, but listened as I discussed a range of reasons from “While trade in antiques is still legal, it provides an opportunity for laundering newly poached ivory in to the market, but most importantly I feel that we as individuals need to let our governments know that our societies and cultures have evolved, we needed to send a message to them that we don’t want any more destruction of wildlife and we expected they to enact new laws that fully protect these sentient beings”.

“It’s true” she said “and the right thing to do, but will you wait till I’m gone? I have a huge back garden, you can have a big bonfire; and while you are at it, I have some fur coats at the back of the wardrobe, you can put them on the bonfire as well” Done deal. My family member may be well in to her seventies, but it is never too late to have an epiphany!

Why Now?

While the burning of ivory stockpiles in Kenya is applauded, there are many countries, such as South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe who refuse to follow Kenya’s lead. Many governments and large NGOs are sitting on the fence when it came to the trade in wildlife products. Maybe this is a result of new conservation vs old conservation ideologies, as outlined in the series Conservation, divided:  So maybe it is time for us as individuals to take the next step and clarify to all these groups our expectations that they need to take decisive action to save these animals.

Elephant abatwa namibiaWhy do I feel we should step up now? There are many reasons why now, not least the poaching numbers, limited time windows, dwindling populations of wildlife and increasing economic growth in Asia, but it is more than that. For me, even though my focus is currently rhinos, I know this demand for wildlife needs to stop for many animals. Several years ago, I had the privilege of making eye contact with a mother elephant who was shading her calf from the sun’s heat in Botswana. The day before this encounter I had been reading about elephant abattoirs, such as the one in Namibia shown in the image. I couldn’t reconcile how we, as humans, had treated these animals, with the wisdom and empathy of the mother I was looking at. If our governments haven’t realised we are evolving and won’t accept this cruelty and plunder, we need to be clearer in our message to them. We have made these changes for cruel practices inflicted on people: but it’s time to make the same changes in relation to cruelty to wildlife – poaching, captive breeding, selling as exotic pets, canned hunting etc.

Strength Of The Message

So what is in your family home, something that was bequeathed to you by relatives, that you would be prepared to destroy? By you taking action and destroying it, it will be #GoneForGood

Wildlife products to cruch and burnIf you have something and you are willing to take this step to show how strongly you feel about this issue, I would ask that you film the destruction or take images of the before and after. It may be a small piece of jewellery, or an ivory figurine, a fur coat or a complete lion trophy!

Breaking the Brand will create a Demand Reduction – Take it Personally section on our YouTube Channel.  If you email the vision or images to BTB at with your name, city (town)/country and a sentence explaining why you have chosen to do this and what you want your government to do to strengthen wildlife laws “This has been in my family for……….I/We wanted it #GoneForGood because…..” we will post it on our YouTube Channel and Facebook Page. If the movement becomes large enough, we may also be able to use it in future campaigns.

Of course it would be great for anyone in any country to do this, but it is particularly important for people in critical range countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania etc) and demand countries (China, Vietnam, USA etc) to do.

Similarly, I know that:

  1. Ivory, for example, isn’t easy to destroy
  2. Some of you who have items you want to destroy, may live in apartments in cities
  3. Some councils are very strict about what you can burn off

But I believe that if you really want to make a stand and have your possession #GoneForGood you will find a way. Maybe you need to ask your local council or fire brigade to help, why not create a community protest? Durham wants it #GoneForGood, Berlin wants it #GoneForGood, Hong Kong wants it #GoneForGood, Cape Town wants it #GoneForGood, Seattle wants it #GoneForGood

As someone who has been working in the area of behaviour change for nearly two decades, what I see is that behaviours become entrenched not only based on what behaviours are rewarded or punished, but mainly through what behaviours are tolerated. What are you prepared to give up to show our governments, large conservation NGO’s and business that you are not prepared to tolerate the destruction of elephants, rhinos, exotic cats…. the list goes on-and-on. As Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

These are the views of the author: Dr. Lynn Johnson, Founder, Breaking the Brand