Currently many users of illegal wildlife products, in many regions of the world, gain status, influence, power and/or prestige with their peer group by consuming these rare and precious ‘products’ or gifting them. While in the short-term demand reduction/behaviour change campaigns will be needed to change people’s motivations to consume illegal and endangered wildlife ‘products’, to ensure a long-term sustainable future we must provide alternative ways to engage with nature. This involves re-directing desire as the final step in demand reduction campaigns.
We cannot re-direct these users to ‘legal luxury consumption’. Simply reverting to mainstream luxury products does not fulfil their desire for differentiation and would be seen as a backward step by the elite users of illegal wildlife products. Many of the target group already engage in all forms of ‘legal luxury consumption’, which is one of the reasons they have moved to ‘illegal luxury consumption’ to differentiate themselves from the broader elite group. For this group, if we don’t provide a motivation to not consume products from nature, they will simply substitute one product for another (e.g. rhino horn, ivory, helmeted hornbill [red ivory]) in response to demand reduction campaigns. We must accept that these new ways to engage with nature may be driven by a wide range of personal values and needs.
Some people’s values result in them empathizing with animals and the natural environment, while others, no matter how much they are educated, will always see them as lower down the hierarchy and, as a result, as being there to serve human needs. Re-balancing human activity and the natural world, with a focus on achieving ecological sustainability, is first and foremost a people-centred challenge. While society is seen as no more than ‘the economy’ and people are reduced to ‘resources’, ‘consumers’ or ‘labour’, we can’t be surprised that nature has also been commoditised. We now speak of ‘natural resources’, ‘game’ and ‘land’, a vernacular that doesn’t instill magnificence and, as a result, we see the ongoing plunder of the natural world.