Target the right people

In October I went to Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival (JHWFF), as well as attending WildPhotos in London, and there were certain things that struck me about big conservation issues that I found particularly interesting. And so for that I reason I’ve decided to make this blog a rather outspoken one.

The dominating theme this year was the ‘Great Apes Summit’, which had many leading conservationists fight for the plight of our closest relatives. It was the first time I visited America in about 14 years so it was interesting to hear what the experts had to say but also what the other volunteers had to say. Naturally, when talking about great apes, orang-utans and the palm oil issue was one that was brought up, advertently and inadvertently, many times. I have to say, I was aware of it but it’s been on my mind ever since. I’m sure many of you have seen the drastic kitkat ‘have a break’ advert they put out. When you ask: what can I do? people say – stop buying palm oil! But the problem is that we don’t TRY to buy palm oil. It’s secretly hidden in products that are everywhere, labelled as vegetable oil or other substitutes. This is only an example and could very well be a long long post on its own. But what I’m trying to say with this is that this is a complicated international issue that people can do something about – being aware of it, making conscious decisions (though this will have varying success depending on how much effort this would take in terms of time and money), and helping to put pressure on those with money.

I went to WildPhotos after this, which was compered by Chris Packham. Anyone who knows anything about the man knows that he’s is a strong, strong fighter for the protection of the UK’s badgers. Whenever I mentioned the badger cull to any non-UK people at JHWFF, no one really knew what it was about, or what was going on. As shocked as I was (you can’t escape it here) it didn’t really surprise me – it’s a national issue that no amount of international pressure can alleviate because it’s the national government that is causing the problems.

So I finally get to where I’m headed with this weeks opinion point: for an effective conservation campaign it’s so important to target the right people.

Backstreet markets in Zanzibar selling shark meat

Backstreet markets in Zanzibar selling shark meat

A great example of this is the recent success in the reduction of shark fin soup consumption, where a combined effort between the WildAid, famous people like Yao Ming (former NBA star) and social media have an effect on people with money which trickles down to the government. This has led in a decrease in shark fin imports by 20-30% and a consumption decrease in the spring by up to 70%. And this is mainly because people were not aware of what they were eating and where those ingredients came from – all the media had focused on educating us but not those that actually consume the soup (source: the Independent).

There’s a very interesting video, rather graphic and might shock some people greatly, that was made by a group of people to try and counteract rhino horn poaching (click here to watch it). It is a film that was made in together with the Chinese version of Youtube for exactly that purpose – to alert and reach the Chinese home audience rather than preaching to the choir. I would love to know what the home audience reaction was to the video and whether it’s had any effect.

So I come to the point of my little rant: at both WildPhotos and JHWFF there were people from Nat Geo that mentioned their stunning recent campaigns on rhino horn poaching and elephant ivory trade. Dame Daphne Sheldrick held a talk on the final night of JHWFF about the work she’s doing with orphaned baby elephants and releasing them back into the wild. There were also some 5 fabulous films about the elephant situation, including Battle for the Elephants where two journalists try to find answers – one from the Tanzanian government and the other from the ivory salespeople in China. All of these films and projects are so so important and we need passionate people to speak out about the problems rather than letting us forget. But my question is the same as that of the shark fin trade: 95% of people in the West know what kind of brutalities are happening, and care deeply for the plight of these animals. But we can’t do anything about this. The governments can only crack down so much but unless people on the ground in China are willing to look beyond tradition and decrease and the demand for the product, nothing will change. I have this deeply held belief that unless someone in China is petitioning and education the Chinese at a large and rapid scale, the demand for ivory will not change. What the future holds is already evident now: there are ivory carving factories with seats waiting to be filled as the demand increases even more. How much of this exposure and shocking media is reaching those that need to know, those that can stop buying the product? Media – photography, films etc – and social media could definitely be very effective. As long as it’s direct at the Chinese themselves.

The end. Or I like to think there is one.

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