NIRAS research team puts a “price tag” on the cost of losing Filipino priority species to poaching and develops a communication strategy to reduce demand and teach the public about the harm illegal wildlife trade causes.
One of only seventeen countries worldwide designated as “mega-diverse”, the Philippines is recognised for the important role it plays in safeguarding our planet’s biodiversity. And yet the world’s second largest archipelago and home to 224 protected areas been identified as a source, transit point, and consumer of wildlife and related parts and products such as endemic parrots, pangolin scales, ivory and marine turtles.
In 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimated the annual value of illegal wildlife trade (IWT) in the Philippines to be roughly US$1 billion, this includes the market value of the wildlife and resources, their ecological role and value, and the damage to habitats incurred during poaching and loss in potential ecotourism revenues. As a nation where close to 100 million, mostly poor, people rely on biodiversity for their economic livelihood, there is a growing need to reduce the demand for illegal wildlife and animal parts and combat their growing trade.
Endemic species are naturally occurring and found only in the country or within a specific area in the country. The Philippines is the 4th most important country in bird endemism and the 5th in terms of total plant species (50% of which are endemic)
A region-wide programme aimed at encouraging investment in natural capital – elements of the earth’s ecosystem that make life possible such as plants, animals, soil, and water – the ADB’s “Protecting and Investing in Natural Capital in Asia and the Pacific” initiative includes a project on combatting IWT in the Philippines. Co-financed by the Global Environment Facility and co-implemented by the Filipino Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the project aims to combat organised environmental crime by focusing on three key areas: (1) legal and institutional reforms, (2) capacity-building activities, and (3) demand-reduction measures.
Responsible for a key component of the project – public awareness and demand reduction – NIRAS’s role has been to identify the consumer demand for and value of two priority species (blue-naped parrots and marine turtles) and develop a large-scale communications strategy to reduce demand and increase awareness of IWT and the harm it causes on so many levels.
A key challenge in wildlife conservation is the undervaluation of species and ecosystems in society, which leads to a lack of regulation on the preservation and conservation of natural resources. The project contributes vital information on the economic value of two species identified as a priority – marine turtles and blue-naped parrots – including the ecological dynamics of the two taxa (a classification used for biological purposes); a determination of prices, including the values of natural resources affected by the presence of the species; and the direct and indirect use and value of the two taxa’s ecological impaact should these animals disappear. Understanding the species’ value provides evidence-based information that will support and contribute to legal and institutional reforms ensuring their protection.
Consumer research is also necessary to identify baseline information of consumer profiles and the drivers for wildlife demand. The NIRAS-led analysis provides key information on attitudes, values, motivations and behaviours of Filipino buyers and local users (and/or consumers) of blue-naped parrots and marine turtles.
The primary data collection utilises focus groups, key informant interviews, household surveys, and a review of the existing literature and secondary data on demand reduction. Data collection is being carried out in four identified locations (Metro Manila, Cebu, Palawan, and the Caraga regions) and conducted at the community-level.
Inspiring new behaviours
The findings from the consumer research and economic valuation surveys and studies are being used to develop and implement a large-scale communication, education, and public awareness strategy where a multi-media and audience-segmented outreach campaign will inform and educate the public on IWT issues to motivate stakeholders into action and influence and effect societal and legislative changes.
Outreach activities that will be implemented this year include stakeholder and media engagements, online/digital marketing and traditional (print and radio) media campaigns. Through these strategies, the project aims to increase public awareness and appreciation for the ecological importance of wildlife species. With different streams of information, the communications strategy aims to inspire changes in behaviour with effective messaging targeted at specific audiences.
Through post-campaign surveys, the project team will assess the changes in knowledge and attitudes to measure the effectiveness of the communications campaign.
Amidst the global situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing attention on wildlife trade as scientists uncover the evolution of the virus. Only recently were smuggled pangolins - the most-commonly illegally trafficked mammal used both as food and in traditional medicine - found to carry viruses closely related to the one sweeping the world. NIRAS’s contribution to wildlife and consumer research is crucial and timely as nations work together to find solutions to address the global crisis. It is our hope that by understanding behaviours and developing people-centred strategies, we can stem the appetite for wildlife and related parts and products and combat biodiversity loss and the potential for IWT-related illnesses on a global scale.