Affluent, established business owners and merchants believing in good fortune and status brought by wildlife parts still largely drive demand for ivory and tiger parts in Thailand, and online platforms are playing an increasing role in their purchase.
These are among the main findings of a new consumer research and demand-reduction report released on Tuesday by the US Agency for International Development Wildlife Asia (USAID Wildlife Asia) project.
The “Consumer Demand for Wildlife Products in Thailand” report, measuring in terms of both quality and quantity, also found that traditional beliefs regarding the protective and prestige-enhancement benefits of ivory and tiger parts enticed Thais to buy wildlife products.
“Understanding what influences consumer behavior is an important step to reducing demand for ivory and tiger products in Thailand,” said Richard Goughnour, director of USAID’s Regional Development Mission for Asia.
He added that by targeting current and potential consumers, more effective messaging and campaigns on motivations and what drives desire for ivory and tiger parts can thus be implemented – and could help put an end to the trade in illegal wildlife.
The research report, which summarises studies on demand for both ivory and tiger parts since 2015, was put together in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University and Ipsos, a market research organisation.
Ivory, the research points out, is still perceived as the “perfect gift”, while tiger products are perceived as the “protector”, although they were possessed in a limited way among affluent people, at around 2 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively.
Consumers of both ivory and tiger products tend to be 40 years or older and affluent, the report said, while sacred images, small carvings and amulets are the most popular ivory and tiger items purchased.
Ivory accessories and jewellery, meanwhile, remain popular with female consumers due to their beauty.
However, tiger-parts consumers are predominately male.
The value of illegal-wildlife crime globally is estimated to be between $5 billion and $23 billion (Bt160 billion-Bt735 billion) annually, according to the report.
Thailand is a transit, destination and source country for illegal wildlife, mostly as a transit hub for ivory to be sold in other Southeast Asian countries and China.
Consumers purchase ivory and tiger products at Thai jewellery stores, amulet markets or temples, large bazaars or through relatives or friends.
Rising role of online platforms
Online platforms are increasingly important channels to find and exchange information on ivory and tiger products for sale, the researchers found.
Once information is exchanged online, the purchase is generally done offline or, in some instances, through online platforms including Facebook and Line.
Under Thailand’s Elephant Ivory Tusks Act, trade in domestic ivory within the Kingdom is legal, but all trade in African ivory is illegal.
Tiger trade is illegal based on the country’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act.
Ivory and tiger parts consumers seem confused about the legal issues regarding ivory and tiger products, the report states.
Many are not sure whether the small items they own are legal. They agree, however, that ivory from wild Thai and African elephants and wild-tiger products from Thailand and other countries are illegal.
“The findings of this research show that the fight to counter the illegal wildlife trade needs the involvement of many other sectors of Thai society,” said Pinsak Suraswadi, deputy director-general of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.
“To effectively tackle this issue, it is crucial to strengthen a network with related and like-minded partners and improve collaboration with other countries,” he stressed.