In this post Diogo Veríssimo introduces ‘Consuming wildlife – managing demand for products in the wildlife trade’, the new special feature in the latest issue of People and Nature – out today!

Whale sausages sold at a market in Norway. Photo by Diogo Veríssimo.

The trade in wildlife continues to make headlines as the COVID pandemic advances and disrupts lives and livelihoods worldwide. The importance of mitigating the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade is not new but one piece of the puzzle is missing: our understanding of consumers and how to influence their choices, with less than 10% of all funding put towards combatting the illegal wildlife trade focusing on that side of the market (Wright et al. 2016).

Businesses have long realised that understanding the people they hope will buy their products is key. The entire discipline of marketing is based on that premise. Yet, when it comes to the wildlife trade, the fact that most conservationists have a natural science background and thus are less equipped (and interested) in people and their behaviour (Bennett et al. 2017) has meant that there has been limited interest in this key element of the trade. Most attention has thus been given to the sourcing and cross boarder transport of illegal and unsustainable wildlife products.

Mushrooms sold at a outdoor market in Latvia. Photo by Laure Cugniere.

The goal of the special feature Consuming Wildlife – Managing demand for products in the wildlife trade was to showcase the different kinds of research insights needed to understand and influence consumers across different aspects of the wildlife trade (Marshall et al. 2020; Wang et al. 2020). It includes articles encompassing key areas of the wildlife trade such as medicinal products, pet trade and food sources and includes examples from both marine and terrestrial realms (Bachmann et al. 2020; Davis et al. 2020; Shukhova and MacMillan 2020). It was also very positive to see research focused on the challenges of implementation and evaluation of interventions, as while consumer research is important, its impacts only materialise if it informs conservation practice(Dang Vu et al. 2020; Thomas-Walters et al. 2020b). But this special feature also includes important theoretically conceptual developments around the different types of demand, the interactions between wild and farmed products and the importance of values for demand reduction (Hinsley and ‘t Sas-Rolfes 2020; Thomas-Walters et al. 2020a, Veríssimo et al. 2020).

The path forward

I am hopeful that having gathered this critical mass of research under one roof will help provide more visibility to the consumer side of the wildlife trade, it is clear that several knowledge gaps need to be urgently addressed as highlighted in the Editorial, for example:

  • Plants and fungi remain largely unresearched even though they are probably traded in higher volumes than animals.
  • There is the need to develop a framework to prioritize behaviour that are most harmful for biodiversity. So far, research has mostly focused on some mammal and bird taxa because these groups have higher public visibility.
  • Influencers are increasingly seen as a way to influence consumer behaviour, but their true influence capacity remains unknown.
  • While there is anecdotal data around traffickers marketing their products, we know very little about the nature and potential impact of these efforts.
Fried scorpions sold at a food market in China. Photo by Diogo Veríssimo.

Much remains to be done both in the research and practice realms of understanding and influencing those purchasing illegal or unsustainable wildlife products. I hope that this special feature will serve as a way to encourage others to join the pursuit of knowledge in what will likely be a key topic for conservation in the 21st century.

A final word of thanks to all the authors for their leadership in this area of research and to the staff of People and Nature, not only for their support throughout the editorial process, but for helping us ensure a diverse range of authors were able to contribute.


Bachmann M.E., Nielsen M.R., Cohen H. et al. (2020) Saving rodents, losing primates—Why we need tailored bushmeat management strategies. People and Nature,

Bennett N.J., Roth R., Klain S.C. et al. (2017) Conservation social science: Understanding and integrating human dimensions to improve conservation.  205, 93-108.

Dang Vu H.N., Nielsen M.R., Jacobsen J.B. (2020) Reference group influences and campaign exposure effects on rhino horn demand: Qualitative insights from Vietnam. People and Nature,

Davis E.O., Veríssimo D., Crudge B., Lim T., Roth V., Glikman J.A. (2020) Insights for reducing the consumption of wildlife: the use of bear bile and gallbladder in Cambodia. People and Nature.

Hinsley A., ‘t Sas-Rolfes M. (2020) Wild assumptions? Questioning simplistic narratives about consumer preferences for wildlife products. People and Nature,

Marshall H., Collar N.J., Lees A.C., Moss A., Yuda P., Marsden S.J. (2020) Characterizing bird-keeping user-groups on Java reveals distinct behaviours, profiles and potential for change. People and Nature,

Shukhova S., MacMillan D.C. (2020) From tigers to axolotls: Why people keep exotic pets in Russia. People and Nature,

Thomas-Walters L., Cheung H., Lee T.M., Wan A.K.Y., Wang Y. (2020a) Targeted values: The relevance of classical Chinese philosophy for illegal wildlife demand reduction campaigns. People and Nature,

Thomas-Walters L., Vieira S., Jiménez V. et al. (2020b) Challenges in the impact evaluation of behaviour change interventions: The case of sea turtle meat and eggs in São Tomé. People and Nature,

Veríssimo, D., ‘t Sas‐Rolfes, M., Glikman, J.A. (2020) Influencing consumer demand is vital for tackling the illegal wildlife trade. People and Nature,

Wang Y., Turvey S.T., Leader-Williams N. (2020) Knowledge and attitudes about the use of pangolin scale products in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) within China. People and Nature,

Wright E., Bhammar H., González-Velosa A., Sobrevila C. (2016) Analysis of international funding to tackle illegal wildlife trade.World Bank Group, Washington, DC, USA.