Celebrities Join Asia’s Campaign Against Wildlife Trafficking

Thai celebrities help spread the word on the dangers of keeping wildlife animals as pets.
Thai celebrities help spread the word on the dangers of keeping wildlife animals as pets.
Public service announcements build awareness of endangered species
“Collecting ivory does not show your taste or status. It shows ignorance.”

March 2016—Demand for wildlife products in China and Southeast Asia is driving many species toward extinction. Taking the spotlight off themselves, celebrities in the region are helping to shine a light on the issue.

In Thailand, several big names, chosen for their concern for wildlife and their ability to reach a large spectrum of the public, are helping to spread the message about the dangers of keeping wildlife animals as pets. Thailand is a transit country for wildlife trafficking.

“If you knew the truth about wildlife pets, you wouldn’t be buying them,” said Thai actress Noona-Nuengthida Sophon.

“The second you return them to the wild, just turning your back on them is killing them,” added Dr. Lotter Patarapol, a wildlife veterinarian. “So these animals being returned to the wild, other than the fact that they can’t find food for themselves anymore, sometimes they can actually introduce diseases as well to the other animals in the wild.”

The iTHINK awareness campaign, first introduced in 2012, helps reduce the demand for wildlife products by creating general awareness and public discussion about the importance of protecting endangered species. Implemented by USAID’s partner, Freeland, the campaign has produced dozens of public service announcements that are seen online as well as at high traffic areas such as airports and subway stations. It also offers an interactive platform to inform and empower people to say no to endangered wildlife pets.

The campaign is run simultaneously in China, Thailand and Vietnam with local partners and government agencies.

Guo Peng, a well-known and respected Chinese antique dealer who hosts a nationally famous online talk show about antiquities, volunteered to become an iTHINK key opinion leader.

“Collecting ivory does not show your taste or status,” Peng said in his 30-second iTHINK public service announcement. “It shows ignorance.”

Recent reports show that as many as 35,000 African elephants are slaughtered each year for tusks, many destined for China.

Peng has seen artwork made of elephant tusks and never thought there was anything wrong with buying or selling elephant ivory. In China, the word “ivory” translates as “elephant teeth” and, like many people, Peng thought tusks fell out naturally like old teeth. He made two special episodes of his popular show to educate his viewers about the truth behind the ivory trade, increasing awareness across China.

He has also pledged to never deal in ivory again. “It struck me when I saw an image of a dead elephant with his head cut off in one of the iTHINK videos,” he said. “I never knew that’s how ivory is obtained.”

In Vietnam, USAID partner Education for Vietnam produced “iTHINK on the Street,” a series that engages people on various wildlife protection issues. So far, 44 public service announcements uploaded to the organization’s Facebook page are reaching 38,000 subscribers.

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth most lucrative type of trafficking for criminal syndicates around the world, after drugs, arms and human beings. USAID helps address the problem by reducing consumer demand through awareness campaigns, strengthening law enforcement and improving regional cooperation and anti-trafficking networks.

When USAID launched its Asia’s Regional Reponse to Endangered Species Trafficking program in 2012, it marked the first networking of regional legislators from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to improve laws and regulations. Through the activity, USAID supports public consultation processes, professional analyses and sharing best practices in many ASEAN member states.

“It’s good to have people who are campaigning for animals who don’t have the ability to speak for themselves,” said Kong Saharat, a Thai actor and singer. “Having people to stand up and help like this is a good opportunity to save these animals that are being harmed.”


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