What influences the consumers’ choice in the exotic pet trade?

Moorhouse, T. P., Balaskas, M., D'Cruze, N., & Macdonald, D. W. (2016). Information Could Reduce Consumer Demand for Exotic Pets. Conservation Letters.

This study investigated the types of information that could be most useful in deterring people from purchasing an exotic pet. The results show that that information on the zoonotic disease risk and legal consequences of buying certain species were most likely to prevent a purchase, whereas animal welfare and conservation concerns had less impact on consumer decision making. 

Consumer demand for exotic pets is a significant driver in global wildlife trade, and many animals are caught from the wild to supply the demand. This creates many problems, in terms of conservation issues, animal welfare concerns and disease transmission. Before campaigns relating to consumer education and public awareness can be designed, it is necessary to know why consumers buy these exotic animals - what are the influences and what are the deterrents?

To investigate this, researchers at Oxford University created a website to gauge consumers’ attitudes to exotic pets, with the aim of determining whether knowledge of the negative impacts of the trade would deter people from buying certain species. The website surveyed prospective exotic pet buyers on what sort of pet they were looking for, and then appeared to ‘match’ them with a suitable animal. However, the ‘matched’ pet information came with some other details too; some had control statements regarding the animals’ dietary needs whilst others had experimental statements regarding animal welfare, legal, human health and conservation concerns associated with the trade of that species. The respondents were then asked how likely they were to still buy that animal (‘No’, ‘Very Unlikely’, ‘Maybe’, ‘Very Tempting’ and ‘Yes’).

Animal welfare is not a priority concern for consumers

The results showed that by informing consumers of certain risks, the likelihood of them buying those species could be reduced by up to 40%, however, only some of the information types affected consumers’ attitudes. One of the researchers, Dr Neil D’Cruze explains the results,

“The survey findings were very interesting indeed. Information about the human health and legal consequences of a potential purchase made the pet far less appealing. In contrast, information about animal welfare had less effect and details of the conservation consequences had no impact on attitudes at all. It appears that potential pet owners may be motivated to avoid outcomes that might directly harm them, but not their prospective pets”.

The study was valuable in highlighting the types of information which could cause potential exotic pet purchasers to reconsider their options. The authors suggest that more research is needed to see if changes in attitudes actually leads to a change in behaviour, and as such, a reduction in consumer demand for exotic pets. However, this study provides a good reference point for what levers can be used in demand reduction campaigns, namely zoonotic disease risk and legal consequences. 

World Animal Protection’s view

The protection of wild animals is an urgent, global issue. At World Animal Protection, we encourage people to be ethical consumers and to refrain from fuelling the trade industry further. This study is highly significant in determining what issues consumers are most concerned with as potential exotic pert owners. From this, focused public awareness and human behaviour change campaigns can be created.