Former NBA star Yao Ming refuses a bowl of shark fin soup, leveraging his star power in both the US and China to convince consumers. Image: Wildaid.

United States Wildlife Conservation Group Succeeds in Asia

Asia China

A San Francisco based conservation organization, Wildaid, is finding success at reducing illegal wildlife trade all over the world. What sets Wildaid apart from many conservation organizations is that it focuses on reducing consumer demand for illegal wildlife instead of the traditional conservation methods that focus on the supply side. Wildaid accomplishes this through public service announcements that air all over the world, and in various languages, including English, Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Vietnamese, to name a few.

Their most successful program to date concerns sharks. In 2009, Chinese NBA star Yao Ming filmed an ad for Wildaid condemning the consumption of shark fin soup. Yao’s advertisement shows consumers that simply saying “no” to shark fin soup can help with conservation efforts. Since then, Wildaid has created a series of advertisements using various American, Chinese, and other international celebrities to increase the public’s awareness of this conservation issue.

Wildaid’s shark fin campaigns have been affective. According to a 2014 report 85% of people surveyed gave up eating shark fin soup since 2011. Of the people surveyed, 65% listed public awareness campaigns as the reason they gave up shark fin consumption. The awareness campaigns have also affected sales, which have declined 82% within the last year, with the value rapidly declining.

Awareness of shark fin issues has also seen a considerable rise in both Asia and the United States. In China and Hong Kong, shark fin soup can no longer be served at government banquets. In 2013, Brunei became the first country in Asia to implement a nationwide shark fin ban. New York is the most recent US state to have implemented shark fin ban legislation, joining seven other states and three US territories that also have similar legislation.

With its success in conserving sharks, Wildaid has expanded its advertisement efforts to focus on new areas, such as elephant, rhinoceros, and manta ray conservation projects. While elephant and rhinoceros conservation is not a new topic, the consumer market attaining new levels of wealth in Asia makes renewed attention to conservation efforts critically important. The successes of Wildaid may lead to more US-based organizations looking to engage with partners and communities across Asia in similar efforts.

Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.