Two questions we must ask ourselves before we can tackle the issues surrounding poachers is: what is the motivation of poachers and what are their attitudes towards animals.
Knowing the motivation of poachers means that we know what pushes them to poach. Knowing the root of their poaching would make it easy for us to tackle those problems. People always ascribe incentive values to their actions. Incentive value is the product of the objective value of something and the individual’s subjective value of it. It is also affected by the utility value, individual differences in values and how prominent the incentive is to the person in question. More important still for the purpose of constructing laws, is that losses loom larger than gains. Telling a person how much he or she will lose or is losing is a much greater impact than how much he or she would have gained. Hence, to turn poachers away from the wildlife trade, it will be important that laws address the incentive values that poachers ascribe to poaching. They will not necessarily be able to make poaching less lucrative, other than by tackling the consumers but they can make the losses that the poachers make so damaging that poaching becomes a wasteful effort with much more risks that they have to undertake.
So, how do we manipulate motivation using incentives? Incentives are not all equal. Also, the ability of an incentive to motivate behaviour depends on how it differs from previous incentives, or what is called “contrast effects”. This means that whatever law or strategy that is put in place must significantly differ in incentives for it to work. The strategy could be to make poaching a lot more risky, subjecting the poachers to a lot more losses than if they did not poach. However, there is a limit of contrast effects called the ceiling effect for positive incentives so instead of giving the poachers incentive, disincentives should be put in place.
What determines whether a person commits to a goal? When does a person decide to allocate resources to a certain behaviour? According to the Expected Utility Theory, expected utility is the product of the subjective utility that one ascribes to the behaviour and the subjective ideas of the probabilities of the success of that behaviour.
There also lies a continuum between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within the individual whereas extrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from the external environment. It is often said that intrinsic motivation is a better and more lasting source of motivation. This is because it is internalised and becomes part of the person’s identity. Since people generally want to keep a stable identity, this internal motivation persists in spite of external influences.
An important factor to rewarding is that it has been found that extrinsic reward can undermine intrinsic motivation. In this way, internal motivation is replaced by external motivation, which is less stable and long-lasting. Hence, in order to make the source of motivation for poachers to quit the wildlife trade, an overhaul of the country’s attitudes towards the wildlife trade must be made. This will have to begin in education and ongoing campaigns that keep this matter fresh in the minds of people. Recall the notion that people tend to pay more attention to things that are easily accessible to their minds? A revolution in the mindsets of people can only be done if they are steeped in an atmosphere of appreciation for the importance of animals being preserved and kept in their natural habitats.