International Choice Modelling Conference, International Choice Modelling Conference 2015

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Modes of deciding effort invested in the illegal bushmeat trade in the Kilombero Valley, Tanzania: Maximizing utility or minimizing regret?
Martin Reinhardt Nielsen, Jette Bredahl Jacobsen, Bo Jellesmark Thorsen

Last modified: 11 May 2015


Bushmeat hunting is considered a major threat to wildlife conservation efforts in tropical countries and particularly the bushmeat trade has the potential to rapidly deplete wildlife populations. Regulating this trade is therefore a key conservation challenge and obtaining information on hunter behavior that in turn determines hunting effort is essential to making informed decisions on design of management strategies. This is complicated by the illegal nature of the activity in many locations making actors in the bushmeat trade reluctant to share information for fear of reprisal. Recent advances in the study of bushmeat hunting and the bushmeat trade has seen the use of choice experiments to overcome the sensitivity of the issue and examine the importance of different attributes of the choice regarding participating in this illegal activity (Moro et al. 2013; Nielsen et al. 2014). These studies rely, as most choice experiments so far, on the assumption that individuals are striving to maximize utility, which is the total level of satisfaction derived from a choice. Choice experiments have so far mainly assumed that individuals are striving to maximize utility, which is the total level of satisfaction derived from a choice. However, situations and contexts have been identified where choice situations induce feelings of anticipated regret, defined as what one experiences when a non-chosen alternative performs better than a chosen one, in one or more attributes (Zeelenberg & Pieters 2007). The desire to minimize regret may be particularly pronounced when the decision is difficult and important, when the decision-maker expects to receive feedback about chosen and non-chosen options in the short term, and when one may be held accountable for the choice. These are characteristics that all apply to engaging in the bushmeat trade, and there may be important lessons for optimizing management strategies by determining whether actors in the bushmeat trade aim to minimize future regret rather than maximize future utility.

Here we examine what best characterizes the mode of decision making by different actor groups in the bushmeat trade in Tanzania, making a trade-off between hunting or trading bushmeat and a salary paying alternative occupation. We test two ways in which random regret could affect the modelling 1) being attribute dependent, i.e. for some attribute they use a maximization of utility and for some they use random regret 2) being individual specific. The latter we analyze by use of a latent class model, where the utility in different latent classes are described as being either random regret or random utility based. This approach follows to a large extend Hess and Stathopoulos (2013).

The study was conducted in three villages, which has been the focus of a number of recent studies of bushmeat hunting and is known for extensive illegal commercial hunting that has resulted in marked declines of several species the Kilombero Vally (TAWIRI 2009). Relevant attributes of the choice of allocation of time between hunting and trading bushmeat or an alternative occupation were selected on the basis of a focus group discussion in each village, conducted in June 2011, with 5-7 key informers involved in the bushmeat trade, and relevant economic theory and the literature on drivers of the bushmeat trade. A survey was undertaken between October and November 2011 in Swahili with the aid of two research assistants. A snowball sampling strategy, based on the local knowledge of collaborating actors, was applied to identify and interview individuals in three villages engaged in the bushmeat trade. A structured questionnaire was used to collect demographic and socio-economic household information on income and selected productive and nonproductive assets owned (land, domestic animals, and household assets). Detailed information on each respondent’s function in the bushmeat value chain was collected through an open-ended question. Respondents were placed in three main actor groups based on their own description of activities undertaken. There were 80 hunters, 169 traders, and 76 local retailers. Individual preference was uncovered through a choice experiment conducted by asking respondents to choose the best and the worst of three scenarios in four choice-sets in one randomly selected block of three different blocks. Each scenario included the five attributes: donation of dairy cows to respondents’ households (a commonly suggested and pursued extension strategy), daily salary in an unspecified but hypothetically available alternative occupation of similar strenuousness, patrolling frequency by law enforcement staff, the magnitude of the fine if caught and number of trips undertaken by hunters and traders per month to hunt and purchase bushmeat for resale respectively.

The results show little evidence of attribute-driven random regret vs random utility decision making. Rather our latent class model shows evidence of some individuals being more likely to express random regret behavior and others more likely to express random utility behavior. This has important implications for the design of policies and strategies to manage the illegal bushmeat trade.

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