By David Rogers. May 6, 2016. BOONE, NC — Those funny little creatures that roll up in a ball when threatened may very well be an endangered species, but pangolins found a lot of friends in Dr. Carol Kline’s Sustainable Tourism class this semester at Appalachian State University — and they came up with a lot of ideas on how to put a dent in the global demand for pangolins.
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COVER IMAGE: Brooke Castelluci of the winning team points to an area of Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, where trafficking of pangolins is very high. All images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Judges and onlookers alike expressed a degree of bewilderment in how to choose a winner in Kline’s semester-long student competition, which culminated Friday afternoon with public presentations by the seven teams of junior and senior students, 24 Hospitality and Tourism Management students in all.
Cory Myers of the Demarketing the Pangolin team in the competition shared with Blowing Rock News, “We have a lot more detail than what is contained in our 10-minute presentation. Our paper for the project is 28 pages long.”
Throw in an ongoing “war” in Southeast Asia and Africa and — well, things get interesting.
After sitting in on the presentations, it is easy to see why these were major projects. Tourism and marketing are an easy fit when it comes to designing a student competition. Combine those two academic disciplines with “sustainability” and the plot thickens. Throw in an ongoing “war” in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa and — well, things get interesting.
Unbeknownst to most people — the vast majority of us have never even heard of this species of mammal — the pangolin is the most heavily “trafficked” species of wildlife in the world. There are eight known species, four native to Africa and four predominantly in Southeast Asia. They are often referred to as “scaly anteaters” — reflecting the large, protective keratin scales covering their skin, as well as their primary diet: ants and termites, which they pluck from the ground or vegetation with long, specially adapted tongues.
The pangolin is the most heavily trafficked species of wildlife in the world.
In a video shown to the students and some two dozen judges, faculty, and other members of the App State academic staff by Nancy Gelman, a program officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Africa Program, it was revealed that the pangolin’s tongue is actually much longer than the actual body of the animal.
All of the student teams noted in their presentations — which was the most publicly visible, but smaller part of the project assignment — that humans are the biggest, and possibly the only real threat to the pangolin species. Meat from the animal are considered a delicacy in many Southeast Asia restaurants and the servings are increasingly expensive because of pangolins’ growing scarcity. In Africa, pangolins are hunted and eaten as one of the more popular types of bush meat. Moreover, especially in Southern China and Southeast Asia, some people believe that pangolin scales have medicinal value although, according to Gelman’s video, there are no such health benefits.
There has been an international ban on the trade of pangolins, but that has done little to stem the demand for the meat and scales. And that’s where Dr. Kline’s class comes in. With this project, the student teams’ respective challenge was to develop a practical strategy for decreasing demand.
Pangolins, Not Penguins
In speaking with Blowing Rock News afterwards, Dr. Kline disclosed that her close business relationship with Gelman of the USFWS was a key catalyst in the theme for this year’s student competition. “We’ve known each other for 20 years,” said Kline. “I am very inspired by the work that she does in wildlife conservation, primarily in Africa. She introduced me to the concept of the pangolin and the (illegal) trafficking issue. I was looking for a project for my Sustainable Tourism course that could have an impact, challenge the students, and would have an international flavor to it.
A lot of industries are taking on sustainability.
“In general,” Kline continued, “all of the business world is beginning to embrace the sustainability concept. That word, sustainability, can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but in this class we talk about the triple bottom line: any tourism initiative that wants to positively affect the economic realm, the social or cultural realm, and the environmental realm. As I mentioned, that is not unique to tourism. A lot of industries are taking on sustainability.”
Kline told Blowing Rock News that, as a class, they worked throughout the semester to come up with ideas for reducing pangolin demand that are innovative, that related to tourism, that actually reduced demand, but were also realistic.
Kline was also quick to credit the work of Erich Schlenker and Jonathan Carpenter at the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship. “They really helped the students, every step of the way, to figure out how to (achieve their project objectives).”
“Every week during class,” she added, “we all shared resources that we found about pangolins or about wildlife trafficking or about ways to reduce demand. So we all taught each other as we went along through the semester. There was a certain point during the semester where they needed to check in with Mr. Schlenker and they had to have some sort of solid idea to present to him. Once he met with them, they either continued down that path or he perhaps challenged them in a way that they decided to rethink their idea.”
The Pride of the Pangolins
The strategies devised and smartly articulated by the students were as creative as they were varied.
The judges awarded top honors to Con Tê Tê (Vietnamese translation for “pangolin”), conceived as an upscale restaurant and gift shop in Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) in Vietnam. The student team members are Brooke Castellucci, Ellen Worth, Seth Boling, and Zach Cowell. Boling explained to the audience that among Vietnam businessmen it is customary to “show off a little bit and maybe spoil your customers a little bit.”
Western palates might be a bit squeamish about eating dried earthworms and bird saliva as ‘delicacies.’
Castellucci went on to describe an extensive menu of delicacies that would attract the high-end business clientele in Vietnam, but without serving pangolin. While Western palates might be a bit squeamish at the prospect of eating dried earthworms (Sa Sung Worm) or edible bird’s nests (Salanganes Nests), these are nonetheless the kinds of delicacies planned for Con Tê Tê. “We want to be portrayed as the place to be,” Castellucci noted. “We want to make sure we are offering menu items to those types of business people who want to show off to the people they are working with.”
Both the Sa Sung Worm and the Salanganes Nests are among the most expensive dishes in Vietnam, Castellucci observed. She added, “The Salanganes Nest…one pound of it costs $4,500.
In developing the menu for Con Tê Tê, the students did extensive research on existing high-end Vietnamese restaurants, including the chefs who are creating the various delicacies.
Critical to the Con Tê Tê team’s strategy is hiring people of low income, but also who live near areas of high pangolin trafficking. Their thought is that by hiring members of this demographic, they will decrease the demand for money earned from illegal trafficking. “We provide alternative sources of income,” offered Cowell.
Part of the team’s marketing strategy is to portray the consumption of pangolins as undesirable, as well as no longer fashionable.
Ms. Worth outlined the “dollars and sense” aspects of the Con Tê Tê strategy, detailing more than $300,000 in startup expenses before summarizing basic operating expenses, including a description of the standard corporate tax rate, minimum wage in Ho Chi Minh City ($80 per month), and a projection for the average diner’s spend ($25).
We provide alternative sources of income.
Pangolins In Flight
The Wranglin’ Pangolins team of Drew McCarthy, Sam Ogelsbee, Taelor Critcher, and Catherine Allison earned second place honors from the judges for their “Pangolins In Flight” strategy. To help lower the demand for pangolin meat, this team’s strategy is to craft a preventative, proactive, and informative marketing campaign focused on business professionals flying to and from Southeast Asia.
Ms. Allison opened the presentation by asking how many in the audience had heard of pangolins before Friday’s presentations. When only a couple of hands were raised, she noted that the others who didn’t raise their hands are among the vast majority of Americans. She also stated that approximately two million Americans now fly to Southeast Asia each year for business or pleasure.
“Pangolin is illegal, so it is not something (a restauranteur) wants to broadcast in the window,” Allison said. “But it is sold as a delicacy anyway. Most Americans go to these countries not realizing that it is illegal and they accept (invitations to eat pangolin as a delicacy).”
The solution, Critcher offered to the audience, is to educate the American business professional or vacationer so that they can politely decline when offered a meal that includes pangolin. She and Oglesbee emphasized that using articles or advertisements in in-flight magazines, rack cards or flyers — printed educational materials — can be effective educational tools.
Putting on her marketing research hat, Allison suggested, “The development of printed educational materials is a complex process that must consider cultural aspects… Our tangible educational tools allow the flyer to read and comprehend the information at a personalized pace. It will allow for re-reading, as well as encourage further personal research.”
Some 68.5 million people flew into Hong Kong in 2015.
McCarthy presented extensive information about the anticipated reach of The Wranglin’ Pangolins team’s approach. “Our (goal) is to reach a total of 20,000 business executives over the next year and a half — and educate them on the dangers and impact of pangolin trafficking. We believe this is doable when you consider the numbers. There were 68.5 million passengers flying into Hong Kong in 2015.”
Pangalanga Gang Meets The Simpsons and South Park
Third place honors from the judges went to The Pangalanga Gang, which planned an Internet-based, television-type series of cartoon episodes. The team of Ward McLean, Sydney Platek, and Mary Catherine Duffer offered a four-character “family” cast of mother, father, son and daughter, with each episode depicting their daily activities and obstacles. Among the threats faced by the family, of course, is how seriously their very existence is endangered by poachers and illegal traffickers.
Several of the teams, including The Pangalanga Gang, incorporated messaging aimed at children “…because that is where the future of sustainability lies…”, as one of the judges, Mary Jaeger-Gale, put it in her evaluation comments at the end.
Animation is a powerful tool.
Duffer concluded the presentation by outlining the strategy’s four-pronged value proposition: education of children and their parents; highlighting that humans are the pangolins’ most serious predators; having the characters travel emphasizes tourism, as well as eco-tourism; and that the use of animation is a powerful tool in driving conservation interest because it evokes positive emotions toward the local environment.”
One of the other unique aspects of The Pangalanga Gang’s TV series was its potential to highlight other endangered species. Specifically, they described future episodes that would feature the Great Panda by going to the Great Wall of China, the Komodo Dragon (Indonesia), the Monkey-Eating Eagle (The Phillipines), the Javin Rhino (Bangladesh), the Red-Headed Vulture (Thailand) and the Tiger (Vietnam).
The People’s Choice
Dr. Kline had the non-student and non-judge audience members indicate their favorite presentations, culminating in a People’s Choice Award. This recognition was shared by the Wranglin’ Pangolins (Pangolins in Flight) and the last presenting team of the day, Pang the Pangolin TV Series, created by students Hayes Norris, Amy Bitner and Kristin Twomey.
The latter team had an interesting, as well as persuasive approach to introducing their media-focused strategy, having audience members recall scenes in the old Disney movie, Bambi, when the young lead character and her mother were running to avoid being shot by a gun-wielding hunter. Those who have seen it know that Bambi “made it,” but the mother didn’t.
Wait, that’s Bambi’s mom!
“I know it is pretty sad,” admitted Norris. “But everyone remembers that scene. Even today, when people eat venison you might hear someone say, ‘Wait, that’s Bambi’s mom!'”
Introducing their main character, Pang, Norris, Bitner and Twomey went on to describe their children’s television show that is ultimately designed to promote social change and reduce demand for pangolins by establishing an emotional connection and parasocial relationships. They would develop partnerships with PCI Media and CCTV in China, as well as create ancillary merchandising, i.e. comic books and stuffed animals (Hey, it works for Disney!). They added that they would move into the market in Africa as the popularity of their TV show in China increases.
Emphasizing the importance of targeting children, Twomey pointed out the emotionally-tinged parasocial relationships that people develop with media characters, especially children at a young age. “They want to be friends with their favorite characters.”
Other team presentations included:
- The Irrelephants, comprised of Cole Bassett, Cara Hemby, and Hannah Pauley. Their strategy centered on “Adopt A Pangolin”, establishing a non-profit organization aimed at education, as well as raising funds and supporting pangolin sanctuaries.
- Demarketing The Pangolin, comprise of Ana Menefee, Grace Collins and Cory Myers.
Taking a little different approach, this team’s strategy was to emphasize the negatives of pangolin consumption, selling fear. They asked, “Is it worth the risk?” to eat pangolin meat or use the animal’s scales because they originate from contaminated conditions. They would use marketing campaigns with negative images, especially in highly populated areas, conjuring up associations similar to what evolved toward beef consumption with the “Mad Cow Disease” and pork consumption with “Swine Flu.”
- The Don’t Shake Hands team of Meredith Harden, Lee Bekele, Kayla King, and Christina St. Clair. — This team also emphasized education, looking to hold a festival near San Francisco’s Chinatown, which is heavily populated with Chinese-Americans. Many of this population, the team members noted, have relatives or close contacts with whom they regularly communicate in China. “We will influence the people influencing China.” Their festival would celebrate the pangolin’s life through activities such as a costume contest, parade, booths selling pangolin-related merchandise, a wine and design event, silent auction, seminars and informational kiosks.
We had a pretty high caliber panel of judges.
In concluding her interview with Blowing Rock News, Kline underlined the high level of support received from different parts of the School of Business, as well as the broad level of interest in what they were doing.
“You saw the room full of people,” she stated. “The students, of course, did most of the work. Erich and Jonathan were important contributors. Marty Mezner was here and there was a lot of support from other faculty members. And we had a pretty high caliber panel of judges.”
The judges for the competition included:
- Allen Boynton, the Wildlife Diversity Program Coordinator at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
- Nancy Gelman, Program Officer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Africa
Mary Jaeger-Gale, General Manager of Chimney Rock, Chimney Rock State Park
- Mikki Sager, Vice President of The Conservation Fund and a Director at Resourceful Communities
- Neha Shah, Director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention & Visitors Bureau
- Danny Wilcox, Director of Retail Operations at Appalachian Mountain Brewery