Saving the ‘orphans’ from poaching and plunder? Neutralisation techniques evident in social media profiles of exotic pet owners and antiquities collectors

MS Zara Bending, Ms Lauren Dundler1

1Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia, 2Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia

Despite multiple and varied regulatory attempts, the illicit trade of protected wildlife and antiquities continues to be an issue due to pervasive market demand. Exotic pet owners and antiquities collectors are regular users of social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube, where they promote their values and behaviours to a wider, global audience. Within these profiles and posts, owners and collectors justify their engagement with the market through use of cognitive strategies that reshape criminal behaviour as morally acceptable. These cognitive strategies, identified by David Matza and Gresham Sykes in the 1950s as Neutralisation Techniques, are commonplace in the narratives disseminated by antiquities and protected wildlife market participants on social media. Such narratives position owners and collectors of illicit products as “saviours”, and the wildlife and antiquities they collect as “orphans” in need of their protection from environmental and socio-political forces.

Using examples from the social media profiles and posts of market participants, this paper will briefly outline the complex legal, ethical, and environmental issues associated with market and will demonstrate how owners and collectors distance themselves from this reality through use of neutralization techniques. Ultimately, this research highlights opportunities for education-based regulatory strategies for market demand reduction, based on both the values and behaviours of owners and collectors, and the wider public who engages with their social media.


Lauren Dundler (MRes) is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University. Her doctoral research focuses on the Internet market for antiquities, but she is concerned with antiquities and art crime, and the regulation of the associated markets, more broadly.

She is presenting on behalf of her collaborator, Zara J. Bending (B Soc Sci, LLB (Hons)), a PhD candidate from the Macquarie University Law school. Zara’s current doctoral research investigates the international regulation of the illicit trade in wildlife, using rhinoceros horn as a case study.


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