A new study unveils consumer motivations for exotic pets in Japan

Posted on 07 December 2021

7 December 2021, Tokyo: In-depth consumer research in Japan revealed that the sense of Iyashi (mental healing properties) and Kawaii (cuteness) people find in animals are the most significant underlying motivations for owning exotic pets. In the face of growing popularity of exotic pets globally, the study calls for consumer behaviour change through targeted communications and social mobilization.

Among the many threats facing wildlife today, the international pet trade is recognized as a key factor in driving some species towards extinction. Exotic pet trade is prevalent in many countries around the world, and Japan is one of the largest consumer countries and also a trend-setter for exotic animal cafes, which are spreading across Asia.
 
“Understanding people’s underlying motivations for wanting exotic pets is vital to developing effective initiatives that can achieve a lasting change in their behaviour. This is one of the measures that can help prevent species decline and contribute to preserving our planet’s biodiversity,” said Tomomi Kitade, Head of Japan Office for TRAFFIC and Wildlife Group Lead of WWF Japan.
 
WWF Japan and TRAFFIC commissioned GlobeScan to conduct in-depth consumer research into attitudes and motivations towards owning exotic pets, to aid the development of Social and Behaviour Change (SBC) initiatives. 
 
“The research revealed that multiple stakeholders including media, pet shops and animal cafes are all significant influences on the purchase of exotic pets and may promote the demand. Therefore, it is important that they communicate responsibly and provide information about potential issues and ensure responsible procurement”, said Kitade.
 
The plight of  the threatened Small-clawed Otters Aonyx cinereus is a stark example where the recent boom in Japan fueled by mass media and social media has led to a sudden increase in illegal trade from Southeast Asia, as revealed by TRAFFIC’s study in 2018.
 
“The top drivers of pet ownership among current owners and intended owners of exotic pets are the idea of “Iyashi” (the healing properties of the animal) and “Kawaii” (the cuteness of the animal). Rarity of animals was not a strong factor. In fact, the motivations were similar for domestic pets, and many who intended to own exotic pets also intended to own domestic pets, suggesting that a majority of consumers do not see a clear distinction,” said Yoko Asakawa, Programme Officer with TRAFFIC and WWF Japan.
 
The study further sheds light on the various types of consumer and what critical touch points influence their journey to purchase an exotic pet.
  • Intenders of exotic pets were more likely to be younger (aged 18–34) and are more likely to be full-time students compared to Owners and Non-owners/Non-intenders.
  • Popular intended exotic animals were parrots (22%), hedgehogs (19%), exotic rodents (18%), followed by lizards (15%) and turtles/tortoises (15%).
  • Four in ten Intenders (42%) say they are likely or very likely to buy an exotic pet in the next 12 months.
  • The top influencing factors for exotic pet intenders were media on social networks (45%), TV (32%) and family/relatives (29%).
  • Three segments (Rational, Convenience, and Emotional Bond) were identified amongst owners and intenders based on variations in their motivations towards owning exotic pets.
The research also highlighted that currently 2% of Japan’s population already own exotic pets (the term “exotic pets” used in this study is defined under Note) and a further 1% intend to purchase one. The majority (67%) of current owners and intended owners participating in this study perceived their families and friends were in favour. This was in stark contrast with only 21% of those who do not own or intend to own exotic pets actually supporting exotic pets, whereas more (31%) opposed and roughly half (47%) were indifferent.

Exotic pet demand is associated with a multitude of issues including not only endangered species and illegal trade but also the possible spread of infectious diseases, animal welfare, and invasive species entering ecosystems. However, awareness amongst the public about these issues were found to be low in Japan, as discovered in an opinion survey conducted by WWF Japan in March 2021.
 
“Findings from this study suggest that nudging intended owners during the decision making process to consider more suitable alternatives can help reduce the purchase of species with risks. Furthermore, changing the social acceptability of exotic pet ownership is another important element to increasing the barriers to purchase,” said Asakawa.   
 
These insights collectively will inform the design of effective SBC communications which will reach the target audience, through messengers and with messages that resonate with their underlying motivations to change their attitude and nudge them towards more desirable behaviours.

WWF Japan and TRAFFIC will work with a wide range of partners and stakeholders to transform social norms and change consumer behaviour towards exotic pets.

Note:
  • In this survey, we use the terms ‘exotic pet’ and ‘domestic pet.’ While there is no generally accepted definition of an exotic pet, the term usually refers to ‘animals that are not considered as common pets, primarily those having overseas and/or wild origins.’ Domestic pets include animals such as dogs, housecats, hamsters, canaries, as well as insects or fish.”
  • Owners: A person who currently owns one or more of taxa defined as “exotic.”
  • Intenders: A person who plans to own one or more of taxa defined as “exotic” in the foreseeable future but does not currently own one.
There has been a sudden increase in illegal trade in threatened Small-clawed Otters from Southeast Asia, fuelled by an increasing desire for exotic pets in Japan.
© David Lawson / WWF-UK