Ever since I was young, I was always interested in animal protection and conservation. During my undergraduate years I also became interested in Anthropology and learning about different societies and cultures. When I first moved to Asia in 2013, I was able to combine both of these interests by working towards the conservation of wild species in a context that was very different from my own cultural background. Being involved in the development of demand reduction activities in Vietnam allowed me to see the knowledge gaps in the field and my curiosity arose. Pangolins, whose populations in both Africa and Asia were estimated to be severely affected by the illegal trade, were overshadowed by better known species such as elephants, rhinos, tigers and turtles. As the conservation field has looked towards the social sciences to understand human behaviour and the motivations driving the consumption of endangered species, it was clear that efforts to gain insights into consumption of pangolin products and research projects to test behaviour change interventions could not fall behind.
During my MSc at Imperial College, two classmates and I started a non-profit organisation called People for Pangolins to raise awareness of the plight of the pangolin and gather support for conservation efforts in Asia and Africa. We have so far raised funds for the IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife – a rescue centre which rehabilitates pangolins rescued from the illegal trade and releases them back into the wild, and we are currently running a fundraising campaign to build South Africa’s first pangolin rescue centre in partnership with the African Pangolin Working Group.
My experience with People for Pangolins and the years I worked in Vietnam with TRAFFIC and later with WWF-Vietnam, have made me eager to dedicate my efforts into research that provides information on how to achieve a reduction in the consumption of pangolin products and in projects that contribute to the conservation of pangolin species.
I am particularly interested in applying behaviour change techniques to reduce consumption of illegal wildlife products. I first became interested in this topic while working for TRAFFIC in Vietnam as a Princeton in Asia fellow. Although the working environment was very far removed from African elephants and rhinos being poached in Africa, consumption of elephant and rhino products was on the rise in Vietnam and efforts needed to be strengthened to reduce this demand. At the time, very little attention had been paid to pangolin trade even though seizure data already suggested poaching was far beyond sustainable levels. Pangolins are now known to be the most trafficked wild mammal; reducing the demand for this species is essential to ensure its survival.
Demand reduction and awareness raising campaigns have already been launched in Vietnam and China to address the consumption of pangolin products. Among these campaigns, celebrity endorsement is an increasingly popular tool used to drive behaviour change amongst consumers and raise awareness of the general public. However, very little formal research has been carried out to evaluate the impacts of celebrity engagement.
I am interested in contributing to fill this knowledge gap so interventions can be better informed during their design phase and resources, time and efforts are spent wisely, thus maximising the impacts of celebrity endorsement.
My research looks into the use of celebrities in demand reduction campaigns for pangolin products in Vietnam. Although celebrities have been widely used in conservation and more increasingly, in demand reduction campaigns in Asia, there is not an evidence-base on how to engage celebrity endorsement to have a desired impact.
My project will include designing and testing a celebrity-based demand reduction campaign to reduce the consumption of pangolin products in Vietnam to draw lessons for similar interventions within conservation.
MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London, Merit. 10/2014-10/2015
BA Environmental Humanities, Honours, Whitman College, Walla Walla WA, USA. 05/2012
International NGO. Hanoi, Vietnam. 07/2016 – 02/2018
Senior Project Officer - Combating Illegal Wildlife Trade.
- Lead and carry out activities to address illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam, including: baseline research, design demand reduction campaigns, coordinate collaborative activities with partners
- Build relationships with project and government partners, participate in various events to deliver information on illegal wildlife trade
People for Pangolins
NGO. London, UK. 12/2015 - present
- Director/Founder. Develop projects to support on-the-ground pangolin conservation in pangolin range countries. Build and maintain relationships with partners and donors.
TRAFFIC. Princeton in Asia Fellowship
International NGO. Hanoi, Vietnam. 07/2013 - 07/2014
- Communications Officer. Contribute to demand reduction campaign for wildlife products in Vietnam. Develop communications materials and strategies to target consumers
Profit organisation. Quito, Ecuador. 04/2013 - 06/2013
- Ethnography Junior Assistant. Participate in ethnographic praxis to understand consumer behaviour in low income families
Conservation of the Andean Condor in Ecuador
Fundacion Galo Plaza Lasso. Zuleta-Imbabura, Ecuador. 02/2013 - 03/2013
- Volunteer in ex-situ and in-situ condor conservations plans
- Record and analyse captive and wild condor behaviour
- Identify and track Andean bears
Blue Mountain Land Trust
Not for profit organisation. Walla Walla, WA, USA. 10/2012 - 12/2012
- Membership and Outreach Intern. Assist with reports, research, videos and event planning
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition
Not for profit organisation. Seattle, WA, USA. 07/2012 - 09/2012
- Outreach and Communications Intern. Write donor profiles, project articles, letters to the editor
- Support fundraisers and other event coordination
Olmedo, A., Sharif, V., Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2017). Evaluating the Design of Behaviour Change Interventions: A Case Study of Rhino Horn in Vietnam. Conservation Letters
Exploring the effective use of celebrities in wildlife demand reduction; changing perceptions of pangolins in Vietnam
National Geographic Society Studentship – Pangolin Project
IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group
Booth H, Arias M, Brittain S, Challender DWS, Khanyari M, Kuiper T, Li Y, Olmedo A, Oyanedel R, Pienkowski T and Milner-Gulland EJ (2021) “Saving Lives, Protecting Livelihoods, and Safeguarding Nature”: Risk-Based Wildlife Trade Policy for Sustainable Development Outcomes Post-COVID-19. Front. Ecol. Evol. 9:639216. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2021.639216
Alegría Olmedo, E. J. Milner‐Gulland, Daniel W. S. Challender, Laure Cugnière, Huong Thi Thu Dao, Linh Bao Nguyen, Ana Nuno, Emelyne Potier, Martin Ribadeneira, Laura Thomas‐Walters, Anita Kar Yan Wan, Yifu Wang, Diogo Veríssimo. A scoping review of celebrity endorsement in environmental campaigns and evidence for its effectiveness. Conservation Science and Practice. 25.9.2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.261
Olmedo, A., Sharif, V., Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2017). Evaluating the Design of Behaviour Change Interventions: A Case Study of Rhino Horn in Vietnam. Conservation Letters. Available at:
Olmedo, A., Veríssimo, D., Milner-Gulland, E., Hinsley, A., Dao, H., & Challender, D. (2021). Uncovering prevalence of pangolin consumption using a technique for investigating sensitive behaviour. Oryx, 1-9. doi:10.1017/S0030605320001040