Internet giants team up to fight illicit online wildlife trade

Written by
Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online

Some of the world’s biggest tech firms have come together to help prevent wildlife smugglers using online tools to facilitate the trade in endangered species.

Led by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Google, the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online is designed to stop poachers and traffickers taking advantage of advances in technology that have over recent years made their lives a lot easier.

Backed by internet giants including Facebook, eBay, Microsoft and Instagram, the initiative will see participants share best practice and work towards a goal of reducing the online trade in endangered species by 80% by the end of the decade.

In a statement announcing the launch of the initiative, the WWF noted how easy it currently is to buy items made from ivory, rhino horn and even live animals such as tiger cubs online.

The traders who sell these items are able to exploit the anonymity offered by the internet, and then ship their products using rapid courier services, opening up new opportunities away from the physical markets to which they were at one time limited.

Commenting on the new initiative, Crawford Allan, Senior Director of Wildlife Crime and TRAFFIC at the WWF, said: “Bringing these industry giants together is the best shot at systematically closing the open web to wildlife traffickers.

“Criminals are making a killing from selling rare species and products made from their parts.

“Inconsistent policies and enforcement across the web invariably create a ‘whack-a-mole’ effect, where ads may be removed from one site just to pop up somewhere else.

“These companies see the problem and are uniting to ensure an internet where traffickers have nowhere left to turn.”

The WWF is encouraging other internet companies to join the founding members of the coalition, which also includes Alibaba, Baidu, Baixing, Etsy, Huaxia Collection, Kuaishou, Mall for Africa, Pinterest, Qyer, Ruby Lane, Shengshi Collection, Tencent, Wen Wan Tian Xia, Zhongyikupai, Zhuanzhuan and the 58 Group.

These firms have committed to bringing about an end to the rapidly expanding unregulated online trade in endangered species and animal parts, which is playing an ever-increasing role in the deaths of more than 20,000 African elephants every year, and the slaughter of three rhinos every day in South Africa, where the animals are hunted by poachers for their horns.

The overall value of the global trade in illicit wildlife and animal parts is estimated to be worth over $20 million a year, which some analysts claim makes it the world’s fourth-largest organised crime market.

Discussing the search giant’s participation in the initiative, David Graff, Senior Director of Trust and Safety Global Product Policy at Google, commented: “Google is proud to partner with WWF as a founding member of this coalition, and to join other companies in working to protect endangered species from illegal wildlife trade online.”