By Michael A. Katz
China leads the world in illegal wildlife trade, and Internet companies and social media platforms are providing a haven that has allowed it to thrive, according to a new report.
A study released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) investigated 280 online marketplaces in 16 countries during a six-week period in 2014. It found more than 33,000 endangered wildlife and wildlife parts and products for sale in nearly 9,500 advertisements, with an estimated value of at least $10.7 million.
The report also found that 56 percent of those advertisements were found on Chinese websites, such as Alibaba's Taobao, Baidu's Tieba, WeChat and QQ Group.
Ivory, reptiles and birds were the most widely traded items, with ivory appearing in nearly one-third of all advertisements, and reptiles representing about one-fourth of the items found for sale.
The most traded item in China was ivory, representing more than half of the worldwide ivory trade recorded in the survey. Investigators also identified 173 rhinoceros advertisements, 95 per cent of which were for sale on Chinese sites.
The IFAW has been working in China since 2005 to curtail illegal online wildlife trading, and has been vigilantly monitoring 20 key trading websites since 2012.
A new trend in China was revealed by the investigation that "demonstrates a shift away from selling wildlife products via online marketplaces to more private online forums and social media platforms."
Among the worst offenders was Baidu Tieba, which had 1,154 listings recorded during the survey. The Huaxia Collection website (Cang.com) had 257 items for sale, and Paipai.com had 185 items. Cang.com and Paipai.com have policies banning the posting of endangered wildlife products, but "those polices are apparently not being effectively implemented," said the report.
Baidu Tieba, allows registered online shoppers and traders to create their own "bar" to highlight items being sold under a certain category. IFAW investigators looked at "bars" that were set up to trade in wildlife parts and products.
The study identified more than 20 of the "bars" selling endangered wildlife, and most of the ads offered more than one item under a single posting. IFAW found that almost 90 per cent of advertisements that contained more than 10 or more separate products in the posting were listed on Baidu Tieba.
The report also found that the rise in sales on Baidu Tieba corresponds with a reduction in trade over online marketplaces in China, following the concerted campaign to implement online marketplace policies banning the trade in wildlife coupled with effective enforcement.