Online forums and social networking apps have become the primary platform in China for trade in items made with parts of endangered animals, including ivory and rhino horn, according to a report published by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) on Nov. 25.
During a six-week period between March and April, the IFAW recorded 9,482 online messages in 16 countries on the trade of endangered species and related products, which are banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Of these, 2,106 messages advertising the sale of 18,590 banned items, amounting to more than 16 million yuan (US$2.6 million), were recorded in China, the IFAW report said.
The IFAW's Wang Juan pointed out that 79% of the messages in China advertised ivory and related products, while 8% of them referred to rhino horn.
Wang also told Shanghai-based news website the Paper that many of these correspondences used codes to avoid censorship, referring to ivory as "white plastics" and "X teeth" and to rhino horns as "black plastics" and "XJ," which stands for Xi Jiao, rhino horn in Chinese.
Search engine Baidu's Tieba forum is a major platform for the illegal trade of animal products, according to the IFAW, with many sellers believed to be the producers or wholesalers themselves.
The Paper even found photos of ivory and related products displayed in one of the forums of Baidu Tieba by owners planning to sell them.
The popular instant messaging and social networking app WeChat also offers a private and easy way for sellers to solicit buyers, since private groups can be set up online and only members can view the messages.
Wang urged auction websites and social networking service operators to enhance their censorship policies and warn users that trade of endangered animal products is illegal. He also suggested that they offer users a channel to report such activities.
In addition, the IFAW advised regulators to expand its monitoring mechanism of the Internet to instant messaging software such as QQ and WeChat.