The Cost of Biodiversity and Conservation: Can the Anthropocene Truly Not Afford to pay it?

Whilst the topic of wildlife trade is vastly discussed in scientific papers and news reports highlighting on the charismatic and flagship species like sea turtles, tiger, and elephants across the global, there has been a rapid growth of research interest on the online wildlife trade reflecting the internet provides more opportunities for trading wildlife on e-commence websites with unregulated and loosen enforcement. Until a report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) focusing on online wildlife trade in global recently, it indicates that China is the foremost country trading the majority wildlife online while earning the profit of $2.7 million. The statistical is also striking that approximately 544 items traded in 2008 were illegal wildlife species which are listed under CITES Appendices. In short, online wildlife trade is very likely not only posing the wildlife in peril. Meanwhile, it also triggers the challenges on protecting wildlife conservation via the internet.

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Online wildlife trade records (Source: Wanted – Dead or Alive – Exposing Online Wildlife Trade – IFAW)

It has seemingly posed great difficulties to secure the online trade on e-commence websites. The rapidly evolving high-tech platforms on social media recently have blossomed wildlife trade in a more remote way. With regards to the security of the online trade on e-commence websites, I have conducted an online e-commence monitoring wild orchid trade on a popular Chinese website, TaoBao which is part of the group of Alibaba e-commence trade company, the leading online trade company in China. Its functions are like eBay allowing products trading online. Based on my personal observation regarding to monitoring the online trade for a year, I have noticed that it is difficult to track down both routes on import and export destinations. Some sellers have refused to display the location of the wild orchids where they collected from. It increases the hardness on finding the source of orchid where it comes from as well. Similarly, the sellers provide international shipping to USA, Africa, Canada, and Russia etc. It is difficult to check the shipment destination once it has exported outside China. It is clearly to indicate the online trade is far beyond to control and collect accurate information of sellers and buyers once it is traded.

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The screenshot taken from TaoBao is an example of a rare orchid (Eulophia zollingeri) under Wild Plants Protection in China (Source: TaoBao)

The up-surging novel technological platforms highly encourage the online wildlife trade activities. A report from China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) released in this year indicated that there have been increasing numbers of using social media for trade which is more likely referring to online marketplaces and forums. The IFAW report mentioned that the social media, “QQ” or and “WeChat”, are widely used in the online trade. These social media provide a platform enhances communication between the trade by instant messages. Most sellers leave their “QQ” and “WeChat” contact information for further trade information. A news from The Guardian also recently discovered the wildlife trades on elephant ivory have been widespread in Vietnam to China via social media like Facebook and “WeChat”. It highlights that the sellers are efficient on using voice messages in Chinese for trade because they are not able to write in Chinese for text messages. Also, the report indicates that the traders use “WeChat Wallet” (or alternatively known as “WeChat Pay”) which is a handle for making payment through the phone device. All these social media provide great advantages from avoiding the detectability from the authorities and regulators. These evidences stressed the use of social media for online wildlife trade and the lack of efficient enforcement on regulating the online wildlife trade from the use of social media.

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WeChat Pay allows instant currency transfer to another WeChat user (Source: WeChat App)

The more online enforcement on wildlife trade, the more various techniques the apt traders use. For example, they might create the phony names of their wildlife products or advertising various and more than one products on a single item post from the selling list. Tremendous wildlife conservation efforts are needed to explore in order to combat trading wildlife on e-commence websites in China. There are many regional strategies are needed  to create detailed solutions that everyone from using the internet involve in preventing wildlife trade online. Conservation efforts has started in an upper level scale, TRAFFIC legislated a new agreement with Alibaba on monitoring wildlife trade online regulating illegal wildlife products have trade online in October 2014. As the sellers and buyers trading the wildlife products online, the CWCA report mentions the new function -“Report” handle which has already deployed on “QQ” and “WeChat”. It requires to provide the type of illegal trade product, the account information of the traders, times, place, and pictures which strength the regulations and enforcement on online wildlife trade.

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“Report” function handle in the social media “QQ” and “WeChat” for reporting the wildlife illegal trade (Source: The report from China Wildlife Conservation Association)

But…..What more can we do about online wildlife trade?

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