Online Animal Trafficking: Laws Work, But…

To combat wildlife-related cybercrime, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) undertook a five-year project to monitor online advertisements, in collaboration with some French e-commerce sites. Their observations prove that for laws to work effectively, strong commitment from platforms is required.

Since 2016, IFAW’s online wildlife list monitoring project has identified more than 1,800 classified ads relating to nine species or derived products: ivory, rhino horn, tiger, spotted cats, gray parrots of Gabon, hyacinth macaw and scarlet macaw, Hermann’s tortoise and Greek tortoise.

The sale of Gabon ash, the most revealing example

The Gabon gray, a highly endangered and highly prized pet parrot species, has been listed on Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This means that since 2016, international trade in this animal is strictly prohibited. Following this change in legislation, IFAW brought its expertise to the surveillance project’s partner Leboncoin platform to enforce the new site sales ban, through, among other things, an update to its ad filtering algorithm. ” Gabonese gray is prohibited on site, whether cultivated or directly hunted in the wildsays Lionel Hachemin, IFAW campaign manager and wildlife crime expert. Thus, even the presence of documents that legally justify the sale does not allow its sale on the website. “. If, since 2017, almost no ads have been listed on the site – compared to around thirty previously –, some manage to slip through the cracks, like this one, discovered by Peuple Animal and published on October 9, 2021 on Leboncoin.


Ad dated October 9, 2021 and discovered by Peuple Animal

This ad is illegal on the site, and is a good illustration of the difficulty for sites in general to enforce their terms of sale/policiesnotes the campaign manager. Some new Gabon ash ads keep coming every 2-3 months: they managed to bypass the moderation algorithms. And this is where ongoing work is needed to improve algorithms to limit this particular case as much as possible. “. Lionel Hachemin specifies that all ads detected during monitoring were deleted.

Ivory, a battle almost won

In France, regulations only authorize the marketing of ivory objects carved before 1975. A law that has proved effective since the IFAW observed a 70% drop the number of ads reported since 2016. Despite everything, a few dozen ads continue to be published monthly on websites monitored by the NGO, such as leboncoin.fr or marche.fr. She said it is therefore essential that platforms make stronger commitments in terms of wildlife cybercrime.

Also read: Internet wildlife trade is falling in France

Trafficking by other means?

The monitoring group also noted a decline in sales of rhino horn products over the past five years. Five ads in total were found, and the most recent was from May 2018.” While these results are positive, they may indicate that the sale of these rhino horn products is taking place on other platforms or markets. », assumes Lionel Hachemin. An observation was also made in relation to the two species of macaws monitored, as only two advertisements of hyacinth macaws were found. ” As far as the Macaw Macaw is concerned, the vast majority of ads found were in the early years of monitoring (until mid-2018) with almost no ads found on these sites since then. Or demand has shifted to another species, or to other platforms… “Said, again, the wildlife crime expert.

Concrete measures to act more effectively

The IFAW monitoring project thus shows that strong legislative measures, thanks to ambitious and clear regulations, combined with a commitment from private sector companies, can have a real impact on the fight against online wildlife trafficking. Specifically, Lionel Hachemin listed the measures and areas to be developed:

  • Implement ambitious terms of sale/policies related to wild animals, and adapted for effective moderation by the platforms’ teams.
  • Prioritizing the issue of online wildlife trafficking within the company and therefore have sufficient means and efforts in place to combat this wildlife cybercrime.
  • Do a regular follow-up in order to continue to improve the algorithms and, if necessary, adapt their policies to the new dynamics encountered.
  • Collaborate with law enforcement and to establish a regular dialogue in order to facilitate the investigations carried out and the application of the law on these endangered species. This will help deter traffickers.
  • Inform your users about the issue of wildlife cybercrime to help reduce demand.
  • Configure reporting engines for users to help moderation teams identify illicit ads.
  • Share best practices and learnings across online technology companies.

In parallel with these requests, Ifaw is responsible for supporting the platforms on this path and therefore, if online sales platforms wish to engage in this fight, do not hesitate to contact us. “, adds Lionel Hachemin. He also recommends that sites that have demonstrated a real commitment to this fight against online wildlife trafficking join the Coalition to End Online Money Trafficking, which already brings together 44 companies worldwide. “ This will ensure the expansion of the Coalition to avoid shifting traffic to other sites that are not proactive or tiered in this matter. “, he concludes.

The editorial team also recommends: The fight is organized against the web hunters

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