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article imageNew evidence proves China's illegal trade in ivory and tiger bone

By Karen Graham     Mar 3, 2015 in Environment
A new survey that includes data through the end of 2014, collected by the British wildlife trade monitoring group, Traffic has been released. China has been singled out as the world's single-largest consumer of ivory, tiger bone and rhino horns.
The wildlife trade monitoring group has been scrutinizing China's online e-commerce sites since 2012, discovering a large number of advertisements for illegal wildlife goods, including ivory, rhino horn and tiger bone. It was also determined that ivory amounted to over half of the sales conducted by these illegal e-commerce sites.
Traffic found the surveyed websites were hosting thousands of advertisements for illegal wildlife products as of the end of 2014. That is just two months ago. In the report, Traffic says that they consistently found over 1,500 advertisements every month during the past two years.
Elephant ivory, while accounting for half of e-commerce sales, is not the only illegal wildlife product offered on these sites. Traffic has also been tracking the sale of rhino horn, leopard and tiger bones, hawksbill turtle shells, pangolin scales, hornbill casques and the horns of the saiga, a critically endangered antelope.
Although the regular removal of advertisements of concern has led to a dramatic and sustained drop in the number of advertisements appearing online, Traffic discovered the advertisements had moved to social media, making it even more worrisome. The illegal trade in wildlife now is hidden in the broader online community, where advertisers use codewords to let buyers know who they are.
To understand the difficulty in monitoring the sale of illegal wildlife products through using the Internet, it is necessary to grasp the size of the internet community. As of July 2014, according to “Internet Live Stats” there were 2.9 billion people worldwide on the Internet, that's 40 percent of the world's population. China has 641 million Internet users, the largest number in the world. In China, e-commerce is a booming business. In 2012, it amounted to $110 billion, and in 2014, it was estimated to rise to $274.6 billion.
The use of the codewords was first noticed in 2011, when CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) picked up on the system, sharing the information with China's National Forest Police Bureau. Some readers may remember a Digital Journal story about tiger farms in China. It was said that China's China's State Forestry Administration actually condoned the farms.
Initially, only one codeword was used on e-commerce sites for ivory, 象牙, XY, xiangya. Now there are 64 codewords. Words such as, “African materials,’’ “yellow materials,'' and “white plastic'' are used in place of ivory, says Traffic in the report. “There are transactions of illegal wildlife products which were not captured by TRAFFIC's monitoring,'' it said. “This indicates that trade volumes on e-commerce platforms might be even higher.''
A joint report for the years 2010 to 2012, issued last year by Save the Elephants and The Aspinall Foundation reported that 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory. It was stated in the report that the slaughter was largely fueled by “out of control” illegal ivory trade in China.
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