Craigslist singled out in latest IFAW investigation

Graphic courtesy of IFAW.

Informed by my career at eBay and as a student of the illegal wildlife trade, I have developed a keen interest in how wildlife traffickers use the internet to facilitate transactions. My last post, at least in small part, celebrated the decline of such sales on traditional e-commerce platforms in recent years.

One notable exception to this trend that I omitted is Craigslist. Indeed, Craigslist is often neglected in the literature on this matter relative to eBay, Alibaba, and others in that industry despite lagging behind them where policies and enforcement are concerned.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Conservation Society released a study in late April (“Elephant vs. Mouse”), however, that might well draw new attention and pressure to Craigslist’s role as a conduit in the illegal wildlife trade, especially ivory. An excerpt from IFAW’s press release announcing the report:

The investigation, which collected data from 28 of Craigslist’s US city-sites between March 16–20,  found many instances of ivory products being sold. Investigators tracked 522 postings offering more than 600 items, for a combined asking price of nearly $1.5 million. Extrapolated to a full year, this would yield over 6,600 items with a list price exceeding $15 million. And it wasn’t just ivory – we discovered ottomans made of elephant feet, African warthog tusks, elephant-leather boots – and most of it was offered on a no-questions-asked basis.

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Wildlife trade shifting from e-commerce to social media

Total number of wildlife listings on Chinese e-commerce sites. (Credit TRAFFIC)

In a previous post several months ago, I discussed how e-commerce sites are a major conduit for the online trade of illegal wildlife products. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been the foremost organization to monitor the online sale of wildlife products, and their 2014 report “Wanted–Dead or Alive” uncovered $11 million worth of animal products—33,000 listings on 280 sites across 16 countries. A new TRAFFIC report, however, suggests that the wildlife trade is waning on traditional e-commerce platforms. This trend is especially pronounced with ivory products and in China. Here is what TRAFFIC credits for this encouraging development:

[A]fter more than two years of cooperation with e-commerce platform and website managers and enforcement authorities, the total number of illegal wildlife products advertisements (TWPA) and the monthly number of new wildlife products advertisements (NWPA) have remained stable for the past two years. This period of stability followed a public declaration made by 15 of the leading e-commerce sites in China stating they had a zero-tolerance policy towards their services being used to conduct illegal wildlife trading. Feedback from regular monitoring by TRAFFIC has resulted in website managers routinely removing offending adverts and blocking code words used to describe illegal products, and messaging to encourage such action has taken place through a series of targeted training workshops.

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To Be or Not to Be: The ‘De-Extinction’ Debate

I’ll confess that, before this class, I wasn’t uniquely concerned about the illegal wildlife trade or the plight of endangered animals. As I researched the issue, however, the sheer gravity of the issue finally occurred to me. Particularly distressing for me was the prospect of species extinction—that my children may inherit a world wherein tigers, elephants, rhinos, etc. no longer exist.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2014 observed that the earth has lost more than half (52%) of its wildlife in the past 40 years. Poaching and consumption have decimated the aforementioned species, and climate change threatens many more. An estimated one in six species risks extinction over the next century due to climate change. Some scientists have consequently dubbed this phenomenon the “Sixth Great Extinction” .

There are of course compelling scientific reasons to be concerned about this loss of biodiversity, but I think there is an aesthetic case to be made too. Imagine revisiting the Disney’s “The Lion King” decades from now; some of those animals might seem as fantastical and fictional to our posterity as Pokémon because they no longer exist in the real world.

Perhaps that’s too abstract a thought experiment. Consider instead a species that is already extinct: the Tasmanian Tiger. The Tasmanian Tiger—unlike, say, the Dodo—was a relatively recent victim of extinction. It lived into the 20th century, and the last known specimen died in 1936. Here is a short video clip of that specimen, nicknamed “Benjamin”, at the Hogart Zoo in Tasmania:

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The Nature of Ivory Demand: Thailand

Thailand has become the second largest market in the world for illegal ivory, and by some estimates, the world’s fastest growing. Between 2009 and 2011, 10,923 kilograms of ivory was seized coming into the country. From January 2013 to December 2013, ivory pieces on sale at outlets in Bangkok grew from 5,715 to 14,512, an almost three-fold increase. During that period, the number of outlets selling ivory increased from 61 to 105. Even in the month before CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok, 9,000 ivory products were found for sale in the city, in spite of promises by the nation’s leaders to stop the illegal trade. Recent data on prices is lacking, but between 2000 and 2008 the cost of tusk tips increased from $100 USD/kg to $350—$1200 USD/kg (a 3 to 12-fold increase). Read more ›

Adaptive Management to End Human-Wildlife Conflict

Human-wildlife conflict, at its core, is essentially a struggle over land use. Cattle grazing, agriculture, and other profitable land uses are attractive alternatives to preserving land for the conservation of species in many range countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where fertility rates are among the highest in the world. By some estimates, the population in Sub-Saharan Africa will more than double in the next 35 years, increasing from 926 million people to 2.2 billion people by 2050.

Population Growth in Sub-Saharan and Central Africa


Therefore mitigating human-wildlife conflict is imperative for many reasons, not the least of which is preserving species’ habitat so that both the wildlife itself and the ecotourism industry can thrive (you can read more on why this industry is vital to developing countries in others posts including here). But this is a challenging task for one very specific reason: community buy-in is necessary in order to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and conserve species, but the communities that you need to actively support species conservation are the same communities that are creating the conflict in the first place. In addition, a solution to human-wildlife conflict that works in one community may be completely ineffective in another community.

So how can human-wildlife conflict be alleviated? Community development and job creation efforts can be a way of mitigating this conflict, however these projects must be carefully thought out before any action is taken.

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The Wildlife Trade in China: An Ill-Defined Problem

A handout picture released by Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) shows an endangered black bear inside a cage at a bile farm in Weihai, Shandong province April 19, 2010. Twenty of China's 31 provinces are now bear-farm free after Animals Asia Foundation's dramatic rescue this week of 10 bears from Shandong Province's last bile farm, according to the AAF's press release. Picture taken April 19, 2010. REUTERS/AAF/Handout (CHINA - Tags: ANIMALS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTR2D5IB

A handout picture released by Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) shows an endangered black bear inside a cage at a bile farm in Weihai, Shandong province April 19, 2010. Picture taken April 19, 2010. REUTERS/AAF/Handout

*This blog is part 3 of a 3 part series. Click here for Part 1—Conditioned Aid: A popular, but problematic policy option or here for Part 2—The Black Box of the Ivory Trade: Ivory Vendors*

As I have mentioned in my other two blogs, Ana and I gained great insight on our trip to Beijing into the different challenges China faces in combating wildlife trafficking. In particular, it became clear that conditional aid may not be the best route for the United States to address consumer demand in China, literature on Chinese illegal ivory vendors is lacking, and laws on ivory and wildlife in China are ambiguous. This blog post addresses the latter finding.

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Where did this link between security and wildlife trafficking come from?

The scale and scope of poaching has escalated in recent years. Increasingly, observers are linking poaching to national security interests. Is this link real? Is there a good case to be made for the inclusion of wildlife trafficking in security issues? This blog post explores the evolution of the USG’s conceptualization of the link between national security and wildlife trafficking. Read more ›

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Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking – Evaluation

Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking
In 2005, the United States Department of State created the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT) to serve as a “voluntary public-private [international] coalition of like-minded governments and organizations that share the goal of ending the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.” The CAWT’s three goals are to (1) reduce consumer demand, (2) limit supply by increasing enforcement efforts, and (3) mobilize high-level political support. According to a 2005 State Department press release, the original members of the CAWT included Conservation International, Save the Tiger Fund, Smithsonian Institution, Traffic International, WildAid, Wildlife Conservation Society, and American Forest and Paper Association.

Under the umbrella of the CAWT, the U.S. State Department contributed $1 million and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided over $3 million in funding to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN). This funding has been spent on capacity-building efforts in countries with large consumer demand for wildlife products.

The CAWT also created their own public awareness videos in 2008 that featured actor and wildlife conservationist Harrison Ford. The videos encourage consumers not to purchase goods made with illegally traded wildlife or wildlife products. The PSAs can be viewed here.

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Conspicuous Consumption and Wildlife

Wildlife products are used as a status symbol around the world. Known as conspicuous consumption, the rising cost of certain wildlife products allows users to display wealth and elite status by consuming these products. Such consumption is considered to be one of if not the primary driver behind the recent rise in the poaching of elephants and rhinos. Understanding the motivations behind conspicuous consumption is critical to affecting the demand for endangered species.


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Gaps in China’s Wildlife Laws

China’s recent efforts to control the trade of illicit animal products both into the country and within its borders are a positive development. As I mentioned in a previous post on Chinese wildlife enforcement measures, China has one of the best track records in Asia when it comes to border enforcement and seizures. Successful seizures and arrests, however, bely surging demand for and consumption of products like elephant ivory and rhino horn. The rate of growth of this illegal market shows that enforcement an public awareness campaigns are not perhaps as successful as they are touted to be. In this posting I will be looking at the legal framework for wildlife conservation and the loop-holes exploited by ivory and tiger bone traders in China.

China’s wildlife conservation legislation is centered around its 1988 Wildlife Protection Law. While its intentions are good, ambiguous language and goals, limited protection, and decentralized responsibility for enforcement and monitoring have made wildlife protection efforts a difficult battle for Chinese conservationists. The official position of 1988 law maintains that the principle purpose of wildlife is for human domestication and consumption. State agencies regulating domestic ivory trade have the conflicting missions of preserving traditional ivory carving heritage and cracking down on post-ban ivory products. Furthermore, captive animals are afforded almost no protection under the law, encouraging poachers and trappers to capture breed animals illegally. This also results in the inhuman standards at facilities such as bear bile and tiger farms that have been only recently come under critical scrutiny in the West.

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