Animal rights campaigners voice concerns as Chinese ivory dealers move online to beat tougher regulations

Report shows a rapid rise in buying and selling on online platforms in Asia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 7:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 7:51pm

Tighter regulations on trading in wildlife could force dealers to move online, campaigners have warned as top experts gather in Hong Kong to discuss how to tackle the consumer demand.

WildAid Hong Kong provided two examples, including a Facebook user attempting to source elephant tusks in Hong Kong and another individual trying to trade ivory pieces on Chinese messaging platform WeChat.

“Buying ivory online or in a store both have the same devastating effect – sky-high poaching rates and the catastrophic collapse of African elephant populations,” said WildAid campaign manager Alex Hofford.

A report released on Thursday by wildlife trade monitor Traffic and conservation group WWF showed a rapid rise in buying and selling on online platforms in Asia.

The report said the activity bolstered a trend towards trading on social networks such as Facebook, WeChat and QQ, another mainland messaging service.

READ MORE: With Hong Kong’s help, an end to the ivory trade is in sight

Cheryl Lo, senior wildlife crime officer at WWF Hong Kong, said online trading was a “systemic problem” on the mainland.

“Once the regulations are tightened, then the trade moves online to WeChat because one-to-one communications are more difficult to track,” she said. “I think it is something we need to keep an eye on in Hong Kong.”

Traffic said in its report that in one month on the mainland last year, thousands of ivory products, 77 whole rhino horns and large numbers of endangered birds were found advertised for sale via QQ and WeChat.

Responding to the Traffic report, Facebook said it was committed to working with conservation organisations to stamp out the illegal trade.

READ MORE: Hong Kong steps up battle against illegal ivory trade: government to push for import and export ban, set timeline for end of ‘legal’ sales

Meanwhile, an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokeswoman said such online activity fell within the city’s ordinance on the import, re-export and domestic sale of elephant ivory.

“The regulatory mechanism applies to trading in endangered species on the internet and social media,” she said.

Tomorrow, Hong Kong will host a summit of conservation experts, diplomats, and local and foreign government representatives to discuss how tackle the problem of shifting demand and trade in endangered wildlife.

Local representatives include the government, Ocean Park, Kadoorie Farm, and diplomats from the German and South African consulates.

Representatives from the World Bank, the US State Department, US Aid, Tencent, the British government and experts from Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam will also attend.