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Stopping illegal wildlife trade requires online efforts

Author  :  ZHU CHANGJUN     Source  :    Guangming Daily     2020-04-16

Recently, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress made a decision to thoroughly ban the consumption of wild animals. This move aims to severely crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. However, people in charge of biodiversity conservation groups warned that combating illegal wildlife trading still faces a big challenge posed by the online illegal wildlife trade, because the internet has provided illicit business with increased opportunities for privacy and there isn’t enough regulation specifying the responsibility of online platforms. As China plans to amend the Law of Wild Animal Protection, it is necessary to specify the responsibility of online platforms into law, urging them to step up their monitoring mechanisms; otherwise, they shall be held jointly liable for illicit wildlife businesses.

Based on the current situation and trends of the illicit wildlife business, the authorities, academia and animal protectors have already reached a consensus that cracking down on the illegal trade of wild animals needs increased strength in the cooperation of online and offline forces. According to a report released in 2016 on the online trade of prohibited wildlife products in China, 30.6 percent of the sale of prohibited wildlife products between January and May in 2015 involved online transactions, and it rose to 46.3 percent in 2016. As the physical markets come under increased pressure of monitoring regulation, illicit wildlife business may be shifted online. Even during the epidemic outbreak, there are still prohibited wildlife products being traded online.

The stronger supervision imposed upon the physical markets, the more effort needed to prevent the illegal trade from shifting to online markets. Online business tends to be more private and convenient, making it increasingly hard to detect and disrupt the illicit wildlife business. Some environmental protection volunteers have noted that argot is frequently used in trading prohibited wildlife products, such as an image of an elephant with a caption of “feiliao” or “guodongliao” (both are the argots of ivory of different colors). These cases require a higher capacity of enforcing targeted measures and screening for online clues. Moreover, there has been illegal sale of wild animals conducted under the cover of pet trade in recent years, thus creating enormous difficulty for curbing illegal activities.

Obviously, joint online and offline efforts are crucial to combating the illegal wildlife trade. It is necessary to clarify the online platforms’ responsibility for curbing the illegal wildlife trade by law. Online platforms should take responsibility, and they could do much better with their technological advantages. Specifying the responsibility of online platforms also needs policy and lawmaking support. For example, the “final list” of the wild animals allowed to be legally raised, sold and traded under China’s licensing system has still to be worked out. It would be hard for online platforms to take targeted measures unless they knew exactly what is legal or prohibited.

Regulators should also build efficient mechanisms of communication and cooperation with online platforms. Some online trade chains may be dug out through investigations into offline illegal trade, and most of the online sales of prohibited items are usually accompanied by offline actions, such as poaching and trafficking. The creation of an efficient system to tackle every link of the trade chain is crucial to stamping out the trade. Studies show that certain websites for collecting tip-offs of illegal trade could help online platforms obtain clues and evidence, which can be shared in time with the regulator. In this way, non-governmental organizations and volunteers, such as animal protection groups, would know much better about what and how they can contribute to the combat against the illegal wildlife trade, thus forming a more comprehensive and efficient coordinating mechanism among various players.


The article was edited and translated from Guangming Daily.


(Edited and translated by Ren Guanhong)

Editor: Yu Hui

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