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East meets west as brands fight wildlife cybercrime

A coalition of 21 of the world’s leading e-commerce, technology and social media companies have united to take a stand against wildlife traffickers trading endangered species on their platforms.

The internet has made all our lives easier. But it’s also made it easier for criminals, too. According to a new report from McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, cybercrime costs businesses all over the world as much as $600 billion.

Wildlife cybercrime is no different. The global annual value of wildlife crime is as much as $20 billion, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

More than 20,000 African elephants are illegally butchered each year for their tusks. Savanna elephant numbers alone plunged 30% between 2007 and 2014 because of poaching for ivory. In 2017, nearly three rhinos were poached each day in South Africa alone, a rise from only 13 in the whole of 2007, so their horns could be sold for aphrodisiacs and other products, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Many types of live wildlife are also sold online, from cute cheetah cubs to rare iguanas and exotic birds. The most hunted mammal is the endangered pangolin, which resembles a scaly anteater, trafficked for its meat, scales and leather.

The internet has become the preferred distribution tool for poachers. Many companies already have policies against this illegal trade, but traffickers have easily exploited loopholes, while remaining anonymous and jumping from one site to another with apparent ease. When an advert is removed, it simply reappears somewhere else.

The Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, launched on 7th March, has set itself the lofty target of reducing illegal online trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products by 80% by 2020. The coalition is a joint collaboration between companies from North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa and wildlife experts from the WWF, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and TRAFFIC, a non-profit that monitors trade in wildlife products.

The founding members are Alibaba, Baidu, Baixing, eBay, Etsy, Facebook, Google, Huaxia Collection, Instagram, Kuaishou, Mall for Africa, Microsoft, Pinterest, Qyer, Ruby Lane, Shengshi Collection, Tencent, Wen Wan Tian Xia, Zhongyikupai, Zhuanzhuan and 58 Group.

Through working together collaboratively to develop and implement policies and solutions tailored to their own specific platforms, these organisations hope to close the open web to traffickers.

“If you have one weak link in the chain, that’s where all of the illegal trade will gravitate towards. It’s the whack-a-mole effect if you like,” said Crawford Allan, global TRAFFIC leader of the joint WWF and TRAFFIC Wildlife Crime Initiative. “The important thing is to get the traditionally very competitive companies to think collectively. They realised it’s a non-competitive issue and they stepped up together to help us find solutions.”

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