Online Illegal Wildlife Trade Another Loophole In China’s Ban Since Coronavirus Outbreak

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China’s leading e-commerce platforms and delivery operators are now under more pressure to enforce the ban on the trade in illegal wildlife in the country. A temporary ban was imposed on China in January after the coronavirus pandemic was suspected to have been linked to the illicit wildlife trafficking industry, which was later extended to a permanent shutdown by late February. As the illegal trade shifts online, government pressure is being put on tech giants to enforce the policy in order to conserve wildlife and prevent another global public health threat. But conservationists warn that authorities must still reform regulations and cannot solely rely on digital companies to overhaul the trade. 

In late February, China had permanently shut down the illegal wildlife trade, effectively extending the temporary policy introduced in January that prohibits the illegal trade and consumption of non-aquatic wild animals. Now, the trade appears to have shifted online. 

Conservationist groups are now calling on the Chinese authorities to fully overhaul the lucrative illegal wildlife business that has gone online in order to protect endangered species and prevent another disease outbreak. Authorities have then turned their eyes on the country’s tech giants to take further action to clamp down on online buyers or sellers who continue to prop up China’s illicit US$74 billion wildlife farming industry

The state council reported that e-commerce platforms had already deleted or blocked information relating to around 140,000 wildlife products and closed down 17,000 associated accounts. But the authorities are urging for more action on the part of delivery companies, who must take extra steps to inspect packages before shipping

“Right now, there isn’t enough regulation specifying the responsibility of online platforms,” said Zhou Jinfeng, head of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation in conversation with Al Jazeera

In response, a number of the leading Chinese e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba, Tencent, JD.com  and others have participated in a “Wildlife Free Ecommerce” campaign to combat online sales of wildlife, and hunting tools such as snares and traps. 

Conservationists remain wary about whether the ban can be fully enforced, even with the help of online companies, if there continues to be no reform of China’s licensing system that leaves loopholes for wildlife laundering in the legal market. Without changing these official licensing rules, online platforms have little oversight to clamp down on items that may still be considered unrestricted by law. 

Steve Blake, the head of the Beijing’s office of non-profit WildAid, told Al Jazeera that the government must clarify what species are off-limits and upgrade licensing laws in order to ensure that the ban is effective.  

Others have also pointed out that a number of wildlife items that are taken for traditional medicinal purposes are still exempt from the ban, and can therefore be sold online without checks. This is particularly worrying given that recent studies have proposed that pangolins are the probable intermediary host of the coronavirus that jumped to infect humans – and pangolins are poached for their keratin scales, a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. 

Without fully clamping down on the wildlife trade – online and offline, food, non-food and medicinal uses – the risk of public health epidemics, animal cruelty and the major ecological disturbances that the industry is responsible cannot be mitigated. 

Individually, one of the most effective steps we can take is to remove all consumption of animal products altogether, which is currently propping up the inhumane global trade in animals and unsustainable production that leaves behind a huge burden on our planet.

Read our earlier news coverage of Covid-19 and prevention tips here.


Lead image courtesy of Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire / AFP / compiled by Green Queen Media.


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