In 2008, eBay conducted the vast majority of online trade in endangered animals, the New York Times reported. After intense pressure from conservationists over elephant poaching, the popular online shopping site banned selling ivory via its Animal and Wildlife Products policy, Yale Environment 360 reported.
However, illegal goods are still being trafficked on the website today through vague or mislabeled listings, researchers from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent found. Code words like "bone" are used as a cover description to disguise and misrepresent illegal listings as non-restricted materials, the study noted. Also complicating enforcement is the fact that "ivory" can be used to describe the color of any product, making enforcement searches using the word unproductive, CNN reported.
Study co-author David Roberts is well versed in the illicit ivory trade. He previously developed an algorithm identifying illegal elephant ivory on eBay with a 93 percent accuracy, studied the behaviors of ivory sellers on the online platform and examined the use of code words across four European Union countries.
In his most recent research, published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science, Roberts and his team investigated the discrepancy between how vendors described the objects in their listings versus what the study's authors identified as the actual materials, which they achieved by studying the images provided in the listings.
The researchers focused on listings for netsuke, carved objects attached to the cord of Japanese kimonos, which are offered on eBay UK, a University of Kent statement said. Netsuke are often made of ivory, and the researchers found that authentic elephant ivory was most frequently — and misleadingly — described as bone in netsuke listings, the statement said.
The authors identified mislabeled ivory by looking for Schreger lines in netsuke listing images, Roberts told EcoWatch. Schreger lines are a unique overlapping pattern found in elephant ivory. This pattern allowed them to identify authentic ivory without having to obtain the physical items for analysis, which would be ethically undesirable, the Kent statement said.
According to Keith Somerville, a professor at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and author of "Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa," certain elephant populations around the world are being hunted for their tusks. Globally, the world's largest land animal has also suffered due to habitat loss, poaching and confrontation with humans.
"Illegal ivory trade is a major threat," Somerville emphasized. There is no accurate estimate for how many animals are killed each year for ivory because "it is all underground." Somerville estimated that as many as 20,000 elephants might be killed annually for the black market.
"They have to kill the elephant. No other way to remove the ivory. They are shot or poisoned and the tusks hacked out," he told EcoWatch.
In late 2019, an eBay trader was jailed after being repeatedly caught selling ivory on the site, Lincolnshire Live reported. The trader shipped ivory products mislabeled as jewelry and wood carvings. During sentencing, the presiding judge said, "Without an illegal ivory market there would be no need for the capture of elephants in the wild. That market feeds the destruction of elephants," reported Lincolnshire Live.
In addition to ivory, Roberts' team also saw "all sorts of illegal wildlife or wildlife that violates their terms and conditions for sale on sites such as eBay, including a case of rhino horn, traditional Asian medicines, rare orchids and cacti, exotic skins, [and] shells to name a few," Roberts told EcoWatch. While ivory buyers and sellers use code words and disguise their trade with closed group communications, trade in "less charismatic species happens out in the open with no code words" on these websites, Roberts warned.
An eBay spokesperson told CNN that the company is a founding member of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online and works with the World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"We have global teams dedicated to upholding standards on our marketplace, and over a recent two-year period we blocked or removed over 265,000 listings prohibited under our animal products policy," the spokesperson told CNN.
Still, Roberts and fellow researchers returned to eBay a month after their initial search and found that only 1.3 to 6.9 percent of genuine ivory netsuke listings had been removed by eBay. More than half were already sold, and half of the unsold items were re-listed.
"If eBay was effectively enforcing its policy... on ivory, these items would have been removed," CNN reported the researchers saying.
eBay is not the only commerce service facilitating online wildlife trafficking, but it is a major site on which ivory can be found relatively easily, Roberts told EcoWatch. "While detecting illegal sales of ivory items can be particularly difficult, companies like eBay have the resources and data that could be mobilized to tackle the challenge of illegal wildlife trade," Roberts said in the Kent statement.
He suggested tackling the illegal wildlife trade online by making items more difficult to find, removing illegal listings and enforcing existing bans. Ultimately, Roberts called upon eBay and other technology companies to help develop algorithms for automating illegal product identification, he told EcoWatch. He also advocated for better reporting mechanisms that result in illegal listings actually being removed.
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By Richard Thomas
Joseph Biden was elected to office as the world continues to struggle with a global pandemic that has killed more than a million people and wreaked devastating economic havoc. The pandemic has highlighted how humankind's abuse of our planet and the irreversible loss of the biodiversity and ecosystem services upon which we all rely for our very existence simply can't go on.
I work for TRAFFIC, a nongovernmental organization addressing issues related to wildlife trade, and the COVID pandemic has thrust this topic into the limelight. While we fully acknowledge and appreciate support received under previous administrations, it's clear that the world has underestimated the importance and potential impacts of failing to manage wildlife trade in a way that's legal, sustainable and, critically, includes measures to mitigate against the risk of zoonotic-disease spillover events.
Centers for Disease Control staff inspect bushmeat being imported into the U.S. CDC
How do we move forward? First, I would argue that allocating resources to understanding the risks associated with trade in animals — from any source — and how to lessen the danger of disease spillover events is a wise investment. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID gave the go-ahead to activities under a second phase of a Wildlife Trafficking Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) Project implemented by TRAFFIC, with a renewed zoonotic disease risk focus. TRAFFIC will endeavor to ensure it's money well spent.
Meanwhile welcome global attention has been paid to addressing the wildlife crime that undermines society and threatens the future of many of the world's wild plants and animals. But we're still not there in curbing these crimes. More resources will help get us over the line.
These include better equipment, training and working conditions for the rangers on the front lines; enhanced use of wildlife forensics; training of detector dogs; and even access to skilled translators to assist enforcement agencies with interpreting transactions involving foreign nationals. We also need to see renewed efforts by governments, helped by nongovernmental organizations and others, to reduce the consumer demand that fuels such trade.
Rangers on patrol in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Bernard DuPont / CC BY-SA 2.0
Finally, the Biden era must go down in history as the turning point when world governments came together in a united front to address the conservation crisis and start down the long road to repair. Next year the delayed 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will take place, when world governments will finalize the goals and policies of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that will guide humankind to a biodiverse and sustainable future. The current draft of the Framework features, for the first time, a target on wildlife trade. It calls on governments to ensure that the harvesting, trade and use of wild species of fauna and flora are legal, at sustainable levels, and safe by 2030. It would be entirely appropriate if the Biden administration were at center stage throughout the negotiations. Given the role of the United States on the world stage, if Biden takes strong action, other countries will doubtless follow his lead.
Already the U.S. intention to rejoin the Paris Climate agreement has been a major symbolic step, signaling the country's aim to be at the forefront of global efforts to begin the healing process. Make no mistake: Building a green future is an enormous opportunity for businesses in the United States and beyond to meet the challenges of, and profit from, achieving the goal of a zero-carbon economy. Biden's policies should encourage achievement of that goal on every level. The future is bright, but only if it's green.
With the world's climate, forests and other natural resources under ever-increasing pressure, there has never been a more urgent need for the robust guidance, sound policies and strong leadership needed to protect our planet. The next four years could be the make-or-break moment.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.