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Daily Drip

How Do You Stop “Endangered Animal Ecommerce”?

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In the wake of Covid-19, China is cracking down on the trade of wildlife and endangered species — but the most recent bust wasn’t at a “wet market.”

Police in Zhejiang province detained 11 suspects and saved close to 7,000 illegal and endangered animals (among them, 1,000 horned frogs and 300 rainforest scorpions) in a recent bust on wildlife ecommerce. In China’s diverse and interconnected ecommerce markets, authorities face new obstacles in stopping the trade of rare and exotic animals.

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After the initial outbreak of Covid-19, China called a temporary halt to its wildlife trade. Soon after, Guangdong province in southeastern China tightened its regulations around wildlife and exotic animals. Shenzhen banned the consumption and farming of dogs, followed by a wider ban on dog farming nationwide. Later, Wuhan banned the trade of wildlife altogether, as the country’s top brass announced the issue as a priority at China’s annual Two Sessions meeting.

But stopping the trade of exotic animals in China’s cashless, ultra-online ecosystem requires more than a few raids on wildlife markets. In the months since the changes, the industry has moved increasingly online; authorities have already removed over 750,000 illegal listings and closed down over 17,000 online sellers.

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Illegal animals and animal parts have been sold online since at least 2004. In 2005, China’s Ministry of Public Service urged auction sites to remove ivory sales from their platforms, but ivory traders evaded monitoring by changing the products’ keywords. Nicknames and misspellings are just a few techniques that traders use to evade censors. 

The skyrocketing popularity of livestream auctions, meanwhile, has not missed the online animal trade. In the Zhejiang province operation, the animals were being sold in a livestream that racked up three million fans, over one hundred thousand daily views, and nearly 10 million RMB ($1.45 million USD) in revenue each year. Although major ecommerce platforms are blocking accounts associated with wildlife trade each day, the industry pushes to survive through back channels and small-scale vendors.

Regulation is further complicated by rural farmers who may trap or sell the animals without knowing their protected or endangered status. Buyers, on the other hand, usually do.

Lakshmi Iyengar
    Lakshmi Iyengar is a Yenching Scholar studying health, economics, and modern China. Before moving to Beijing, she majored in Biomedical Engineering at Yale. Follow her on twitter @vlakshmiiyengar for insights on China and life