Three years ago, it would have been easy to find a place to buy elephant ivory. Even though Google banned ads for ivory products, that didn’t stop them from popping up on Google's shopping site in Japan. And if a couple years ago you wanted to bid on an ivory trinket, no problem—you could have browsed online auction aggregator LiveAuctioneers.com, which didn’t provide guidelines for selling or shipping ivory items.
It’s still all too possible to buy illegal wildlife products online, but it’s getting harder. Both companies have stepped up policies to identify unlawful wildlife products and rid their websites of it, and now they’re pledging to go even further. The U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits and companies, announced Thursday that in honor of World Wildlife Day, more than a dozen companies or organizations have committed to help combat wildlife trafficking by eliminating illicit products from the supply chain, telling others to do the same, or educating the public.
“The announcement signifies that there’s an increasingly broad recognition of the terrible scope of the international wildlife trafficking crisis,” says David Hayes, chairman of the alliance, which organized the pledge as part of President Barack Obama’s initiative to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade. “It’s a recognition that the U.S. remains an important market for these illegal products.”
Wildlife trafficking is finally taking its place in the public’s consciousness as a dangerous and destabilizing industry. Valued at billions of dollars, the illegal trade is a major black market. Illicit skins, tusks, horns, and other animal parts show up in necklaces, trendy shoes, on the dinner plate. Not only are millions of animals, from elephants to rhinos, threatened by the trade, but it’s become increasingly organized and violent.
And big businesses have taken notice. Just as in the early 2000s when companies began pledging to combat sweatshops and child labor, the private sector is now adding wildlife protection to its corporate responsibilities.
Along with commitments made today by Google and LiveAuctioneers.com, fashion retailer Ralph Lauren has promised to beef up its illegal wildlife product policies and share the problem with the American Apparel and Footwear Association. High end jewelry shop Tiffany & Co. and Signet Jewelers, owner of Zales, Kay Jewelers, and Jared, also said they’ll spread the word to other retailers.
Then there's Etsy, an online haven for DIYers and artsy trinket lovers, which has already distanced itself from the illegal wildlife trade by banning the sales of body parts of protected species. Now the company has pledged to increased enforcement of the ban and discuss wildlife trafficking with other businesses. And eBay plans to do the same. The online marketplace bans the sale of endangered species products but was singled out in a 2008 report as the worst offender in the online trade of endangered wildlife products.
Representing the travel sector, Royal Caribbean Cruises has committed to identifying and eliminating all sales of products illegally made from wildlife. Meanwhile, JetBlue, which offers flights from the U.S. to the Caribbean, has promised to show a movie about wildlife trafficking on every flight. “It’s our responsibility to help that customer have a great vacation and also to protect the region of the Caribbean to ensure that it’s there for more tourism in the future,” said Sophia Mendelsohn, the airline’s head of sustainability.
This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback and story ideas firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Jani Actman on Twitter.