Study widens insight into illicit ivory trade in Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam

Jul 9, 2020 | Reports


Ivory trade is rife on social media in Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam says a TRAFFIC study which found thousands of ivory items in trade during a month in 2016, and in a 2019 update. 

Key Findings:
The study recorded 8,508 items ranging from elephant tusk tips to jewellery and decorative items offered for sale in 1,559 Facebook and Instagram posts across the three countries over 25 days from June to July 2016.

The study then recorded a total of 2,489 ivory items for sale in 545 posts across the three target countries in a snapshot assessment over just five days in July 2019.

The same 120 Facebook and Instagram groups were monitored during both surveys.  However, only 69 were still active in 2019 with the rest having closed down since the first survey in 2016. 

The study found a significantly higher weekly average of both posts and ivory items for sale in Indonesia and Thailand in 2019. Only Viet Nam recorded a decrease in their weekly average posts and products in 2019. 

Overall, researchers found the weekly average number of items rose 46.3% and for posts by 74.8% in 2019, compared to 2016.

The authors noted that because only the groups that were surveyed in 2016 were included in the 2019 survey, the true scale of the current online trade may be considerably larger than observed.

This was particularly the case for Indonesia, which was often overlooked in global ivory studies because of its perceived low ivory trade levels, said the report’s authors. The country had the most traders dealing in ivory online.  These findings, coupled with recent ivory seizures from online traders in Indonesia and cross-border seizures, raise a red flag on the true extent of the country’s ivory trade.  

Jewellery was the dominant type of ivory item offered for sale in both periods with Vietnamese online platforms having the largest quantities for sale in 2016, and Thai platforms in 2019.

The findings called for continued attention to Viet Nam as an ivory trade hub given that in 2016 and 2019, Viet Nam was found to have the greatest items-to-post and items-to-seller ratios. In other words, single posts in Viet Nam involved more items than those in the other two countries.

The report’s findings raise concern about Thailand’s online ivory trade given it had the greatest variety of raw ivory products and recorded increased trade in 2019 despite fewer active groups. Thailand is better placed to do this following a revision to its wildlife legislation that now considers internet trade a violation and provides for significantly higher penalties.

However, Indonesia and Viet Nam currently do not have adequate legislation to tackle illegal online ivory trade, the report said.

Authors of Trading Faces: A snapshot of the online ivory trade in Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam with an update in 2019 urge the three countries to close loopholes and strengthen their laws. The three countries are encouraged to devise new strategies to deal better with the rising phenomenon of online ivory trade and to target ivory trade hotspots identified in the report.

The authors also recommended closer co-operation with Facebook and Instagram to ensure more effective monitoring and enforcement against errant online wildlife traders.

Meanwhile, 557 of 600 posts, groups, and Instagram profiles flagged to Facebook as a result of the 2019 study have been removed. 

The removal was in line with Facebook’s newly introduced policy to ban the trade of all endangered species and their products across the platform and of all live animals from non-verified physical businesses. The new policy was introduced in April 2019 and is part of continued efforts under the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online – a joint Coalition facilitated by TRAFFIC, WWF and IFAW.

“Facebook’s partnership with the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online is instrumental to our efforts to combat the sale and trade of ivory across our platforms. This type of content goes against our policies. We remove it as soon as we’re made aware of it and remain committed to enforcing our standards,” said Crystal Davis, a Facebook spokesperson.

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