June 19, 2024

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Combating illegal wildlife trade – an appeal to Africa’s digital platforms

Civil society organizations want digital platforms in the continent to implement policies and legislation that will counter a growing trend of illegal online wildlife trade.

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The rapid expansion of the internet ecosystem in Africa has inadvertently given rise to illegal wildlife trade, with a flood of African wildlife and products smuggled out of the continent.

Now, civil society organizations alarmed at the destruction of habitats and the threat to tourism and other sectors maintain that digital platforms can and should play a pivotal role in combatting wildlife trafficking. They can do this by taking measures to ensure that internal policies on their content are consistent with laws and policies forbidding the advertisement and sale of endangered species.

“Across the globe, platforms have taken steps to address the issue of illegal wildlife sales, and several countries are considering legislation to compel platforms to take action,” explained Momballa Mbun, senior project officer at Traffic’s Reducing Trade Threats to Africa’s Wild Species and Ecosystems (ReTTA) project.

Civil society organizations, including the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, Traffic, and the World Parrot Trust, have united in calling for action from African digital players to combat illegal wildlife sales on their platforms.

Mbun called for proper and concrete monitoring systems at African digital platforms that align with global trends.

Beyond the immediate threat of species extinction, the lack of regulation in this realm also impacts community livelihoods and raises the risk of new zoonotic diseases.

Wildlife civil society organizations are urging platforms to adopt best practices, including clear policies against illegal wildlife sales, collaboration with relevant organizations, user awareness, effective monitoring, and cooperation with law enforcement.

Recent reports have shed light on the glaring gaps in this space.

A 2022 report by Traffic revealed a significant threat to African wildlife due to the absence of regulations governing cyber-enabled wildlife trade in Central African countries and Nigeria.

The report found that Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Nigeria have witnessed a surge in digitally facilitated illegal wildlife sales at rates similar to the growth in internet use in these countries.

Consequently, various wildlife species, including CITES-regulated timber products, live birds, and monkeys, continue to be sold through digital channels.

Notably, the African grey parrot, a popular pet bird species known for its remarkable mimicry skills and lively personality, is banned under multilateral agreements and national laws.

“African grey parrots have been decimated in the wild by trapping for the pet trade… trapping wild animals and bringing them into our homes is not only driving species to extinction but leads to suffering and risks spreading zoonotic diseases,” remarks Rowan Martin of the World Parrot Trust.

Despite being classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 782 online advertisements for African grey parrots were found on platforms mainly in Kenya, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, and Angola within six months.

Experts assert that the lack of regulation not only jeopardizes species with extinction but also threatens community livelihoods and increases the risk of zoonotic diseases.

Furthermore, unregulated digital activity involving wildlife has direct links to crimes such as fraud, corruption, and illicit financial flows.

According to Interpol’s 2020 update on the state of wildlife crime, wildlife trafficking is rising at an alarming rate of 5% to 7% annually.

Some platforms are already leading the charge.

Jumia, one of the largest e-commerce retail platforms on the continent, has designated wildlife and wildlife products as prohibited, with similar commitments made by Afribobo and Afribaba.

According to the joint statement, Afribobo – an African online classifieds platform – has removed all advertisements for illegal species and implemented filters to prevent posting new ads that violate their policy or that of Cameroon.

Similarly, Afribaba – a Kenya-based version of Alibobo – intends to introduce similar filters in 12 additional countries across central, eastern, and southern Africa.

A 2019 World Bank report values illegal logging, fishing and wildlife trade at more than US $1 trillion annually.

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