A study by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, reported at the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Doha, Qatar, says the Internet is the biggest threat to endangered species. (See BBC report.) According to the BBC report, online stores and auction sites help buyers and sellers connect with ever greater ease and simplicity. And they can do it anonymously. At the same time people can easily ship items practically anywhere, given the efficienc y of global shipping and mail services.
Bad news. And combined with the failure of the CITES convention to pass rules that limit fishing of Atlantic tuna, a species that has undergone dramatic population declines, we can’t be optimistic that authorities will step in to halt or even regulate illegal ecommerce in endangered species.
The solution to counter the misuse of the Internet for illegal species trading must be to use the Internet. If the Internet is the problem, it is up to its users to make it the solution instead. I am not sure exactly what form that solution might take.
But we can imagine several scenarios or tools.
- SpeciesWatch – online community of concerned citizens who look for illegal trading activity and report it
- Social networking groups – people who share an interest inreducing online trade in endangered species and advocate and lobby representatives and officials to take action (enforce existing laws, tougher penalties, create new legislation). These groups can also pressure ISPs to ban sites that permit illegal trading.
- SpeciesWatch @home: Use a distributed computing model where someone downloads software onto their computer. When the computer is under-used, the software will search online for keywords indicating illegal trading activity. Results are fed to a central database that can be searched for likely “hits.” These are then reported to authorities.
Would any of these work? A combination of all three? Do you have your own ideas?
Here at The Pimm Group our mission is to create a future for species at risk of extinction. The illegal trade enabled by the Internet strikes at the core of our goals. It threatens to unravel decades of work undertaken by scientists and conservation advocates around the world. We’re anxious to hear your thoughts.