New study documents persistent wildlife trafficking on e-commerce websites and social media groups in China
Monday, May 22, 2017 at 1:00
TRAFFIC in Enforcement, In Asia, Ivory, Report launch

An example of a rhino horn product listed in a recent online advert © TRAFFICBeijing, China, 22nd May 2017—TRAFFIC’s ongoing monitoring has revealed a steadily declining though persistent number of advertisements illegally offering wildlife products on e-commerce websites and through social media in China.

The results were published today in Wildlife Cybercrime in China: E-commerce and social media monitoring in 2016 (PDF, 500 KB).

By routinely searching on 112 different keywords—40 of them for ivory alone—used by dealers to mask the identity of the products illegally peddled, TRAFFIC researchers have charted the decline from more than 2,000 advertisements per month in 2012, to less than 1,000 by December 2016 on some 31 representative websites.

Download Wildlife Crime in China: E-Commerce and social media monitoring in 2016 (PDF, 500KB)Ivory products had the highest share of new monthly advertisements (63.2%), followed by rhino horn products (18.1%), Hawksbill Turtle shells (7.7%), Helmeted Hornbill casques (4.7%), Tiger bones (4.0%), Saiga horns (1.6%), pangolin scales (0.5%), leopard bones (0.2%) and whale products (0.1%).

TRAFFIC’s efforts to combat illegal online wildlife trade include collaboration with tech companies such as, who operate the principal search engine in China and who have deleted more than 70,000 pieces of illegal wildlife trade information, and with Tencent, a leading provider of Internet value-added services who, in collaboration with TRAFFIC and other NGOs, have removed more than 300,000 illegal postings from some 700 accounts, dozens of them currently under further investigation by enforcement agencies.

Despite such actions, several persistent illegal wildlife dealers continue operating, releasing more illegal wildlife product advertisements.

One antiques trading website registered in Shanghai posted 31,062 new advertisements for illegal wildlife products—more than a third of all those recorded—between 2012 and 2016. However, under the Wild Animal Protection Law, new legislation that came into effect on 1st January 2017, it is the website’s management, not just the sellers, who are in violation of the law.

“Despite actions by website companies, service providers and enforcement agencies, some dealers continue to act with impunity,” said Zhou Fei, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Office.

“TRAFFIC is bringing the online activities of wildlife traffickers to the attention of enforcement agencies and continuing to provide technical support to website companies to detect and remove any illegal offerings, while our monitoring should reveal the impact of the new legislation on illicit activities.”

An earlier 2015 TRAFFIC study, Deadly Messaging: Illegal ivory trade in China's social media, had revealed a shift in online trafficking, from e-commerce websites to the secret world of social media and closed networks. The latest survey revisited the same 58 dealers’ WeChat accounts monitored in Deadly Messaging and found that although 31 of the dealers had ceased business, the remaining 27 were posting more advertisements and images than previously—an average of 135 advertisements and 704 images per day, compared to 115 and 596 in 2015.

The report finds that although social media is the main channel for wildlife trafficking, dealers continue to post on e-commerce websites and other public outreach platforms, with the aim of steering interested buyers towards more private conversations on social media.

“The private cyberspace of social media is difficult to monitor, but this report demonstrates the importance of keeping track of this dynamic online platform,” said Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for East and South Asia.

“TRAFFIC is helping develop an innovative Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manual so that companies can ensure online wildlife traffickers do not evade detection and are brought to book.”


TRAFFIC’s online illegal wildlife trade monitoring work is generously supported by GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and WWF UK.

For more information, please contact:
Sammi Li, Senior Communication Officer, TRAFFIC China Office

TRAFFIC’s original analysis of online wildlife trafficking in China, Moving targets: Tracking online sales of illegal wildlife products in China, was published in March 2015.

Article originally appeared on TRAFFIC (
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