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The markets for wildlife products, both off and online, is threatening the survival of many endangered species. (Image Credit: IFAW)

The markets for wildlife products, both off and online, is threatening the survival of many endangered species. (Image Credit: IFAW)

A sea of hands held up in the air are shaking their mobile phones all at once.

On everyone’s screen, a special message appears:

“Tencent for the Planet. Say No to Illegal Wildlife Trade.”

This was the scene at Tencent Club in Beijing on May 22, World Biodiversity Day.

The leading mobile technology company in China, Tencent Group has joined the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Nature Conservancy (TNC) in a new campaign to combat wildlife crime on social media platforms.

Tencent Group owns the mobile text and voice messaging communications app WeChat, which has the functions of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram combined.

Wechat is insanely popular in Asia. As of the first quarter ending in 2015, the number of monthly active Wechat users surpassed 549 million.

For the past several years, IFAW’s online wildlife trade monitoring shows that our combined approach of making online marketplaces unavailable for trade and raising public awareness has achieved sustained reduction of wildlife traded on regular e-commerce sites.

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We have also noticed that wildlife trade has increasingly moved to social media platforms, most prominently WeChat.

These social media platforms are more private, making it much harder to monitor. You have to friend someone to join the group. Some traders use pictures rather than key words to post illegal wildlife products.

The markets for wildlife products, both off and online, is threatening the survival of many endangered species.

The host, Quanling ZHANG, one of the most famous TV anchor in China, launches the public vote for project-themed elephant Wechat emoji. (Image Credit: IFAW)

The host, Quanling ZHANG, one of the most famous TV anchor in China, launches the public vote for project-themed elephant Wechat emoji. (Image Credit: IFAW)

At an IFAW-supported workshop with China’s inter-agency wildlife enforcement task force last year, nine of the largest e-commerce, social media and antique collectible companies including Alibaba, Tencent, Sina and Artron.net reaffirmed their zero tolerance for illegal wildlife trade.

Under the collaborative agreement, IFAW and TNC will:

  • help build monitoring capacity of Tencent staff with wildlife conservation and species identification knowledge;
  • support Tencent to remove infringing listings on WeChat, and if necessary provide intelligence to law enforcement; and
  • motivate Tencent to educate users on all of its microblog platforms about species conservation and stigmatize wildlife trade.

While the nature of the Internet means that it can provide a platform for illegal wildlife trade, the actions of internet companies such as Tencent offers tremendous hope for saving endangered species.

For more on our work reducing demand for ivory in China, go to our Reducing markets for wildlife products in China page.

(This article originally appeared on IFAW. It has been reprinted here with permission.)

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