Are Online Shoppers Really Looking for Poached Wildlife?

Shopping ads on the world’s most popular search engine may be encouraging demand for poached wildlife.

An African elephant grazes in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Africa. Poaching has drastically reduced the population of elephants over the last few decades. (Photo: Jim Richardson via Getty Images)

Mar 8, 2013
Kelly Zhou has written on a variety of topics for TakePart, predominantly politics, education, and wildlife.

A conservation group argues that Google is encouraging the sale of elephant ivory in Japan via shopping advertisements that promote products from endangered whale and elephant species.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, an advocacy group, requested that the search juggernaut remove more than “1,400 ads that promote whale products and as many as 10,000 ads that promote elephant ivory products” on Google Japan’s shopping page.

“While elephants are being mass slaughtered across Africa to produce ivory trinkets, it is shocking to discover that Google, with the massive resources it has at its disposal, is failing to enforce its own policies designed to help protect endangered elephants and whales,” said EIA President Allan Thornton, in a statement.

The search engine’s shopping site explicitly bans items including elephant ivory and whale products, which a company spokesperson confirmed to TakePart, “Ads for products obtained from endangered or threatened species are not allowed on Google. As soon as we detect ads that violate our advertising policies, we remove them.” The company referenced its ad review process, including how the search engine tracks and removes bad ads.

However, the EIA and Humane Society International, which is helping with the campaign, argue that Google is not enforcing these rules. Products made with elephant ivory are often very popular in Asia, and Google ads for items such as “hanko,” or Japanese ivory name seals, are boosting elephant poaching in Africa, according to the EIA.

A new study has noted that the population of elephants has dropped by 62 percent over the past decade. The Born Free Foundation estimated in 2007 that the African elephant population may be as low as 470,000.

“The marketplace really is online, and that is the future of the marketplace,” said Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International, in an interview with TakePart. “So [Google] has a special responsibility to control this while they can.”

Block added that Humane Society International staffers who understand Japanese have seen many of the controversial ads peddling such products, and that these Google ads contribute to the pressures on these endangered animals. She cited a similar situation with Amazon, which ended with the company agreeing to ban whale and dolphin products in March 2012. The online retailer removed all whale products from its Japan site and now explicitly prohibits the sale of any such items.

“There are a number of Internet sites doing the right thing here,” Block said. “There are some that are not, unfortunately.”

Is Google at fault for its shopping ads, or should the responsibility be placed on the online shoppers buying these products? Let us know in the comments.

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