Right now these are some things you can find on the popular crafts web store Etsy: steampunk accessories, from mustache wax to battered leather messenger bags, jewelry organizers made of old picture frames, wedding invitations, and also lion pelts. The difference you’ll be seeing soon: no lion pelts. In fact, no endangered or threatened animal anything.
On Monday, Etsy announced an update to their Prohibited Items policy so that it now lists goods made from particular animals, including those designated as threatened or endangered. The statement on the Etsy News Blog reads:
The new policy includes but is not limited to items or materials such as fur, pelts, ivory, teeth, bones, and taxidermied specimens from those protected animals. Both new and vintage (often referred to as “pre-ban” or “antique”) items of this type are prohibited even if the seller has documentation of rights to sell the items under applicable law. The risk that the legal status of these items may be unknown or mislabeled is too great, and continued sale of these items, though potentially legal, stands to perpetuate market demand and further jeopardize the existence of these species.
It all started in May of this year when a blogging member of the Snow Leopard Trust discovered what she believed to be a snow leopard fur collar for sale on Etsy. She notified the conservation group, which investigated the issue.
Although the Snow Leopard Trust concluded the collar was not real leopard fur, they found worse things and lots of them. When they typed “pre ban”—a term under which many wildlife items are sold whether or not they were acquired before bans were established—into Etsy’s search box, about 1,000 hits were displayed, many with potentially illegal items for sale. Though the conservation group flagged questionable items and contacted Etsy, the online company did not promise action. So, the Snow Leopard Trust created a petition addressed to Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, which over 33,000 people signed.
Just two months have passed since Etsy was first contacted about the wildlife issue. “You have to give Etsy props,” says Brad Rutherford, executive director of the Snow Leopard Trust. “That’s pretty quick for a big organization to move like that.”
Still, why does it take a whole campaign to convince a company to do the right thing, something it should be doing of its own accord?
Companies don’t realize how widespread the problem is globally and how dire the situation is for many imperiled speciesAs Campaign Officer at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Tracy Coppola was also part of the Etsy effort. She says, “Companies don’t realize how widespread the problem is globally and how dire the situation is for many imperiled species, like the African elephant, and that consumers would be pretty outraged if they realized they were contributing to the potential demise of the species or any type of illegal activity.”
Etsy’s announcement states that its Marketplace Integrity Team has begun reaching out to members whose merchandise may be in breach of this new policy and warns these businesses they may be taken off the site. The company also encourages users to flag any item they believe to be in violation.
Coppola says filters that block results for key words, like the ones used to block child pornography or arms trade, are also important. Another feature websites can incorporate is a pop-up box that informs consumers of the legal and ethical risks they are taking by participating in illegal wildlife trade.
“But it’s not just relying on technologies or certain filters,” Coppola adds. “It’s making sure people are informed of the ramifications of global trade in illegal wildlife products and also products from species that are simply struggling to survive, regardless of their legal status. There needs to be more respect for wild animals—beings which should never be traded in commercial markets in the first place.”
In 2008, Ebay tightened their policies regarding the sale of wildlife and wildlife products, but only after IFAW released its investigative report, “Killing With Keystrokes,” which spotlighted the online giant for harboring links to illegal wildlife trade.
IFAW has taken the occasion of Etsy’s anouncement to issue a press release today calling out Craigslist, Google Shopping, and Bonanza as websites that are still perpetuating the sale of imperiled species. It reads in part, “During a recent one-day investigation of these three sites, IFAW found listings for animal skin rugs, live parrots and a wide array of other wildlife parts.”
Coppola urges readers to contact these websites to let them know their customers don’t want to be affiliated with companies linked to this type of trade. “Because,” she says, “Every little bit counts, every little trinket, little or big, that is sold, whether it be a snow leopard pelt or an ivory brooch.”