Poachers Aren’t Going to ‘Like’ These Tech Companies Teaming Up to Fight the Ivory Trade

Facebook, Google, and eBay are joining Warren Buffett and environmental groups in a campaign to stop wildlife trafficking.
(Photo: Jesse Desjardins/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)
Aug 11, 2015· 2 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

Feeling lucky, poachers?

Google is joining Facebook, eBay, Warren Buffett, the United States government and environmental groups in a new effort to fight the illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns, tiger bones, and other products driving wildlife toward extinction.

The goal of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance is to raise awareness about wildlife trafficking and reduce Americans’ demand for products that promote poaching. The alliance also aims to give companies the tools they need to make sure they’re not selling, shipping, or otherwise enabling the sales of illegal wildlife-related products.

“I think many of us feel there is a moment in time here,” said Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation, one of the nonprofits that have teamed up to form the alliance. “We feel we are nearing a tipping point that would get wildlife numbers headed in the right direction again, but we need a surge in awareness and action to get definitively over that hump. We need to focus people now and get this done.”

Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, praised the new alliance last week, saying in a statement, “There is no question that how we deal with wildlife trafficking activities here in the United States will have an enormous influence on our global success in dealing with the crisis.”

RELATED: Here’s What the U.S. Can Do Right Now to Help End Poaching

The alliance comes at a critical time for species such as lions, which conservationists fear could be extinct by the year 2050, and elephants, which are being poached at a rate of nearly 100 a day.

That means time is of the essence.

“The alliance is not meant to have long-term goals or even exist long-term,” Bergin said. “If this thing becomes too long-term, by definition we will have failed.”

He said the most immediate goal is to educate the American public about the problem and get them to take action. “We want to create a mass movement in American society, where the average person on the street is aware of the poaching and trafficking issue and stands up to say this is not acceptable and it must stop.”

The alliance’s first actions focus on getting the word out with the help of its corporate partners. Google built the alliance’s website, and the search engine’s marketing team (along with those of Facebook and eBay) is working on an anti-trafficking awareness campaign to engage the public.

Meanwhile, Tiffany & Co. and two other jewelry companies owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway have committed to keeping ivory out of their supply chains, something the alliance hopes will become an industry standard.

Bergin said that’s just the first step and the alliance will be reaching out to additional corporate partners. “For example, we want shipping and transportation companies to be more rigorous in ensuring that they are not transporting illegal wildlife products,” he said. “We will want fashion and media companies to help mobilize their customers and users not to consume wildlife products, and to support bans on the sale of ivory in their states.”

Beyond that, he said the alliance hopes to inspire other ideas for protecting wildlife. “I think it’s likely that companies and individuals will have ideas for things they can do that the NGOs and government departments would have never thought of.”

Other alliance members include the National Geographic Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, along with the Paul G. Allen Foundation. Additional collaborators are expected to be announced at a meeting at the White House this fall.