This Little Rhino Went to the (Underground) Market…

Illegal Trade in Ivory

The Internet is the world’s largest marketplace. Anything can be bought and sold, and with Internet access available in almost every corner of the earth, many people trade and profit from this wonderful platform. What most people do not realize is that you can buy or sell just about anything online. Sure, there are some obscure memorabilia which can be bought on eBay or its Chinese equivalents, but for more hardcore items, like contraband goods, you have to delve deeper into the web  to understand the scope of the trade.

One such  item is rhino horn. This illustrious item, made of keratin (the same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails) is surreptitiously sought after for ornamental or traditional medicinal purposes in East Asia, specifically Vietnam and China. The rhino horns are removed from slaughtered animals all over Africa, taken to central warehouses and distribution centers and then shipped to the East, toward southeast Asia.

This trade is an ancient one and certainly precedes the Internet, but what is conspicuous today is that the Internet has become an essential virtual marketplace, where distributors, buyers and sellers communicate and trade. One platform where this  is taking place is Baidu Space (百度空间) – a popular online social networking service provided by China’s Internet giant Baidu, which also runs the country’s most popular search engine. There are many active users trade in rhino horns on this platform.

One such user is “zt04010623”. Not much is known about this individual, other than the fact that he is a married male university graduate in his 30’s, living in the Beijing metropolitan area. Messages on zt04010623’s “wall” in his Baidu Space account reveal his extensive engagement in the trade – most address ivory, ivory products and rhinoceros horns. Below are some samples:

A user named ssssssdddddwww asked: “Is it true that you buy ivory carvings? Where?”

A user named SUNTORY19895 wrote: “I’m a bit confused regarding how much I should ask for my ivory necklace. Can you take a look and give me a rough estimate?” 20 days later zt04010623 answered: “Yes, I can. Send it to me and I’ll have a look.”

A user named wwlleon9 asked: “Hello, can you get ivory from abroad?” On June 1, zt04010623 answered: “Ha ha, add my QQ number XXXX (Instant messaging service, popular in China).

A user named “Dark Blue Qinqin (深蓝的钦钦) wrote: “Hello brother, I have two ivory bracelets that my father’s friend brought from Equatorial Guinea when I was little. I have had them for about 15 years now. I heard that you buy, right? I wanted to ask how much? Please let me know. Thanks.”

A user by the name “Private Ivory Art (个体牙艺)13” wrote: “If you need ivory carvings, please contact me.” On January 18, zt04010623 sent his QQ number in response.

A picture of ivory taken from “Private Ivory Art’s” profile
A picture of ivory taken from “Private Ivory Art’s” profile

zt04010623 also shared his photo albums:

Ivory_2

Ivory_3

Ivory_4

In addition to his activity on Baidu Space, zt04010623 is also active on Baidu Knows (百度知道), an extremely popular Web service provided by Baidu where users can raise questions and/or answer them.

Since opening an account in Baidu Space, zt04010623 has already participated in 193 conversations and supplied 212 answers, most of which are related to ivory, ivory products and rhino horns. His intensive participation in these conversations has undoubtedly boosted his reputation as an ivory expert, and therefore many people approach him directly on his personal space with inquiries.

zt04010623 pays particular attention to the following keywords on Baidu Knows: ivory, rhino horns and ivory carvings. For instance, when a user asked: “Where can one buy genuine ivory in Tanggu district?” The next day, zt04010623 answered: “I have a friend who can help you. Please contact me.”

Some parts of the discussions clearly illustrate the illegal nature of the trade, such as a discussion where a user asked: “In which countries does the customs office not forbid importing ivory from countries that manufacture ivory?” zt040100623 answered: “Ha ha, I reckon you should have asked in which county are customs most loose. Go for small countries with unstable regimes, over there, customs exist in name only. Just give them some money and you can pass.”

As this individual shows, this kind of trade blossoms on the Internet, which has made communication between suppliers, sellers/distributors and customers so much easier, and the perceived anonymity of the web allows this illegal trade to take place interrupted, leading to large profits for all involved (all but the poor rhinos, now on the verge of extinction).


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