The online store Ivory Lane which has caused quite an uproar in Singapore lately for selling ivory products turns out to be an awareness campaign and publicity stunt by World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) in an effort to bring to light Singapore’s lax local wildlife laws.
After receiving hundred of angry comments from users slamming their business, the faux company released a statement just a week after their supposed launch to address the backlash it was receiving from the public for selling ivory products:
“We understand the concerns, and would like to assure [you] that the ivory we use is completely legal in Singapore. The import and export of elephant ivory has been banned internationally since 1990. Ivory lane does not import any new ivory into Singapore. All our ivory products are made from vintage ivory, before 1990”. – Ivory Lane
Predictably, this did little to assuage the anger felt by the public with many users pointing out that ‘a legal loophole doesn’t mean it’s right’.
On 7th August, WWF released a statement to say that they were behind Ivory Lane and that the store is an entirely fictitious creation to “highlight the current shortcomings in local wildlife laws that allow ivory that entered the market before 1990 to be sold in Singapore”.
This deliberate misrepresentation was clearly a stunt – it really could have backfired on them but WWF proved that this time, it worked. The launch of Ivory Lane sparked discussions all around the island, and in fact around the world, about the wildlife trade, national and international legislation, and enforcement of these laws, specifically relating to the ivory trade.
Underlining the lack of clarity in local wildlife laws is a WWF-commissioned survey by third party market research firm, YouGov, which found that only 8% of people in Singapore understand the current legislation on ivory and 50% think that the trade of elephant ivory is already banned in Singapore.
“It is not easy to understand wildlife laws and what is legal and not, a reality that is often misused by illegal traders. The general uncertainty leads to illicit wildlife trade hiding in plain sight. We set up the online shop, Ivory Lane, on the same legal premise that the real ivory traders use to operate in Singapore,” said Ms Elaine Tan, Chief Executive Officer of WWF-Singapore.
WWF emphasised that the recently poached ivory can easily be disguised as vintage ivory and be illicitly traded globally. Their investigations found that over 40 shops in Singapore sells ivory products and there are numerous online listings for those product as well.
Singapore is a major transit country for illegal wildlife trade, due to its strong global connectivity. Since 2000, Singapore has seized 13 tonnes of ivory. In addition, at least 14 large-scale ivory seizures around the world have linked Singapore to the ivory trade chain route. Just this March,
Just this March, AVA officers at Pasir Panjang Scanning Station gound over 60 bags filled with around 1,787 piece of ivory tusks weighing approximately 3,500kg. That’s about 900 or more endangered elephants that suffered and were probably killed for these tusks. Just take a moment to think about that.
Whether or not this stunt was the right way to go about raising awareness on the issue of illegal ivory trade in Singapore is up for debate. Personally, I think the old addage of ‘even bad press is good press’ applies here. WWF’s approach may have rubbed many people the wrong way but at least it’s sparked real discussion among the public and even policy makers on what Singapore can do to really clamp down on this very real and terribly disturbing trade.
WWF-Singapore is encouraging members of the public to do their part in fighting against wildlife crime by providing anonymous tip-offs on suspicious and illegal activities on the wildlife trade at virtualranger.wwf.sg. Reports to the site will help enforcement agencies to track and shut down illegal markets in accordance with national and international laws.