Sometimes animal conservation can happen in the most unexpected places—even the infamous "missed connections" section of Craigslist.
Last week, online activism network Avaaz launched a new campaign in an attempt to persuade Craigslist to do more to end the sale of elephant ivory on its sites. Along with a petition, which has gathered more than 60,000 signatures at the time this story was published, Avaaz is encouraging supporters to flood Craigslist with fake "missed connections" posts that raise concerns about the sale of ivory.
"Craigslist bans ivory on their site, but without enforcement it's an empty gesture—the company can do much more to monitor sales, and report illegal ivory sales to authorities," Avaaz senior campaigner Joseph Huff-Hannon told me via email.
Huff-Hannon explained that the campaign was inspired by a report published this spring by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) that showed $1.5 million worth of ivory was listed on Craigslist sites in the US.
After signing the petition, Avaaz users land on a page that encourages them to make posts on their local Craigslist's "missed connections" page that criticize the sale of ivory on the site. Plenty of signees have taken up the torch, posting ads that range from cheeky jabs to heartfelt pleas. I did quick search of a few cities and easily found half a dozen ads, like these in Toronto:
Or this one from New York:
And Avaaz sent me a few of their favorites, many of which were quickly flagged and removed by Craigslist, including this one from Ottawa:
and this post in the Missed Connections listings for Vancouver:
It's illegal to buy and sell imported ivory in the US, and while some ivory items, such as antiques that were already in the country prior to 1990, are legal, it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between new, poached ivory and antique items. One report from the National Research Defense Council estimates as much as 90 percent of ivory sold in Los Angeles and San Francisco—two cities that have been identified as some of the largest ivory trade hubs in the country—is illegal.
When the report on Craigslist's ivory listings came out this spring, the site agreed to explicitly ban the sale of any and all ivory from its sites. But other than adding ivory to its list of prohibited items, Craigslist hasn't done much to stop ivory from being listed on its sites, according to Peter LaFontaine, the campaigns officer for the IFAW.
"It's been sort of radio silence since then, which is not totally surprising," LaFontaine told me over the phone. "Craigslist doesn't seem to have done any more when it comes to proactive enforcement. It's funny to hear you say that they're taking down these fake ads in the missed connections, because it'd be nice if they went after the actual ivory posts a little more proactively."
I reached out to Craigslist for comment but have not heard back. We will update this story if Craigslist responds.
LaFontaine said he hadn't heard about Avaaz's campaign until I reached out, but said any efforts to curb the ivory trade are worthwhile and that he was impressed by the number of signatures the petition had drawn. These days, though, IFAW has been much more focused on trying to tighten federal restrictions on the legal ivory trade. Just this past weekend, President Obama revealed newly proposed changes that would limit the sale of elephant ivory across states lines as well as imposed stricter limitations on what kinds of ivory can be sold.
The proposals will undergo a public comment period over the next few months before they become official, and LaFontaine said if people pranking Craigslist are really concerned about ivory sales, they should let the government know during this time, too.
"If you're going to click on two things on the internet, they might as well be something to change corporate behaviour and something to help update the government regulations," he told me. "It's not an either/or thing, necessarily, if people have the attention span for both."