Using Chinese technology innovations to protect wildlife

This screen grab above, translated with Google Translate, notes Sogou is working with IFAW to warn to anyone searching for "ivory" on their site that elephants die when they buy.Vast throngs of Chinese are very technologically savvy.

Chinese tech companies are capitalizing on the fact that 632 million Chinese -nearly twice as many as the entire US population - are now on the web.

According to the latest data from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), of these hundreds of millions of users, 83 percent said they accessed the Internet through their mobile phones, overtaking access via personal computers for the first time.

But these audiences are not using the same platforms as the rest of the world uses.

Because of restrictions on Facebook and Twitter in China, a number of tech giants—some of whom can be major players without venturing too far out of China—have stepped up to meet the needs of these hundreds of millions of people.

Sina Weibo, commonly referred to as the “Twitter of China,” is actually much more than its Western counterpart. It has more than twice as many users as Twitter, and boasts more functionality because it has no Facebook to compete against.

WeChat, a popular mobile app, is also popular in Asia. I liken it to a hybrid of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, with the capacity to chat, simultaneously audio and texting, with groups of all your friends.

Whether it be in online communities, commerce sites, or multi-functional social media offerings, the opportunities for pushing out relevant and compelling messages of our wildlife trade reduction campaigns to China’s netizens seem to be limitless.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s digital strategy in China must thus pay close attention to the dynamics of Chinese netizen behavior and culture and take action when and where appropriate.

Media giant and Chinese language search engine Sougo, which can reach more than a billion people, has been a valued partner in this strategy. In November last year, Sougo featured our “Mom, I Have Teeth” campaign as the site skin for three straight days.

A few weeks later Sougo launched a special feature on their search engine that will continue in perpetuity. If you search the Chinese word for “elephant ivory”, you get a pop-up warning not to buy ivory and links to IFAW’s campaign site.

You can see it in action here.

At the same time, they launched their own version of the Mom, I Have Teeth campaign. Fully functional on WeChat, the interactive vignette—which you move forward with a simple swipe of the finger—went viral in a matter of hours. As of last count it had been forwarded through WeChat 375,000 times (after you are finished, a number pops up telling you how many times the story had been forwarded).

It is increasingly important to be present on WeChat. We have found in our research that wildlife trade transactions themselves are migrating away from traditional online media and are being carried out on mobile app networks like WeChat.

Government media portal is also working with us. In our latest campaign featuring Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), if you take a picture of a QR code, you can send it with to make a pledge to not buy ivory and protect elephants.

This is not the first time, however, that we have utilized a QR code to drive users to particular sites.

When Chinese Lunar calendar rang in the Year of the Horse a year ago, IFAW’s mini campaign “Give Peace to Elephants, Say No to Ivory Gifting” captured over 27,000 pledges from netizens, reaching 500,000 people on Weibo in one short week.

Technology innovations not only are helping IFAW broaden campaign reach, they can also efficiently gather and analyze online behavioral data. Using big data, our partners are also helping IFAW evaluate the effectiveness of our campaigns.

Our partnerships with media and technology companies have always been crucial in the success of our campaigns. Our work with Alibaba and its Chinese subsidiary Taobao allowed the two Chinese sites to ban ivory before Western auction juggernaut eBay did. Lead by Alibaba and Taobao, more and more e-commerce companies are taking a zero tolerance policy against the trade of endangered species.

We will continue to reach out to and form partnerships with technology companies in a variety of capacities to ensure that we are fighting wildlife trade in the most effective and efficient ways possible.


For more information about IFAW effort to combat wildlife trade, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy