SOLVE magazine Issue 03 2021 | Page 23

The online illegal wildlife trade is greatly disturbing .
– Caroline Cox
gets registered , and it cannot be sold without certification from a panel of experts .”
While still recognising that some ivory is culturally and historically important , and “ there is artistic ivory out there that needs to be preserved ,” Ms Cox ’ s focus is on closing loopholes that allow new ivory to be traded under the pre-1947 guise .
Despite a bevy of unsuccessful legal challenges by industry groups over the past three years , the Ivory Act 2018 is now on track for implementation , thanks in large part to citation of Ms Cox ’ s research in the Court of Appeal decision . This success has led the team to consider tackling larger issues of concern and wider regulation .
“ The online illegal wildlife trade is greatly disturbing ,” Cox says .
With the COVID-19 pandemic halting face-toface interactions , online trade and demand for ivory products ( and other illegal wildlife products ) has skyrocketed in places such as Laos , Vietnam and Thailand , and online sellers are becoming savvier : auction sites and sales platforms feature euphemisms for ivory products with scant product description . This ensures listings are not flagged , and when posted alongside high-quality photography featuring Schreger lines , indicates to buyers that real ivory is on offer .
“ Schreger lines are the crosshatching of ivory ,” Cox explains . “ When you look at a piece of cutthrough ivory , these crosshatchings are easy to spot and unique to ivory .”
This online boom has led to MS Cox to explore a partnership with the University of Portsmouth ’ s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation , specifically looking at using its software to apply machine learning techniques to Ms Cox ’ s enormous library of pictures of ivory slices and crosshatchings with a view to trawl the internet for similar images and identify illegal online sellers .
With a small amount of funding and a pilot programme with the Metropolitan Police underway , Ms Cox believes that this new research can prove a failsafe way of finding ivory online , just from a posted picture . This could remove the financial and budgetary burden of manual detection on law enforcement , train British agencies to improve responsiveness to illegal sellers and have implications for mainstream platforms such as Facebook and ebay . Ms Cox ’ s “ small project ” has grown considerably in magnitude and impact . Her research and legislative initiatives are now working together “ to tackle some of the issues that I ’ ve been thinking about for so long – and want people to think about ”, she says .
“ Climate change , wildlife preservation – it ’ s more than just iconic species , it ’ s all around you . Do you want to benefit from that , do you want your children to benefit from that ? There has got to be proper workable legislation in place that helps with this preservation – that would be my number one top rallying call .”
More information :
• Ivory Project ’ s research , visit port . ac . uk / ivoryproject

25min On average one African elephant is killed by poachers every 25 minutes

20 %

The overall African elephant population plummeted by more than 20 % between 2006 and 2015 , falling to an estimated 415,000

£ 17bn The international trade in illegal ivory is estimated to be worth £ 17 billion each year .

ISSUE 03 / 2021