Earlier this week, the New York Times published a heartrending account of the illegal ape trade, where gorillas, chimps, or orangutans are traded on a black market “that has captured or killed tens of thousands of apes and pushed some endangered species to the brink of extinction.” These days, the trading isn’t initiated in some back alley or musty basement, but facilitated on apps like WhatsApp and Instagram.
The poachers set up social media accounts, post photos of animals like baby chimpanzees and orangutans–sometimes dressed in children’s clothing–and offer them for sale. A detective working with the Times found one Instagram account offering dozens of rare animals.
Instagram, for its part, says it was shocked by the allegations after hearing about them in the report. “It is heartbreaking to hear when our platform is being used to traffic and sell wild animals,” a spokesperson tells Fast Company. “This illegal behavior is prohibited on Instagram and we will remove violating content or accounts.”
“Animals are an important and fun part of the Instagram community,” the spokesperson added.
While Instagram’s policy is to remove any reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species or the sale of animals for organized fighting, due to the size of their operation, the Facebook-owned site relies on the community to police bad behavior. When a photo that violates its terms is reported, it gets pulled.
With luck, we’ll see a more proactive approach soon. A person familiar with the matter said Instagram is investigating the ape-trafficking problem that was reported in the Times. The site is also working with animal protection organizations to better understand the issues at play and come up with ways to educate Instagram users about animal welfare.