SINGAPORE - A Singapore online store which claimed to sell "vintage" ivory has drawn outrage from hundreds online, but it has turned out to be part of a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore campaign to raise awareness on the ivory trade.
Ivory Lane Singapore, which launched on Facebook last Tuesday (July 31), supposedly sold accessories made from elephant ivory. It included professionally shot videos and photographs of models wearing the accessories, and prices ranged from $160 for a pair of earrings to $800 for a necklace.
The products were "inspired by the luxury of nature and heritage" according to the website, adding that "ivory is a secret desire for most girls".
The fictitious online shop, which The WWF on Tuesday (Aug 07) admitted is part of a campaign against the ivory trade, sparked uproar almost immediately after it went live, with netizens accusing it of supporting the slaughter of elephants.
In response to the criticism, Ivory Lane "posted" on Facebook on Monday (Aug 6) that "the ivory we use is completely legal in Singapore" because it is "vintage ivory, before 1990". Singapore has banned the commercial import and export of ivory since 1990, though the selling and buying of ivory in Singapore is still allowed.
But the outrage only intensified. Facebook user Joshua Kho posted: "A legal loophole does not make the ivory trade ethical."
Demand for ivory, especially in Asia, has led to the decline in elephant numbers around the world.
Within six days of launching, Ivory Lane's website and social media accounts reached 250,000 people and garnered 65,000 reactions.
The reaction to the site drew the attention of international media. News wire agency Agence France-Presse, in a report titled "Singapore uproar over store selling ivory jewellery", quoted Mr Jason Baker, a spokesman for campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as questioning who would want to collect "fragments of a tortured, dead elephant".
On Tuesday (Aug 7), just before midnight, WWF updated the Ivory Lane website to say it had been behind the shop. It told The Straits Times that as the sale of ivory is not completely illegal in Singapore, it set up Ivory Lane "to highlight this shortcoming in local wildlife laws".
WWF Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan added: "The overwhelming and strong response by people in Singapore towards Ivory Lane has made it very clear that people in Singapore have a zero tolerance toward illegal wildlife trade. We are due for clear and strong legislation to address ivory and illegal wildlife trade in Singapore."
It is not the first time that fake advertising campaigns raised eyebrows in Singapore.
Two years ago, hundreds of fans of actress Rebecca Lim and the media fell for an Instagram post that she had put up in which she implied that she was retiring from show business. When NTUC Income later admitted it was part of a campaign to remind young Singaporeans to plan financially for retirement, both Lim and the insurance company faced a backlash from the public.
In 2010, Singapore Post apologised for its publicity campaign that involved a masked man openly defacing six post boxes over the New Year weekend. The "vandalism spree" had sparked a furore among Singaporeans - initially surrounding the blatant vandalism and, after it was revealed to be a publicity stunt, the wrong message being sent. Police, who were called in to investigate, also said that this had "caused unnecessary public alarm and wasted valuable resources".
Public relations practitioner Luenne Choa said that WWF's shock campaign was a high-risk strategy. "In this instance it's good that they got all this attention, but they need to sustain the movement of their campaign and show that real change will occur."
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) founder Louis Ng said: " I share the public's and charity's concern about a complete ivory ban in Singapore."
Mr Ng, who is also an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said: "I've raised this issue in Parliament and I'm glad that we are committed to a domestic ban on the ivory trade and are working out the implementation details. I'm hopeful we will implement this ban soon and will continue to speak up about the issue of tackling wildlife crime."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.