Bellingcat on Animal Trade

How Instagram Celebrities Promote Dubai's Underground Animal Trade

Bellingcat is an independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists using open source and social media investigation to aim for a composition of advanced technology, forensic research, journalism, investigations, transparency and accountability. The collective deals with a variety of political and contested subjects, from use of weapons in the Syrian Civil War to the poisoning of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal. Recently they dived into Dubai’s Animal Trade: How Instagram Celebrities Promote Dubai’s Underground Animal Trade

According to the article, published last week, several emerging celebrities, such as influencers, rappers, business magnates, models, and even a fugitive criminal have all posted images of themselves posing with exotic animals – I mean, who wouldn’t like an adorable white tiger who purrs like a cat in your favourite Instagram influencer’s lap? Well, probably the tiger if it knew better. As Bellingcat explores, some of these animals are brought out for photo shoots several times a month when still young, and end up being kept as pets in private homes, resulting in not only potential legal issues and the questionable well-being of the animals themselves, but also that the trade in exotic animals puts already threatened wildlife populations at risk of poaching.

So who is responsible? According to the article, several pets used as the props of celebrities can be linked with a small group of anonymous individuals who may be engaged in illegally leasing out, and perhaps even selling, exotic animals. However, what moves and fuels the trade is the fact that influencers treat such animals as status items by posing with lion and tiger cubs, and popularize the network by tagging their accounts.

IMPAKT has collaborated with Bellingcat on several occasions, programming presentations and masterclasses on how open source investigation collective Bellingcat contributed to fact-checking and truth-finding in relation to pressing issues. Such as the bootcamp Visualising Data in September 2020 on the “Bellingcat method.” The bootcamp was intended for students, teachers, and recent graduates in design and journalism and organised by IMPAKT i.c.w. Residencies in Utrecht, Journallab and the Fontys Academy of Journalism, with funding from the Dutch Journalism Fund. 

In addition, as part of the 2018 IMPAKT Festival, Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, gave a captivating presentation called ONLINE FACT-CHECKING IN A POST-TRUTH WORLD.

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