IFAWs latest report on online wildlife trade highlights the scale and nature of advertisements in four key countries

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Research conducted in France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom found almost one-fifth of the posts offering ivory or suspected ivory products 

Disrupt: Wildlife Cybercrime – Uncovering the scale of online wildlife trade – released today by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – highlights the vast quantity of live animals and their body parts available for sale online and the threat this poses to their survival. The latest in a long line of research, this report also details the challenges and opportunities faced by conservationists, governments and the private sector in putting an end to wildlife cybercrime.

Over a six week period in 2017, with a focus on France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, IFAW’s team of experts and researchers uncovered that thousands of live imperiled animals and animal products were offered for sale online. IFAW identified 5,381 advertisements spread across 106 online marketplaces and social media platforms, cataloguing 11,772 specimens of imperiled species worth US $3,942,329 million.

“For the first time in Europe, IFAW investigated the burgeoning wildlife trade on social media,” said IFAW Wildlife Crime Program Director Rikkert Reijnen. “While this represents a small percentage of overall online trade, we caution that there is reason to believe it is just the tip of the iceberg with traffickers likely to be operating in closed groups.

Disrupt: Wildlife Cybercrime reveals that the online trade in ivory or suspected ivory remains a persistent problem, with almost one-fifth of the advertisements found offering ivory or suspected ivory products. Additionally, live animals made up the overwhelming majority (80%) of specimens, demonstrating the popularity of owning exotic animals such as tortoises, parrots, owls, primates and even big cats as pets. Reptiles, particularly live tortoises and turtles, were by far the most prevalent, representing 45% of wildlife specimens identified in the report. Almost a quarter of the remaining specimens were birds, including imperiled African grey parrots. Specimens from other mammals including cats, primates, bears and rhinos were also identified.

“The illegal wildlife trade represents a multifaceted threat to animal life and must be met with a comprehensive response,” added Reijnen. “With the release of this report, IFAW remains committed to bringing key stakeholders together from both the private and public sector to provide information, education and support in the fight against cybercrime because – put simply – it takes a network to defeat a network.”

“For governments around the world, it means allocating enforcement resources to identify and prosecute wildlife cybercriminals. For the private sector, it means online marketplaces and social media platforms ensure their sites are a no-go zone for wildlife traffickers seeking to abuse their platforms for profit. And consumers can help by serving as the eyes and ears in this effort, reporting potentially illegal advertisements and posts to the companies where they are hosted,” said Reijnen.

Through IFAW’s leadership, 15 online technology companies have adopted wildlife policies and – in March 2018 – IFAW, WWF and TRAFFIC launched the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online with 21 founding companies. Together, they aim to develop an industry-wide approach to reduce wildlife trafficking online by 80% by 2020.

“Distinguishing legal from illegal trade is extremely challenging for researchers, enforcers and online marketplaces alike,” said IFAW Global Wildlife Cybercrime Project Lead Tania McCrea-Steele. “However, our work, alongside this report, shows that by working in partnership with them, we have been successful in driving down trade on certain platforms.”

eBay, one of the world’s largest online marketplaces, is an IFAW partner, founding member of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, and an early adopter of strict policies targeting illegal wildlife sellers. As Wolfgang Weber – Head of Global Regulation at eBay stated, “eBay remains committed to protecting the world’s most endangered and threatened species. Through our continued dedication to this worldwide issue, we prevented or removed more than 45,000 listings last year that violated wildlife trade policies. Maintaining a close relationship with IFAW, as well as partnering with peers on initiatives such as the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, is resulting in powerful and effective means to achieve sustainable results.”

Download IFAW's report, Disrupt: Wildlife Cybercrime.


About IFAW

Founded in 1969, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a global non-profit organisation that protects animals and the places they call home. With offices in 15 countries and projects in over 40, we rescue, rehabilitate and release animals into secure landscapes around the world. In collaboration with both governments and local communities, our experienced campaigners, legal and political experts, and internationally acclaimed scientists pioneer lasting solutions to some of the most pressing animal welfare and wildlife conservation issues of our time.

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