The internet is the world’s largest marketplace. Largely unregulated, anonymous, open 24 hours a day and virtually unlimited in reach, it offers endless opportunities for criminal activities, among them a flourishing illegal trade in protected wildlife.

IFAW’s investigations of this trade continue to reveal a shocking array of wildlife and wildlife products for sale online.

In 2014, IFAW conducted four separate investigations into online wildlife trade.  What we found was a murky multi-million dollar trade in wild animals and their parts that is booming over online marketplaces -- and many questions about the legality of hundreds of advertisements offering endangered species for sale.

Wanted – Dead or Alive, Exposing Online Wildlife Trade (2014)

An exhaustive six-week investigation found a staggering 33,006 endangered wildlife and wildlife products for sale via 280 online marketplaces across 16 countries. More than 32 per cent of the items for sale were ivory or suspected ivory, while reptiles came in a close second at 26 percent. Live animals were featured in 54 percent of the ads.

The number and value of the items investigated totaled nearly US$11 million. Like it or not, much of the online and offline trade in wildlife and their parts is completely legal, but our investigators had grave concerns that a significant number of advertisements had been placed by wildlife cybercriminals. Therefore our investigators submitted almost 13 percent of the advertisements to law enforcers for further investigation.

Bidding Against Survival: The Elephant Poaching Crisis and the Role of Auctions in the U.S. Ivory Market (2014)

In the US, an investigation into the sale of ivory via auctions, including 340 online auctions, found only one of the 351 auctions investigated provided documentation to authenticate the provenance, age or legality of the ivory offered for sale.

Click to Delete, Australia (2014), Click to Delete, New Zealand (2014)

In 2014, IFAW Oceania investigated the sale of endangered wildlife on online marketplaces accessible in Australia and New Zealand. They found a wide variety of species available, most of them offered on two of Australia’s most popular trading websites, despite those sites having policies that prohibit trade in endangered and protected species. The report revealed a  266 per cent increase in the number of ads for endangered wildlife since comparable research in 2008.

IFAW has worked with several major online marketplaces to stop ivory sales.

In 2009, eBay, Inc. banned the sale of all ivory items on its platforms worldwide after consultations with IFAW. Other websites have since followed suit including Alibaba and Taobao in China, which have banned a variety of wildlife products. In July 2014, Etsy adopted a complete ban on wildlife life products.

The Internet offers access to a pool of potential wildlife buyers that is far larger than the traditional marketplaces. At a time when wildlife poaching levels are alarmingly high, with reports of more than 100,000 elephants killed for their ivory in just three years,  more than 1,000 rhinos poached in South Africa alone in 2013, and nearly one in five of the world’s lizard, snake, turtle and other reptile species threatened with extinction, cybercrime is a growing threat.

Online marketplaces need to protect endangered wildlife by working with law enforcers to catch wildlife cybercriminals, banning the sale of goods made from endangered wildlife and informing customers about the poaching crisis and the laws against illegal trade.

In addition, governments need to introduce stronger legislation to combat online wildlife crime and must support their enforcement agencies in their efforts to ensure that wildlife cybercriminals are apprehended and prosecuted.

Other Resources:

IFAW investigates online trade in protected and endangered species in various countries. Where possible findings are shared with law enforcers to provide them information that may lead to enforcement actions including prosecutions. We communicate our findings with online marketplaces to help them improve measures to prevent trade in protected and endangered animals. Our research methods are based on the experience gained by supporting many law enforcers; NB our assessments are based on individual offers for sale not definitive evidence of criminal activity.