The Internet is the world's largest marketplace. 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 2008, IFAW undertook a groundbreaking investigation into online wildlife trade. We reviewed 183 publicly accessible websites in 11 countries, looking at both wildlife product and live animal trade in species –.
The findings, published in the report Killing with Keystrokes: An Investigation of the Illegal Wildlife Trade on the World Wide Web (2008), recorded over 7,000 online auctions, advertisements and classifieds, with an advertised value of US $3.87m. The report also identified ivory as a major area for trade, representing more than 73 percent of the activity monitored.
In January 2012, IFAW’s online monitoring found nearly 18,000 ivory products listed on 13 Chinese websites, even though none of these products had the necessary government approval. Meanwhile, a four-week investigation in the United Arab Emirates and neighbouring Arab countries in 2012 found 796 adverts featuring live wildlife. None of the adverts had any documentary proof to demonstrate that the sales complied with the law.
In Europe an investigation in 2011 found a thriving trade in ivory items – the legality of most of which was questionable. The investigation tracked 43 sites in the UK, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany for a two-week period and found 669 advertisements for ivory. A shocking 98 per cent of adverts failed to comply with website policies or provide evidence of legality.
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 about the results of our ground-breaking investigation, Killing with Keystrokes, singled out eBay as the largest problematic platform.
Killing with Keystrokes tracked more than 7,000 wildlife product listings over a three-month period on 183 websites in 11 countries and singled out eBay as the largest problematic platform.
The number of ivory items subsequently found on eBay sites has reduced significantly, although there is evidence that some sellers are deliberately trying to circumvent the ban by disguising their ivory items.
IFAW’s ongoing work with other major online marketplaces has resulted in Alibaba (www.alibaba.com), the world’s largest online business-to-business trading platform, and the German sites kleinanzeigen.ebay.de (a subsidiary of eBay), markt.de and hood.de all implementing a ban on all ivory products.
In China, IFAW implements the ARREST program focusing on the reduction of online wildlife trade. IFAW monitors wildlife markets online and offline, provides information to assist law enforcement, and urges market places to install policies banning the trade of endangered species.
Building upon IFAW’s prior research regarding online trade in ivory in Europe, in 2013 INTERPOL released a report regarding an investigation of ivory trade online in nine European countries, called Project Web.
During the operation, enforcers reviewed publicly available online advertisements and found hundreds of ivory items conservatively valued at approximately EUR 1,450,000 for sale during a two-week period. As a result of the surveillance, six national and three international investigations were launched in cases where ivory was described as new or where ivory was being traded from abroad.
The Project Web report called for new legislation and additional funding to help enforcers crack down on illegal wildlife trade.
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.