Online sting brings illegal wildlife traders to justice; IFAW applauds efforts of Operation Cyberwild
Today, federal and California law enforcement officials filed charges against several people who were caught during “Operation Cyberwild.” The online sting, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game last summer, targeted individuals in Southern California and southwestern Nevada who were illegally selling wildlife through Internet-based marketplaces such as Craigslist.org.
Paul Todd, Program Manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW; www.ifaw.org) released the following statement about “Operation Cyberwild”:
“IFAW congratulates the Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of California for bringing online traffickers of illegal wildlife to justice. We have been investigating the online trade in wildlife products in the U.S. and around the world for almost 10 years now, and have come to the conclusion again and again that the Internet could easily be a conduit for wildlife crime. We are glad that U.S. law enforcement officials have taken the next step and confirmed our conclusions, as well as put potential e-traffickers of illegal wildlife on notice that their nefarious activities will not be tolerated.
Investigating the Internet for criminal activities is not easy, as we know well, so we admire the USFWS agents and team who conducted this investigation so skillfully. Wildlife crime poses a major threat to endangered species such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers that are being slaughtered mercilessly for their tusks, horns, bones, skins, and myriad of other body parts to feed what is essentially an unnecessary luxury trade in vanishing species.
We hope Operation Cyberwild serves as a wake-up call to Internet-based marketplaces, the U.S. and other countries’ governments, and international institutions such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), that the Internet wildlife trade must be addressed if we are to save these animals from extinction at the hands of poachers and their worldwide criminal trade networks.”
Since 2004, IFAW has conducted seven investigations of illegal wildlife trade on the Internet. Some of them have spanned months and been global in nature; others have been two- to four-week “snapshots” to assess and follow-up on the extent of illegal wildlife trade in specific national online markets. The results of this research indicate that the Internet has become a major potential pipeline for illegal trade in ivory and other wildlife products from vulnerable and endangered wild animals.
IFAW believes that some of the characteristics of online auction sites and marketplaces—always open, unregulated and anonymous—have made them an ideal conduit for the illicit trade in wildlife, a global trade that some officials estimate may be worth US$20 billion annually.
In 2009, eBay, Inc. banned the sale of all ivory items on their platforms worldwide after consultations with IFAW regarding the results of its ground-breaking investigation, Killing with Keystrokes: An Investigation of the Illegal Wildlife Trade on the World Wide Web. The report followed a three-month investigation that tracked more than 7,000 wildlife product listings on 183 web sites in 11 countries.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.