CITES Partner Spotlight: INTERPOL’s Project WEB combats online wildlife crime
Following the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW’s) recommendation and with our support INTERPOL undertook Project WEB, an investigation into the online ivory trade within the EU.
The report revealed that there were hundreds of ivory items conservatively valued at approximately EUR 1,450,000 for sale during a two-week period on Internet auction sites in nine European countries.
During this survey of sites by enforcers, more than 660 advertisements for ivory on 61 different auction sites were analysed and 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.
Project WEB by the numbers:
Estimated €1.45 million worth of ivory
Found in 9 Countries
Across 61 auction websites
In 660 online advertisements
Containing 100s of items made from ivory
Over a 2 week period
Leading to 6 national investigations
And 3 international investigations
This week sees the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The 177 countries that are Party to CITES have already agreed, thanks in part to IFAW’s lobbying efforts, to investigate and prosecute wildlife criminals trading online as well as evaluate or develop their domestic measures to ensure they are sufficient to fight online wildlife crime.
While at least one country has strengthened their legislation to specifically target online wildlife crime and a small number of countries have started to develop strategies for tackling illegal wildlife sales on the internet, many more countries need to deliver on their promise and stamp out online wildlife crime.
Since 2004 IFAW has been highlighting the growing global threat posed by online wildlife crime to endangered wildlife. A series of IFAW investigations have repeatedly shown that there are thousands of wild animals and wildlife ‘products’, such as ivory, available for sale on the internet all over the world.
IFAW has found live primates, big cats, birds and reptiles advertised online while animal parts from rhino’s, elephants, sharks, Tibetan antelopes and sturgeon have also been available to purchase on the internet.
In January 2012, IFAW’s online monitoring found 17,847 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 some neighbouring Arab countries in the same year found 796 adverts featuring live wildlife over 11 websites. None of the adverts had any documentary proof to demonstrate that the sales complied with the law.
In Europe an IFAW investigation in 2011 found a thriving trade in ivory items. The investigation tracked 43 sites in the UK, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany for a two-week period and found 669 advertisements for ivory.
The statistics are disturbing but can be hard to comprehend so let me give you one example that shows the horrors of this illegal trade.
In 2010 a British couple admitted 12 counts of illegally exporting, three of illegally importing, seven of illegally selling and two of illegally possessing specimens under the Customs and Excise Management Act.
The couple in question had been selling animal body parts from owls, a baboon, macaque monkeys, a python, an African penguin, an African lion cub and a Malaysian flying fox.
These items were kept in a store room full of skulls and other animal body parts which, when I saw the pictures, made me think it as a room of death for wildlife.
Highlighting the problem of this trade is an important first step but IFAW has been going one stage further and engaging website companies, law enforcers and Governments in our campaign to stamp out online wildlife crime.
After our 2008 Killing with Keystrokes investigation, where we found ivory was the number one wildlife product being traded online, we encouraged eBay to ban the sale of ivory on their websites and IFAW was very pleased to see them announce this ban in January 2009.
Meanwhile other websites have since followed suit including Alibaba (www.taobao.com) in China, the world’s largest business-to-business and outsource portal site for traders.
However, while banning the sale of wildlife products on websites does restrict unscrupulous traders' ability to easily profit from these products, there is clearly a need for enforcers to ramp up their efforts.
We have seen traders time and again attempting to disguise their wildlife products to avoid detection by police, customs or website companies such as eBay.
In addition to working with INTERPOL IFAW is working with enforcement agencies across the world to catch online wildlife criminals by sharing the findings of our online investigations, facilitating international enforcement operations and by bringing together website companies and enforcement agencies in order that they can work in partnership in their fight against illegal wildlife sales on the internet.