A report released today by INTERPOL with support from The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) revealed 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.
The survey of Internet sites was conducted by agencies responsible for wildlife crime enforcement in participating countries including environmental departments, high-tech crime departments, criminal assets departments and INTERPOL or Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) authorities.
This report comes as representatives from European countries attend the global CITES conference in Bangkok (3 – 14 March) to discuss issues related to international wildlife trade and species protection. In 2010, CITES approved a resolution that countries “evaluate or develop their domestic measures to ensure that they are sufficient to address the challenges of controlling legal wildlife trade, investigating illegal wildlife trade and punishing perpetrators.”
“The CITES resolution was an important step toward demonstrating international commitment to combatting wildlife crime online. The collaboration by enforcement authorities on INTERPOL’s Project Web initiative marks another important step toward the kind of coordinated effort it is going to take on the part of us all to shut down this devastating trade,” said Azzedine Downes, President and CEO of IFAW.
“This international investigation into the online trade in ivory is the first of its kind and shows that law enforcers will work together to catch those seeking to profit from trading illegally in ivory. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed each year for their ivory, and it is essential that police and customs step up their fight against illegal online ivory sales both in Europe and around the world,” said Tania McCrea-Steele, IFAW Senior Prosecutions Officer.
“INTERPOL recognises that illegal ivory trade is one of the biggest threats to elephants in the wild, and we are encouraged that enforcement agencies across Europe have joined in this effort to enhance our collaboration and response to this grave problem. Enforcement of online wildlife crime is in its infancy and presents new challenges, which is why it is important to implement this report’s recommendations,” explained David Higgins, Manager of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme.
As prior IFAW investigations have indicated that ivory is the most widely traded wildlife product on the Internet, ivory was suggested as a focus for Project Web’s investigation. During the survey of sites by law enforcement, more than 660 advertisements for ivory on 61 different auction sites were analysed and estimated to have a total volume of approximately 4,500 kilograms.
Project Web marks the first time that international enforcement agencies have collaborated with INTERPOL on an Internet wildlife trade investigation, having for focus the improvement of investigation and prosecution protocols and collaboration.
Law enforcement participants in the Project Web survey identified a lack of legislation governing Internet trade of ivory and other wildlife products as an obstacle to investigation and prosecution. Specifically, sellers are not required to post documentation proving the legality of the ivory item for sale. In many countries, law enforcement would need to obtain a warrant to get the seller’s contact information and determine the legality of the ivory. A simple change in legislation requiring sellers to post documentation of their ivory item’s legality would greatly enhance enforcement capabilities.
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 calls for specific e-commerce legislation regulating wildlife trade to be introduced in the EU. In addition, it recommends the establishment of multi-agency National Environmental Security Task Forces in EU member countries to tackle environmental crime.
Project Web is supported by IFAW, which has been working with INTERPOL to combat wildlife crime since 2006. Project Web falls within the wider scope of INTERPOL’s Project Wisdom, which is designed to support and enhance governance and law enforcement capacities for the conservation of elephants and rhinoceroses in the wild.
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About IFAW (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.