INTERPOL research says illegal wildlife trade exists on Darknet

INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation found 21 advertisements for wildlife products, 15 of which were for rhino horn products, such as the ones pictured here.An INTERPOL report has found that some wildlife criminals are turning to the Darknet in their attempts to traffic products made from rhinos, elephants and tigers.

Experts from the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation found 21 advertisements for wildlife products, 15 of which were for rhino horn products, eight for ivory and three for tiger parts being offered for sale on the Darknet, an alternative worldwide computer network with restricted access, which is used chiefly for illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. The research took place between December 2016 and April 2017 and included advertisements dating back to 2015.

However, the scale of the trade in endangered wildlife may be greater than this report would suggest as many other threatened species fell outside the scope of the research.

The research was funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the US Department of State and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

Since 2004, IFAW has been working hard to prevent wildlife traffickers from using the world’s largest marketplace – the Internet – to profit from the death and suffering of some of our most endangered and iconic species. During this time, IFAW has been able to shows that tens of thousands of endangered and threatened animals and their parts and products are regularly traded over online marketplaces, day in and day out. We have flagged the emerging threat of trade shifting to social media platforms where it is harder to identify and police.

While highlighting the threat, we have introduced strategies to close down these markets, and IFAW has had a lot of success along the way.

As a direct result of our campaigning, a growing number of online technology companies are banning the trade in endangered species on their sites. Most recently, seven companies - including eBay, Etsy, Gumtree, Microsoft, Pinterest, Tencent and Yahoo! - adopted the new TRAFFIC, WWF and IFAW standardised policy framework in August 2016.

READ: Governments, online companies, NGOs join forces in the fight against wildlife cybercrime

Meanwhile, there have been multiple enforcement operations targeting wildlife cybercriminals including Operation Thunderbird, a global wildlife crime operation held over a period of three weeks in January and February 2017, which ensured that investigating online marketplaces and social media was an integrated part of the operation.

At the same time, we have seen policy makers address this issue head on. Online wildlife trafficking has been elevated to the largest international conservation forum -the Convention in International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). At the last CITES Conference of the Parties in September 2016, all 183 Parties to the convention adopted a new decision that seeks to capture changes to legislation, establish best practise models, develop enforcement guidelines, and engage with online technology companies. In addition, the governments of the Czech Republic , France and China have added clauses to their wildlife legislation that address the threats posed by illegal online wildlife trade, with the UK set to follow suit.

While we are proud of these achievements, we are aware that the battle is not yet won. In order to be effective at shutting down virtual markets that are being exploited by unscrupulous wildlife cybercriminals, we must have a thorough and accurate understanding of where they are operating. INTERPOL’s research on the Darknet has provided us with an important part of the puzzle: It shows us that this underground online marketplace could be an emerging threat to wildlife, and enforcers must remain vigilant.

However, it also highlights that the actions taken by enforcers and online technology companies collectively have not been enough to drive traffickers off these platforms and onto the Darknet en masse. We must fight this fight on all virtual fronts, and prevent online marketplaces, social media platforms and the Darknet from being a safe haven for wildlife cybercriminals.

--TM-C

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