China increases enforcement of illegal trade of wildlife on the Internet

Monday, February 4, 2008
Beijing, China
A new report released by IFAW (www.ifaw.org) has led to increased law enforcement dedicated to cracking down on illegal trade in wildlife and their parts and derivatives on the Internet. Using the data provided by the IFAW investigative report, the Chinese CITES Management Authority (CNMA) tasked with implementing decisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species organized a series of investigations into Web sales of wildlife products. As a result of these investigations, conducted in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, including the Forestry Police, the Public Security Bureau and Customs, several Web auction sites selling wildlife products were shut down.
But the fundamental challenges of combating this illegal trade, including the lack of a legal framework governing Internet trade, the anonymous nature of the Internet and the exponential explosion of Internet usage, remain.
 
“Illegal wildlife trade on the Internet is a global problem,” sais Dr. Meng Xianlin, Director of the China CITES Management Authority, who hailed the IFAW report for providing data invaluable to law enforcement. “To better implement CITES and reduce trade pressure on endangered species, collecting information on the species traded and methods of trading helps law enforcement agencies tremendously in confronting this enormous and emerging challenge.”
 
By monitoring the four main Web auction sites in China between February and December 2007, IFAW was able to identify 1,973 items representative of 30 species of wildlife protected in China’s Wildlife Protection Law and/or CITES Appendices. Products illegally traded online include tiger bone products, those containing musk deer, fashion items made of elephant ivory, rhino horn, Tibetan antelope horn and live animals sold as pets such as monkeys, foxes and birds of prey. Many of the auction sites are also linked with actual physical shops. The trade is domestic as well as international, making enforcement difficult, as laws governing international transactions may be different from domestic laws.
 
Using the information compiled in the IFAW report, Chinese law enforcement agencies were able to crack down on the sellers of these illegal products. IFAW had simultaneously provided the results of the report to the site owners of the illegal listings; one site alone had a total of 1,377 illegal items posted at the time of the investigation of which 961 of these were terminated.
 
“We applaud this successful law enforcement initiative – one that has put an end to 80% of the illegal wildlife trade on the Internet, said Grace Gabriel, IFAW’s Asia Regional Director. “We are particularly pleased that many Web sites have taken the initiative towards self-regulation.”
 
Last January, IFAW supported the first workshop on Internet Wildlife Trade, held in Hangzhou, China, where all relevant law enforcement agencies and main Web sites in China discussed strategies for addressing this new challenge in protecting endangered species.
 
Taking advantage of the fast, convenient and anonymous nature of Internet trade, criminals have identified numerous ways to evade the law. One tactic is to mix fake products with authentic ones, which puts the burden of proof on law enforcement agencies.  “While we will continue to provide monitoring information to help law enforcement, we do hope that the law can be strengthened to hold wildlife criminals accountable for their false advertising and labeling practices. This law would motivate the enforcement agencies and make the work of fighting wildlife crime more efficient,” added Gabriel.

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