The Internet is the world's largest marketplace. Unregulated, anonymous and virtually unlimited in reach, it offers endless opportunities for criminal activities, among them a flourishing illegal trade in protected wildlife. IFAW’s investigations of this trade have revealed a shocking array of wildlife and wildlife products for sale online.

Among them:

  • Elephant ivory
  • Tiger bags, tiger-bone medicine and even a live ‘pet’ tiger, as well as cheetah coats and leopard skins
  • Products made from rhino horns and elephant parts
  • Whole shells and jewelry items made from the endangered hawksbill turtle
  • An emerging market in endangered birds and their eggs
  • Live primates for sale, including one gorilla offered by a seller claiming to be in London, and four baby chimpanzees
  • Traditional bear bile medicines ‘farmed’ in the most cruel ways from the black bear
  • Shahtoosh shawls made from the wool of an endangered Tibetan antelope--which the sale or purchase of is illegal.
  • Live reptiles and their skins, many from endangered or protected species

IFAW Investigations into online wildlife trade

IFAW’s first investigation into Internet trade in 2004 uncovered a thriving trade in ivory in the United Kingdom. A 2007 follow-up report focusing specifically on ivory trade on eBay found 2,275 ivory items for sale on eight national eBay websites in a single week.

IFAW undertook yet another investigation into Internet trade in 2008 into 183 publicly accessible websites in 11 countries, looking at both wildlife product and live animal trade in species on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – those most at threat from extinction and that are, or may be affected by trade.

The findings, published in the report Killing with Keystrokes: An Investigation of the Illegal Wildlife Trade on the World Wide Web (2008), recorded a staggering 7,122 online auctions, advertisements and classifieds, with an advertised value of US $3.87m. The report also identified ivory as a major area for trade, representing more than 73 percent of the activity monitored.

Shortly after it was revealed in the report that 83 percent of the ivory items found worldwide in the investigation were for sale on eBay sites, eBay Inc. instituted a global ban on ivory sales on all its websites.

IFAW’s ongoing work with other major online marketplaces has resulted in Alibaba (www.taobao.com), the world’s largest online business-to- business trading platform for small businesses, and the German sites kleinanzeigen.ebay.de (a subsidiary of eBay), markt.de and hood.de all implementing a ban on all ivory products. Kleinanzeigen.ebay.de also agreed to implement a ban on living specimens listed on CITES Appendix I.

Internet trade in wildlife in Europe

Building upon IFAW’s prior research regarding online trade in ivory in Europe, in 2013 INTERPOL released a report regarding an investigation of ivory trade online in nine European countries, called Project Web.

During the operation, enforcers reviewed publicly available online advertisements and found hundreds of ivory items conservatively valued at approximately EUR 1,450,000 for sale during a two-week period. 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 called for new legislation and additional funding to help enforcers crack down on illegal wildlife trade.

Although Killing with Keystrokes in 2008 identified the United States as being responsible for more than two-thirds of the online trade in the investigation, three European countries–the UK, France and Germany--when combined, accounted for 15.2 percent of the total trade in CITES Appendix I species, of which 65 percent of items were elephant/ivory products.

Killing with Keystrokes, 2.0: IFAW’s Investigation into the European Online Ivory Trade  revisits three countries noted in our 2008 survey as major contributors to trade online of CITES Appendix 1 species, the UK, France and Germany and two new ones – Portugal and Spain.This report focused on Internet trade in ivory in these countries and the effectiveness of current marketplace restrictions on ivory sales and their enforcement.

Overall these results show a high volume of trade with hundreds of potentially illegal items offered for sale on websites – predominantly in France, Portugal and Spain – over the survey period.

The total advertised monetary value of all listings was €649,689, although investigators recorded additional advertisements that were lacking any information on prices.

The work goes on

IFAW continues to work with online market providers to raise awareness of the specific problems of online trade in endangered products. This includes encouraging providers to offer more information on their sites to consumers on wildlife and the law, to improve filters and monitoring activities and to institute bans on the sale of wildlife products including ivory. IFAW is also working with some providers who have instituted strict policies to ensure that they have effective and regular enforcement of those policies – a critical factor in preventing unscrupulous buyers from continuing to ply their trade.

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