Wildlife Cybercrime Prevention - GlobalWildlife crime is a matter of supply and demand
The internet is borderless. It’s largely unregulated, relatively anonymous and open 24/7. And it directly connects sellers with buyers. That’s why wildlife criminals are using online platforms to sell, traffic and buy animals and wildlife products around the world. At IFAW, we’ve been investigating and disrupting wildlife cybercrime since 2004.
It’s a global challenge that requires cross-sector cooperation to solve. IFAW experts work closely with governments, law enforcement agencies, online marketplaces, and social media platforms to provide them with data, information and training to identify and combat wildlife cybercrime.
IFAW has been a pioneer in research and monitoring of online wildlife trafficking. Over a decade and a half, our research continues to reveal a shocking array of tens of thousands of endangered wildlife products as well as live animals offered for sale over the internet. These include ivory, rhino horn, big cats, primates such as orangutans and gorillas, a significant trade in protected live parrots and birds of prey, and numerous reptiles such as crocodiles, alligators, snakes, tortoises and turtles as well as amphibians.
Our 2018 report Disrupt: Wildlife Cybercrime, found almost 12,000 protected wildlife specimens offered for sale via more than 5,000 advertisements and posts on 106 online marketplaces (as well as four social media platforms) in four countries over six weeks. In 2014, our Wanted – Dead or Alive research revealed more than 33,000 endangered wildlife and wildlife products available for sale in almost 9,500 advertisements on 280 online marketplaces in 16 countries during a six-week period.
Some trade in protected wildlife is allowed by law. Identifying which of the posts in our research are illegal remains an on-going challenge for our experts because in most countries online traders do not have to provide evidence in listings that they are abiding by the law.
Since 2008, IFAW has been at the forefront of working with the world's leading online technology companies to crack down on wildlife cybercrime. We focus on reducing the possibility for wildlife traffickers to use online marketplaces and social media platforms to sell everything from trinkets like elephant ivory carvings to live animals like tiger cubs.
In March 2018, we launched the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, together with WWF, TRAFFIC and 21 of the world’s leading tech companies. The Coalition convenes e-commerce, search, and social media companies for an industry-wide approach to reduce wildlife trafficking online, sharing lessons learned and best practices. Today, the Coalition is comprised of 36 companies with more than 9 billion user accounts.
In collaboration with wildlife experts from IFAW, WWF and TRAFFIC, each company develops and implements policies and solutions to help end wildlife trafficking online. The Coalition focuses on strengthening company policy, industry collaboration, user education, mobilizing citizen spotters, in-depth company training and machine learning enhancement. IFAW, WWF and TRAFFIC also provide companies with updated global and regional trade trend data, training materials, policy guidance and educational information for users to help spot illegal products.
As of March 2020, online technology companies in the Coalition reported removing or blocking more than 3 million listings for endangered and threatened species and associated products from their online platforms to date. These listings included live big cats, reptiles, primates, and birds for the exotic pet trade, as well as products derived from species like elephants, pangolins, and marine turtles.
Since 2006, IFAW has been advocating for international legal frameworks to tackle wildlife cybercrime. In June 2007, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties (CoP), more than 170 countries agreed to a Resolution and Decision that provided a road map for governments to combat online wildlife traffickers. This success has been built on and most recently led to an amended Resolution and a new Decision to tackle wildlife crime linked to the internet at CITES CoP in August 2019.
IFAW shines a spotlight on wildlife cybercrime at high profile international forums to build awareness of the problem and empower governments and other partners to solve it. IFAW and our partners are ensuring this issue is addressed at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). IFAW has also brought this issue to the attention of the United Nations World Crime Congress, the G7, the First High Level Conference of the Americas on Illegal Wildlife Trade and many other forums.
In addition, IFAW calls on countries to strengthen their national legislation and close loopholes exploited by wildlife cybercriminals. To date, at least seven countries have changed their laws to specifically address the unique challenges posed by wildlife trafficking online in the digital age.
IFAW supports law enforcement efforts by calling on governments to ensure their enforcers have the resources they need to detect and disrupt wildlife cybercriminals. This includes having access to cybercrime experts.
IFAW empowers enforcers to detect online wildlife criminals by providing information on the methods used to buy and sell illegal wildlife online; as well as trends on which animals are traded and on what platforms; sharing data on suspicious posts where possible and supporting training of enforcers.
In 2019, INTERPOL, with the support of IFAW and the Adessium Foundation, launched practical guidelines on Wildlife Crime Linked to the Internet. These provide enforcers across the globe with the knowledge and skills they need to detect and disrupt cyber-enabled wildlife traffickers. In addition, a cross-sector Cyber-enabled Wildlife Crime Workshop, co-hosted by INTERPOL and IFAW in 2018, produced a commitment to improve coordination across the public and private sectors. The Global Wildlife Cybercrime Action Plan brings together critical actors in the fight against online wildlife traffickers. The action plan maps out collective goals, outlines the steps that must be taken to achieve these, and provides a reporting mechanism for adaptive management of the plan.
Back in 2012, IFAW supported INTERPOL’s Project WEB, the first pan-European operation investigating the online trade in ivory involving nine European enforcement agencies. IFAW continues to support law enforcement efforts by highlighting cases for further investigation by national law enforcement agencies, and training more than 100 enforcement officers from six African countries on how to detect wildlife cybercrime. Over the past 5 years, IFAW also provided more than 30 trainings to over 1,500 enforcers in China and produced tools facilitating combating wildlife cybercrime.
We’re helping mobilize the public to do their part to stop wildlife trafficking online. We promote being a conscious consumer by not buying wildlife or wildlife products. We also launch public education campaigns informing people of relevant laws and regulations and legal implications for using the internet for wildlife crime.
As part of our work with the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, we are working with our partners WWF and TRAFFIC and companies to roll out the Wildlife Cyber Spotter Program, a critical force of citizen scientists and ambassadors. We train Cyber Spotters on how to identify endangered species and derived products in listings on various e-commerce and social media platforms. As our eyes across the web, they report any suspicious content they find online directly to Coalition experts for review. The Coalition partners then share that information with the companies, whose enforcement teams will remove the listings in real time.
So far, in the US, Germany, France and Singapore, Cyber Spotters have flagged over 5,900 prohibited listings for sale online. Through the program, they have helped uncover new methods use by traffickers and identify wildlife trafficking trends that have helped companies’ ongoing monitoring efforts.