Wildlife crime ranks among the most lucrative of serious and organised international crimes along with human trafficking, drug running and illegal arms and in many ways can be just as dangerous and damaging.
Various organisations and reports estimate that the trade is worth at least NZ$22 billion per year worldwide1 and the threat it poses to many of the world’s most iconic species including elephants, rhinos and big cats is now widely recognised.
The illegal wildlife trade clearly impacts the welfare and conservation of endangered animals but it can also threaten national and global security through the increasing involvement of organised crime syndicates in the trade. The safety of entire communities in targeted wildlife range States can be compromised by poachers and at least 1,000 rangers were killed in 35 different countries over the last decade.
Illegally imported animals and plants can also carry diseases or become pests with significant negative impacts on human health and agriculture. The highly dangerous H5N1 avian flu virus appeared for the first time in Europe when it was discovered in a smuggled pair of eagles seized in Belgium in 2004.
New Zealand is a global biodiversity hotspot with most native animals found nowhere else in the world and this makes them an attractive target for smugglers.5 In a recent study of illegal wildlife trade seizures in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, New Zealand had the highest number of incidents, with almost double the number of seizures compared to the UK and over ten times more than Australia. Several recent seizures of illegal ivory as well as an attempted export of jewelled geckos indicate a continuing trade.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has carried out regular assessments into online trade in endangered species since 2004. IFAW’s largest survey, Killing with Keystrokes: An investigation of the Illegal Wildlife Trade on the World Wide Web (2008) recorded 7,122 online auctions, advertisements and classifieds in 11 countries but did not include New Zealand.
Since that global survey, the illegal international trade in endangered species has continued to grow at an alarming rate. In particular, the levels at which elephants are being killed is alarming - it is estimated that at least 25,000 elephants and as many as 50,000 are slaughtered each year for their ivory meaning that one elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes. Rhino horn is now fetching record prices and rampant poaching has brought some rhinoceros subspecies to the verge of extinction.
This report details the research IFAW carried out in 2013 to assess for the first time, levels of trade in endangered wild animals and their products on web platforms hosted in New Zealand and accessible to the public.