Ending wildlife cybercrime

Ending wildlife cybercrime

The internet is the world’s biggest marketplace; open all hours for buyers and sellers to exchange goods. Largely unregulated, anonymous, and virtually unlimited in reach, it also offers endless opportunities for criminal activities, among them a flourishing illegal trade in protected wildlife.

IFAW has been investigating online wildlife trade in protected and endangered species in various countries since 2004. Our research continues to reveal a shocking array of thousands of live wild animals and wildlife products from protected species available for sale online. Because it takes a network to defeat a network, our 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 working with online technology companies, having directly led 15 online technology companies to adopt wildlife policies and several companies also to introduce bans on endangered species on their sites. In addition, in March 2018, IFAW, WWF and TRAFFIC launched the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online with 21 founding companies, which aims to secure an industry-wide approach to reduce wildlife trafficking online by 80% by 2020.

Meanwhile, the public sector has seen over 180 governments committing to cracking down on wildlife cybercrime. The issue has gained increased recognition through CITES with the adoption of a strong Resolution as well as Decisions on wildlife cybercrime, and the creation of an international Wildlife Cybercrime Working Group. In the international policy arena, IFAW has brought the issue to the attention of the United Nations World Crime Congress and the G7. In a welcome trend, several governments have either strengthened or committed to improving their legislation to address wildlife cybercrime since our work started.

IFAW continues to support law enforcement efforts by highlighting cases for further investigation, and training more than 100 enforcement officers from six African countries on how to detect wildlife cybercrime. In partnership with law enforcement, our work has also contributed to advertisements being blocked by online technology companies, items being seized and individuals being investigated in countries including Australia, France, China, the USA, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2012, IFAW supported INTERPOL’s Project WEB, the first pan-European operation investigating the online trade in ivory involving nine European enforcement agencies.

Coming out of a Cyber-enabled Wildlife Crime Workshop, co-hosted by INTERPOL and IFAW in June 2018, there was a commitment to improve coordination across the public and private sectors. Launched by IFAW, along with INTERPOL, the Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent, TRAFFIC and WWF, the Global Wildlife Cybercrime 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.

Many challenges remain in monitoring trade in an online environment that is becoming increasingly more complex and diverse. The growing number of platforms and direct messaging apps, the extensive use of social media and the existence of the hidden part of the internet – the dark net – all offering a myriad of opportunities to trade goods online.

The single most important steps to take in helping to win the fight against wildlife cybercrime are for governments to allocate enforcement resources to identify and prosecute wildlife cybercriminals, and for online marketplaces and social media platforms to join the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, adopt steps as outlined in the Global Wildlife Trafficking Action Plan, and ensure their sites are a no-go zone for wildlife traffickers. Additionally, consumers can play a vital role by reporting potentially illegal advertisements and posts to the companies and not buying the illegal wildlife products and live animals.


Our resources


Google and eBay join forces to launch major crackdown on wildlife traffickers
Tech giant Baidu joins IFAW to save wildlife

Interpol & IFAW co-host cross-sector workshop to address cyber-enabled wildlife crime
Disrupting wildlife cybercrime in Europe and Russia
Leading tech companies unite to stop online wildlife traffickers