In September, lion and tiger cubs, and monkeys were seized by United Arab Emirates enforcers after receiving a tip off from a member of the public about an attempted sale online. In October, a man in Britain was found guilty of trying to traffic chunks of elephant tusks to the Far East after posting an advert on an online marketplace .
What do these recent cases have in common? The traffickers were using the internet to reach their customers so they could financially profit from selling live endangered species or their body parts.
Today INTERPOL, with the support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Adessium Foundation, is launching practical guidelines on 'Wildlife Crime Linked to the Internet’. These will provide enforcers across the globe with the knowledge and skills they need to detect and disrupt cyber-enabled wildlife traffickers.
IFAW’s pioneering research over a decade and a half has found 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, live birds, reptiles and amphibians. Online marketplaces and social media platforms have so far removed hundreds of thousands of wildlife advertisements or posts that breach their wildlife friendly policies. This may be just the tip of the iceberg though. Given the vastness of the internet, the risk its use poses to endangered wildlife is likely to be far greater than we can measure.
One major challenge facing conservationists, law enforcers and online companies alike is distinguishing the legal from illegal trade in wildlife online. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates the trade in endangered and threatened species, allowing trade in certain circumstances while preventing it if the trade poses a threat to the survival of wild animal populations. Identifying which online posts are breaking the law is a role for law enforcers. This is where the INTERPOL guidelines come in.
INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Linked to the Internet Guidelines are part of a bigger concerted effort to step up law enforcement efforts in the fight against cyber-enabled wildlife crime. INTERPOL is a signatory of the IFAW-led Global Wildlife Cybercrime Action Plan. The plan is the road map to ending wildlife cybercrime and is designed to enhance cooperation, communication and collaboration across governments, enforcers, companies, inter-governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations and academics to detect and disrupt wildlife cybercriminals.
INTERPOL is also providing enforcers with access to experts at their Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, who can provide advice and assistance on how to address wildlife cybercrime. Meanwhile governments across the world committed to new measures to tackle wildlife crime linked to the internet at the CITES Conference of the Parties in August 2019. These steps include appointing national focal points on wildlife cybercrime, establishing national monitoring programmes and engaging with online platforms to increase awareness regarding policies related to wildlife.
IFAW is supporting law enforcement efforts and taking bold action to end wildlife cybercrime.
Our approach provides law enforcers with the information they need to identify online wildlife traffickers. It ensures online companies adopt and implement wildlife friendly policies and supports the development and strengthening of both international policy and national laws. By bringing together the public sector with civil society, we are able to create an integrated strategy that aims to end wildlife cybercrime.
We can’t do this work without your support. Join us in the fight against wildlife cybercrime by pledging to be an educated consumer. Report suspicious ads and posts on online marketplaces and social media platforms and encourage your friends to say no to illegal wildlife products. Remember: if you don’t buy, the animals won’t die. With you as our additional eyes and ears, we can expand our network and protect animals from the deadly threat of wildlife cybercrime.
-Tania McCrea-Steele, International Project Manager, Wildlife Crime