New regulations from Defra will make it easier to tackle wildlife cybercrime

We’re delighted with the news today that the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has just published a new addition to the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Regulations (COTES), making it an offence to sell certain wildlife specimens online without valid certification.

Our most recent investigation into the scale of wildlife cybercrime found almost 2,500 wildlife specimens offered for sale online in the UK alone over a six-week period. In many cases it was difficult to ascertain whether or not it was legal to sell the live animal or animal part because of the lack of relevant documentation.

Once the new regulations are in place, anyone wanting to sell items that come from animals listed in Annex A of COTES (i.e. the most endangered species), will need to include in the online advert evidence that they’ve received valid certification from Defra. Failure to do so will constitute an offence under the new regulation and may lead to either large fines or in more serious cases, imprisonment.  

The upshot of this is that it will now be much easier for law enforcement agencies, researchers, online platforms and others to know whether wildlife items offered for sale are legal or not – and to crack down on those that aren’t.

This is an important and vital step in stamping out illegal online wildlife trade in the UK. IFAW has always been at the forefront of tackling the illegal wildlife trade around the world and has been campaigning with our supporters to tighten up the UK regulations, so it’s great to see the Government take this issue on board.

We hope this new regulation will mean that the internet becomes a more difficult environment for illegal wildlife criminals to operate in. IFAW, WWF and TRAFFIC have been working closely with online marketplaces to stop the illegal wildlife trade and helped establish a global alliance to tackle online wildlife crime which was announced in March this year.  More than 20 of the world’s top leading marketplace providers (eBay, Alibaba, Microsoft, Facebook and others) are now taking action to reduce the illegal wildlife trade by 80% by 2020 on their sites.

Of course, the public can still play a huge role in ending the online wildlife trade, too, by avoiding buying any wildlife items, online or otherwise. If we don’t buy, they don’t die!

Now we have this new regulation in place, it’s vital that there are enough resources to enforce it, which is why we’ve also been calling for an increase in funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit to tackle wildlife cybercrime.  We very much hope this will be one of the recommendations that will be taken forward later this year at the Global Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference being hosted in London in October. 

It is great to have this campaign success and we could not have done it without your support. Thank you!

--DC

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Dr. Joseph Okori
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