Online illegal wildlife trade: An island perspective

While it is well documented that there have been many efforts in island nations to tackle illegal wildlife trade, little action has been undertaken to thwart wildlife cybercriminals from ramping up their trade, like those profiled in the IFAW publication Wanted: Dead or Alive.Youth Forum Delegate Stefan Knights, a lawyer and postgraduate student, is promoting access to information, public participation in decision-making processes and access to justice on matters relating to the environment with the Caribbean Youth Environment Network. –Nancy Barr

Internet-based wildlife crime is a global phenomenon that will soon explode in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), potentially undermining local economies and social development. The illegal trade in wildlife is the world’s fastest growing illegal economic activity and it may soon surpass the drug trade and human trafficking. In 2014, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found that the illegal wildlife trade generated at least USD$ 19 billion per year.  Within a six-week period, IFAW found during an investigative research that traffickers could make USD$ 11 million from online advertisements. However it is difficult to accurately estimate the scale of online wildlife crime because, at present, investigations focus only on certain animals and animal products (for example, rhinos and elephant products); only websites that are in English language are, generally, investigated and; investigations focus primarily on developed countries.

In SIDS there are many animal and plants that are endangered species, legally protected wildlife and subjected to harvest quotas and regulated by permits that are on high demand around the world for medicinal purposes, fine cuisine, cosmetics and apparel as well as to serve as exotic pets. It is plausible that delinquents in SIDS will soon link up with other criminal networks, or try to initiate their own illegal online business, to sell legally protected animals that are crucial to our socio-economic development. As such, SIDS need to be prepared to address this multi-billion-dollar illegal trade.

Online illegal wildlife trade will continue to increase rapidly. The internet provides access to a global black market, anonymity, a space for rapid transactions and secured communications. Moreover, many people are ignorant of the fact that wildlife trade is regulated by laws, and many people do not realise that illegal online wildlife trade is a cybercrime just like hacking a computer or online identity theft or fraud. Further, domestic wildlife traffickers will be motivated to get involved in this business given that they can obtain higher prices from people in developed countries. The New York Times explained that when song birds are trafficked domestically in Guyana, they are sold for $USD 5 but when they are sold abroad, the trafficker can earn between USD$500 and $10,000 in the USA depending on the bird’s singing prowess.

READ: REPORT: Wanted – Dead or Alive - Exposing Online Wildlife Trade

The process from the transaction is simple. The animals and plants are sold to the purchaser through the online transaction and the species are shipped in small packages with deceptive labels, sometimes repetitively. This process is also facilitated by corrupted customs and excise officials.

Globally, we all need to be concerned and prepared to address this quickly unfolding illegal activity that can have devastating economic and social impacts.  The illegal trade of wildlife from SIDS to developed countries can result in the spread of diseases and introduction of invasive species in developed countries which can disrupt economic activities. In SIDS, the illegal trade or poaching of wildlife can hinder economic activities because these tourism-based economies rely heavily on the presence and services of certain animals. Moreover, some species are vital to water purification, soil fertility and crop pollination, pest and disease control, and they present cultural and aesthetic benefits. Wildlife trafficking is also linked to other serious crimes on the islands and it has been found that the illegal proceeds are used to fund other criminal and terrorist activities.

It is well documented that there have been a lot of efforts in SIDS to tackle illegal wildlife trade. For instance, national air carrier, Air Seychelles, signed the Buckingham Palace Declaration and took measures to impede the trafficking of wildlife and animal products between the continents of Africa and Asia. However, little action has been undertaken by SIDS to thwart wildlife cybercriminals from ramping up their trade. Apart from the need to pass and implement innovative legislation to address online illegal wildlife trade, greater funding opportunities must be available to NGOs and youth organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) and the SIDS Youth AIMS Hub (SYAH) to carry out educational programming on illegal wildlife trade, conduct research and provide intelligence to support criminal investigations. Also, there is a need to unify legislation across different countries on wildlife trade and there needs to be a global agreement on extradition of people who commit crimes against wildlife and the environment.

SIDS need to be proactive rather than retroactive when it comes to addressing this emerging challenge.

--SK

Experts

Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime