Wildlife cybercrime will be scrutinised at CITES

Leading government ministers, policy makers, enforcers, NGOs and other experts should develop solutions designed to protect endangered wildlife from being illegally caught or killed at CITES.The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties (CoP), a huge gathering of governments and conservation organisations, begins tomorrow. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) will be there ensuring that, among other things, governments, enforcers, online tech companies and other NGOs use this opportunity to ramp up the fight against wildlife cybercrime.

Is wildlife cybercrime really a problem we should be worrying about? The short answer is ‘Yes’. Why do I say that? Because there is evidence that animals are being killed to supply the online trade in their body parts; because live, and sometimes dangerous, wild animals are being offered for sale as pets over the Internet; because there are reports that this crime involves organised networks; because enforcement operations show that hundreds of illegally traded wildlife products offered for sale online are being seized over a matter of weeks; because NGO research shows that the scale of the trade is substantive; and because access to the Internet continues to grow so we need to address the problem now before it becomes any bigger.

Can I support these claims with evidence? Yes.

Our report Wanted Dead or Alive: Exposing Online Wildlife Trade found 33,006 endangered animals and wildlife products worth at least US$10.7 million, for sale over a period of six weeks. The report investigated 280 online marketplaces in 16 countries. Ivory, reptiles and birds were the items most widely offered for trade. The results led to 1,192 intelligence files - almost 13 per cent of the ads - being submitted to law enforcers for further investigation with several seizures taking place as a result.

TRAFFIC’s 2016 investigation of Facebook groups in peninsular Malaysia found, over a period of five months, more than 300 apparently wild, live animals for sale as pets, ranging from sun bears and gibbons to otters and binturong while their UK report into the antique ivory trade noted that an apparent decline in the physical ivory market may be due to the emergence of online sales.

Meanwhile, the global enforcement operation called Operation Cobra III saw over 300 items seized over a period of six weeks in the UK alone. Subsequently the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced its plans to provide £29,000 of funding each year for four years to the National Wildlife Crime Unit to tackle wildlife crime online.

Other examples include the US Fish and Wildlife Services Operation Wild Web, and the INTERPOL led Project Web, as well as IFAW’s many investigative reports and the mounting number of prosecutions of wildlife criminals trading over the Internet. And this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

So how does this relate to CITES? CITES brings together the leading government ministers, policy makers, enforcers, NGOs and other experts from across the globe to develop solutions designed to protect endangered wildlife from being illegally caught or killed. The government of Kenya has put wildlife cybercrime on the agenda and IFAW will be bringing together leading experts from one of the world’s biggest social media platforms as well as one of the largest online marketplaces, a leading prosecutor, a government representative and another NGO to show how this problem can be tackled.

Has that piqued your interest? Then watch this space to see how we can use this platform to not only raise awareness of the problem posed by wildlife cybercrime but also present the solution and galvanise decision makers across the globe to take strong steps to stamp out this online wildlife crime.  


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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